According to the estimates of Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola’s “World Jewish Population, 2016,” Mexico is home to between 40,000 and 50,000 Jews, making it the fourteenth largest in the world. Characterized by its strongly traditionalist communities, ranging from Orthodox to Conservative, and its variety of institutions, Mexican Jewry is comprised of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Levantine Jews, and is considered one of the most active Jewish communities in the world. The Mexican Jewish community is represented by the Comité Central de la Comunidad Judía de México (CCCJM) – the Mexican affiliate of the World Jewish Congress. There is a long-standing cooperation between the CCCJM and the Tribuna Israelita, which also participates actively in meetings of the WJC Plenary Assembly and Governing Board.
Comité Central de la Comunidad Judía de México (CCCJM)
Telephone: +52 55 5520-9393
President: Moises Romano.
CEO: Mauricio Lulka
Telephone: +52 55 5520-7915
President: Elias Achar
Executive Director: Renee Dayan-Shabot
Jews first arrived in 1519 Mexico as Conversos and 1521 they accompanied Hernan Cortes in the conquering of the Aztecs. After the establishment of a formal colony, “La Nueva España,” many Conversos emigrated to the “new world” in the following decades and were able to establish peaceful existences for themselves. Among these Crypto-Jewish arrivals were those who continued to practice Judaism in secret and sought to escape the intensity of the Inquisition’s persecution in Spain. Others integrated into broader society and became prominent members of the elite, or even in some cases, clergy officials.
However, the Spanish crown began enforcing its severe Inquisition policies in Mexico in 1571, opening an Inquisition office in Mexico City. A large number of Crypto-Jews were persecuted and convicted of being “impure” over the course of the colonial period, and the colonial administration’s official policy was to prohibit practicing Jews from settling in Mexico. There was an influx of Jewish immigration from Portugal in the late 16th century, but many of these Converso arrivals were ultimately prosecuted by Inquisition officials in the new world. Despite this, Conversos were active participants in colonial society, and were engaged in various occupations, including craftsmanship.
These draconian policies continued into the 17th century, and as a result, the number of Conversos arriving in Mexico was drastically reduced. Moreover, wealthy Conversos established in the colony were increasingly persecuted by the Inquisition, as the confiscation of their assets added to their wealth of officials in charge of “cleansing” the new world. Over the course of the 17th century, hundreds of people were prosecuted and convicted by the Inquisition in Mexico. Some were made to reconcile with the Church while others were either deported or executed. In due course, such extreme persecutory actions towards Conversos diminished, but by then the immigration of Crypto-Jews to Mexico had all but disappeared. There was a large level of assimilation among those who remained in the colony, and the practice of Jewish customs and traditions was lost to many over time.
Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 and recognized Catholicism as the official religion. Despite the abolition of the Inquisition in the country, very few Jews lived in Mexico. When Maximilian of Austria arrived as Emperor of Mexico in 1864, some European Jews from countries such as Austria, Belgium, and France came with his court and openly practiced Judaism. After Maximilian’s death and the end of the Mexican empire, almost all of these Jews returned to Europe.
In the middle of the 19th century, President Benito Juárez began implementing policies to modernize Mexico, establishing a more secular and tolerant society. The 1857 Constitution paved the way for religious freedom in Mexico. As a result, there were large increases in Jewish immigration to Mexico, beginning in 1881 with the arrival of Russian Jews who came to the country after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.
The 20th century saw the arrival of an influx of Jews from the Ottoman Empire who sought to escape the political instability incurred by the deterioration of Ottoman influence and power. Sephardic Jews from all over the empire – present-day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, the Balkans – arrived in Mexico and were able to integrate themselves into Mexican society relatively easily.
Following the revolution that began in 1910, liberal policies that legally affirmed religious freedom in Mexico and formally recognized the Jewish community were implemented. As Mexico returned to political stability in the 1920s, more Jews from Europe arrived in the country. Many of these arrivals hoped to use Mexico as a stopover to the United States but ended up staying in the country following the adoption of strict immigration quotas in the United States in 1921, and later 1924. That same, Plutarco Elias Calles, the newly elected president of Mexico, issued an invitation to the Jewish people to come to Mexico as law-abiding citizens, stimulating an immigration wave that lasts until 1930. During this period, Jewish cultural life began to take off in Mexico, with the establishment of Jewish communal and Zionist organizations.
By the mid-1920s, Jewish life in Mexico was quite diverse, integrated along ethnic lines. Many of the Jewish immigrant groups stuck with those who came from the same region, spoke the same language, or practiced similar Jewish religious customs. Such distinctions became institutionalized as the different Jewish communities in Mexico established different Jewish religious and cultural groups. The 1930s saw anti-Semitic and xenophobic movements permeate throughout Mexican society.
