Besieged by negative press, an Israeli diplomat came to New Haven to ask the Jewish community’s help to build a bridge to the country’s fastest-growing political bloc, Latinos.
Good idea, responded members of the local Jewish community; they have to start by reinvigorating their own Jewish-Latino dialogue right here in town.
The realization occurred as Israel’s consul for media affairs for the tri-state area, Joel Lion, joined area Jewish and Latino leaders in a discussion Monday afternoon.
Fifteen people convened by the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Dr. Milt Wallack (pictured in center) met Lion (right) at the Audubon Street offices of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.
When people think of Italy, they picture a house full of family and children, said Lion, summarizing results of a focus group his ministry had conducted. When they think of Israel, the type of house conjured is a fortress.
The issue is not exactly negative press, Lion said. “Israel is a fortress, but it’s [only] one side.”
Israeli consulates have for years organized public relations trips for Americans. The community foundation’s senior philanthropic officer, Angel Fernandez-Chavero (at left in photo with Wallack and Lion), went on one such trip in May.
“I went to a school in Israel that looked a lot like New Haven. I’m not interested in carrying Israel’s water. I’m interested in that we learn more” in order to make a contribution to solving problems,” Fernandez-Chavero said.
In Lion’s view the diversity of Israel’s population and its success in absorbing and integrating so many populations is one story that area Latinos need to hear more of. Also that Israel’s Sephardic (or Jews of Spanish culture) play big roles in the country.
How to convey the fuller picture locally?
“Maybe our biggest channel is education,” said Lindy Gold, one of the founders of a local grassroots effort called Jewish-Latino dialogue.
That dialogue resulted in relationship building that resulted in local Jewish leaders helping Latinos establish Casa Otonal, among other initiatives. More recently volunteer tutors have been organized by the JCRC in numbers to work in New Haven schools.
The Jewish involvement with area Latino issues needs to be reinvigorated, according to Gladys Soto. She and her husband (pictured), area industrialist John Soto, attended Monday’s roundtable. After 25 or 30 years, there are remnants of that dialogue out there, she said. But “our community is not where it should be.”
Gold reminded the group that when it began, the Jewish-Latinol dialogue focused on shared goals. And it was about relationships.
“It’s not about getting stuff done,” said Fernandez-Chavero. He echoed Gold that it was about relationships, but took it a step further.
“You can’t have that unless you know yourself,” he said.
He questioned whether Jews know the strength of their Sephardic heritage, or Latinos their Jewish and Arab roots.
Organizers determined to expand the discussion beyond Israel, to other issues like jobs, and to do so more vigorously.
Participants— particularly Puerto-Rican-Jewish secretary of state aspirant Gerry Garcia—noted how Jewish sage Moses Maimonides was an Arabic-speaking Latino from Cordova, Spain.
“Let’s make sure this is not the only meeting for the next 30 years,” said the JCRC’s Wallack.
It was a start.