Brandeis launches initiative to study the Jews of Latin America

the exterior of the Rodfe Sedek synagogue in Mexico, with an arched stone front with a large stained glass star of David on the facade

The Centro de Documentación e Investigación Judío de México, designed and constructed by architects Ezra Cheremand Alan Cherem, including the restoration of the Rodfe Sedek synagogue and mikva.

The interior of the Rodfe Sedek synagogue in Mexico, with arched ceilings, chandelieres, and pews.

The Centro de Documentación e Investigación Judío de México

In order to expand knowledge and appreciation of the cultural, communal and religious traditions of Latin American Jewry and their distinctive contributions to the global Jewish diaspora, Brandeis University is launching the Brandeis Initiative on the Jews of the Americas (JOTA).

The initiative, based at Brandeis’ Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, will support academic research and cultural programs focused on Jews who live in Latin America and those who immigrated elsewhere, including to the United States. The initiative will launch with a symposium on Sunday, April 16: “The Latin American Jewish Experience: A Kaleidoscope of Shared Pasts, Present Activism and Future Legacies.”

The launch event of the Brandeis Initiative on the Jews of the Americas will gather extraordinary Latin American trailblazers in conversation, in order to promote new ways of thinking about global Jewish peoplehood, immigrant and diaspora life, and the larger lessons that can be learned by the Jewish experience when understood as part of the Americas writ large. Speakers include leading figures in fields of journalism, literature, art, architecture, human rights, entrepreneurship, the museum world, communal organizations and political figures, and they represent a host of countries including Mexico, Argentina, Panama, Venezuela and Chile.

“The history and the cultural and religious expression of Latin American Jews is a rich area for Jewish Studies, and one that merits deeper academic exploration,” said Dalia Wassner, director of the Jews of the Americas. “This initiative will provide a base for scholars working to advance our knowledge of this significant community and their contributions to Latin American history, politics and culture, and to the Jewish world.”

Despite its size and importance, Latin American Jewry has been relatively under-examined. Estimated to number more than 750,000 individuals, the Latin American Jewish community is diverse and includes Ashkenazi, Mizrachi, and Sephardi Jews — nearly half of whom live in the United States.

Latin American Jews also constitute an important segment of modern Israeli society, and the exploration of the relationship between Jewish communities in the Americas and Israel is an important and necessary contribution to the study of Israel-Diaspora relations.

JOTA advances its mission to explore and elevate the Jewish experience in the Americas through three core pursuits:

  • Academic innovation – scholarly research, teaching, publishing, and preserving archival histories of individuals and communities
  • Cultural engagement – programs that illuminate Latin American Jewish identity, culture, arts, and literature, and that foster dialogue with other Jewish and non-Jewish communities;
  • Integration – a nexus for interdisciplinary collaboration and advocacy with local, national, and international partners.

Designed as a hub for creativity and collaboration, the Brandeis Initiative on the Jews of the Americas includes academic research and cultural programs. The initiative’s approach incorporates perspectives from the humanities, social sciences, and the arts and engages international academic and community institutions.

About Brandeis University

Brandeis University is a highly competitive private research university with a focus on undergraduate education. Founded in 1948 by the American Jewish community and named for Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, the university embraces the values of academic excellence, critical thinking, openness to all and a commitment to making the world a better place. Located just west of Boston in Waltham, Massachusetts, Brandeis is a member of the Association of American Universities, which represents the leading research universities in the United States and Canada. Brandeis’ distinguished faculty are dedicated to the education and support of 3,600 undergraduates and more than 2,000 graduate students.

About the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

​​Founded in 1980, the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (CMJS), is a multi-disciplinary research center that incorporates the latest concepts, theories, and techniques of social science in the study of contemporary Jewish life.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs, Research

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