Fernando Russek, a 51-year-old Jewish resident of South Texas, originally from Mexico, spoke passionately about the importance of supporting Israel and condemning Hamas’ recent attack. However, his composure wavered when he revealed that his daughter serves as a captain in the Israeli army, and his brother, who was about to open a restaurant in Israel, was unexpectedly called back into service.
When asked how he was coping, Russek candidly expressed, “I am like a father – and like any brother.” The recent violent events triggered by Hamas’ surprise attack along the Gaza border in Israel have shed light on the interconnected relationships among the Latino Jewish diaspora, spanning across the United States, Latin America, and Israel.
Rabbi Peter Tarlow, the executive director of the Center for Latino-Jewish Relations based in College Station, Texas, emphasized the strong presence of Latinos in the Jewish community and the personal connection many share with Israel. He noted that numerous Latinos within the Jewish community have ties to Israel, either through friends, relatives, or personal visits.
Russek’s daughter moved to Israel 15 years ago, and his brother returned several years ago. While he manages to speak with his daughter daily, his communication with his brother remains uncertain.
Worried for their own children and relatives, individuals like Humberto Ismajovich in Paraguay shared their concern. Ismajovich’s two sons are reservists in the Israeli army, with one on the front lines. Their sense of duty and commitment to Israel has been deeply felt by their families.
The uncertainty extends to other Latino families, such as Colombians Sandra Montaño and Juan Hernán Hincapié, who reside in Tel Aviv and are anxiously awaiting news about their missing nephew and his girlfriend, who were attending a music festival during the Hamas attack.
The tragic story of Brazilian student Bruna Valeanu, who lost her life in the same festival, also garnered international attention. Thousands attended her funeral in Israel, demonstrating the strong bonds within the Jewish community.
There are over 750,000 Latin American Jews, with approximately half residing in the United States. Recent demographic changes have seen a significant number of young Jewish adults identifying as Hispanic, reflecting the evolving nature of the Jewish community.
In St. Louis, Daniel Platschek, who immigrated from Venezuela, actively participates in the city’s Latino community while embracing his Jewish heritage. He is committed to breaking down stereotypes and forging connections between these two communities. Platschek’s family history is marked by displacement and survival during the Holocaust, and he identifies with both his Hispanic and Jewish roots.
While he denounces violence, he also acknowledges the sacrifices his family made to ensure their survival as Jews. Jacob Monty, the founder of the Center for Latino Jewish Relations, emphasizes the organization’s role in educating Latinos and Jews about their shared heritage.
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As the situation in Israel remains tense, groups in the U.S. are mobilizing to provide support and raise funds for affected communities, particularly in Texas, where efforts are underway to aid a small Israeli village near the Gaza border.
In Washington, D.C., Dina Siegel Vann, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, has long worked to bridge the Latino and Jewish communities due to shared historical and geographic ties. She has witnessed Israel through various crises but now feels a newfound vulnerability and fear, both for herself and her friends, amid recent events. As she powerfully asserts, “I’m Jewish and I’m Mexican. Punto.”