By Asia Hester
For the Mitzpeh

A shared interest in two distinct cultures brought this university’s Terps for Israel and the Upsilon Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. (LTA) together Wednesday to discuss the history of the Jewish faith in Latin America.

The history between Jews and Latin America can be traced back to Spain, when Jews fled the country after religious persecution and eventually other European countries. This led to Argentina having the largest Jewish population in Latin America.

This is the first time the two organizations held an event together.

“Terps for Israel reached out to us and was really curious about the Latino community,” said LTA member and senior Azalia Hernandez. “We thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about each other and see where our similarities are.”

Azalia Hernandez (middle) of Upsilon chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. speaking on the history of Jewish Culture in Latin America. Asia Hester/Mitzpeh.
Azalia Hernandez (middle) of Upsilon chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. speaking on the history of Jewish Culture in Latin America. Asia Hester/Mitzpeh.

The event highlighted the cross-cultural connection between Jewish people and Latin Americans, and celebrate their cultures with food and traditional Latin dances like Bachata and Salsa in addition to Israeli dances by Avirah, this university’s Israeli dance team.

“Sephardic Judaism is one of the largest ethnic groups in Judaism and they have their roots tied to Spain,” said Rachel Beiser, a senior anthropology major, citing her previous knowledge of the cultural ties. She previously learned about the Latin American connection through Birthright, a program that provides educational trips for youth to Israel.

“My uncle said in Buenos Aires, Argentina there’s such a large Jewish population that you’ll see a lot signs in Spanish, English and Hebrew,” Beiser said.

The influence of Jewish culture is present throughout Latin America where many cultural centers and teaching centers try to bring together to merge the unique identities of Latin and Jewish people, according to the event lecture.

Junior kinesiology major Aaron Yitzhaky said the event “brought both cultures together in an enjoyable environment.” This past winter break Yitzhaky visited Chile and experienced being within in those communities and interacting with the people there.

However, not all of the attendees enjoyed the activities and discussion. It ended in an intense discussion with one student who questioned contentious issues surrounding Israel.

Junior Sarah Eshera said she thought there would be an in-depth dialogue about the two cultures.

At the end of the event she said, “Why did anyone think it would be a good idea to ignore the inherently imperialistic culture of Israel to superficially celebrate the culture and dance?”

Organizers from LTA and Terps for Israel said that this event was not about politics.

Students learning a traditional dance taught by UMD's Israeli dance team, Avirah. Asia Hester/Mitzpeh.
Students learning a traditional dance taught by UMD’s Israeli dance team, Avirah. Asia Hester/Mitzpeh.

“That’s not why we’re here tonight,” said Jenn Miller, the political chair for Terps for Israel. She said its mission was to celebrate two very distinct, but similar in many ways culture.

Eshera said the sorority should have reached out to Muslim or Arab organizations and ask them how they would feel about them having an event with a group that supports a government that oppresses their own people.

“If they wanted to go forward with the event it could’ve been a discussion, not a superficial celebration and ignoring underlying issues,” she said.

This brought up the topic of celebrating cultures without mentioning the social and political issues. Terps for Israel President Jonathan Allen said the organization does not support every action of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that Terps for Israel is not solely a political group.

The students agreed they were open to further dialogue about intersectional identities and they would consider future events with other ethnic organizations on campus.

Yitzhaky said, “I think it strengthens both sides of the community with Latin culture and the Jewish community and creating further bonds like this will help strengthen the campus as whole. It’s a great initiative.”


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