During the course of World War II, Mexico exported foods and basic goods to the United States and saw the country’s internal market strengthened. The Mexican economy experienced a general rise in industries created, and among those who benefited were several Jewish entrepreneurs who established manufacturing factories during the 1940s. After the war, the Jewish community began participating in various industries throughout the country, and in general, experienced economic prosperity.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the Mexican Jewish community lived in relative stability. The economic boom that followed World War II lasted for nearly thirty years and continued to allow Mexican Jews to greatly prosper. However, the 1980s and 1990s saw the country experience economic difficulties, which affected the country. Further and more legally formal guarantee of religious equality and freedoms were introduced in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Today, Mexican Jews are guaranteed and enjoy complete religious freedom. Mexico has experienced almost no antisemitism in recent years, and Mexican Jews are active in all aspects of Mexican society, including high offices of the state. Jorge Castañeda Gutman served as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 2000 -2003, Victor Lichtinger, served as Secretary of Environment Protection from 2000 - 2003 and Julio Frenk served as the Secretary of Health from 2000 to 2006, Victor Lijtinger under President Vicente Fox. Yeidckol Polevnsky Gurwitz served as a Senator for the State of Mexico from 2006 to 2012, and recently, in July 2018, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo became the first Jew and woman to be elected mayor of Mexico City.
In the years preceding World War II, anti-Semitism rose in Mexico in conjunction with the dismal economic conditions wrought by the Great Depression. A rise in xenophobia during the late 1930s saw Mexico implement a Population Law in 1936 that established different immigration quotas that severely restricted immigration from nations with large Jewish populations, such as Poland and Russia, among others. These Jews, along with German and Austria Jews, who were fleeing Nazism, found it difficult to enter the country, and only around 1,850 Jews were allowed into Mexico over the course of the war.
Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola’s estimated the Mexican Jewish population to be between 40,000 and 50,000 Jews as of 2010. The majority of Mexican Jews live in Mexico City, the capital. There are other Jewish communities in cities such as Guadalajara, Monterrey, Tijuana, Cancun and San Miguel de Allende.
Jewish life in Mexico is largely divided based on Jewish ethnicity, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, with each group having its own established Jewish institutions. The Comité Central de la Comunidad Judía de México (CCCJM) acts as the umbrella organization for the various Jewish groups in Mexico, working to advocate on behalf of Mexican Jewry in governmental, political, religious, academic and media affairs as well as the fight against antisemitism.
Some of the different Jewish organizations in Mexico include Sociedad de Beneficencia (founded by Jews that came from Damascus and Lebanon and is Orthodox-oriented), Comunidad Ashkenazi (founded by Jews from Central and Eastern Europe and is Orthodox-oriented), Comunidad Maguen David (founded by Jews from Syria and is Orthodox-oriented), Comunidad Sefaradi (founded by Jews from Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans and is Orthodox-oriented), Beth Israel Community Center (founded by English speaking Jews and Conservative-oriented, and Comunidad Bet El (founded by Jews born in Mexico and Conservative-oriented).
Each community provides a variety of services to their members, including religious, social, cultural, and educational, as well as welfare assistance, conciliation and arbitration services. Additionally, many branches of international Zionist youth and social organizations have a presence in Mexico's capital city.
The Mexican Jewish community is particularly active with an estimated 95% of members affiliated with an institution involved in Jewish religious life. Most Mexican Jews identify as Orthodox or Conservative. There are several synagogues in Mexico, with about twenty-five alone in Mexico City.
Kosher food is widely available in Mexico both in restaurants and supermarkets.
There are 14 Jewish day schools in Mexico, most belonging to one of the communities. It is estimated that around 95% of Jewish children in Mexico attend Jewish day schools. There are all kind of schools, from very religious, to Zionist, to secular. All of them teach Hebrew and English. There is one school with a Montessori system and the Jewish schools are considered among the best in the country. The schools are coordinated by the Vaad Hajinuj, which also supports the Hebraic University, where Jewish teachers are trained. All the schools provide scholarships for families that cannot afford to pay tuition.
There are number of Mexican universities and secondary institutions that have Jewish-related studies. Many Jewish students who attend the country's universities belong to the Mexican Federation of Jewish Youth, or FEMEJJ.
There are several Jewish youth groups and programs active through the various Jewish communities in Mexico.
A large variety of newspapers and magazines reflect the ideological trends of the different communities: Imagen David, Identidad Monte Sinai, NotiKehile, En Curto, Periódico CDI, Enfoque Bet El, and Caleidoscopio. El Aleph is a weekly radio show which focuses primarily on Jewish culture. An independent newspaper (Kesher) is also published.
The first Sepharadic and Ashkenazi synagogues in downtown Mexico City are still standing, the first is active and provides religious services and the other is a museum.
Israel and Mexico maintain full diplomatic relations since 1952. In 2000 a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries and in recent years, have increased security cooperation. Three Israeli presidents have visited Mexico: Efraim Katzir, Moshe Katzav and Shimon Peres. In 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Mexico and Latin America and later that year, the Israeli Defense Forces and ISRAID sent humanitarian supplies to the earthquake-stricken region of Oaxaca and Chiapas after an 8.1 earthquake hit the area.
Embassy of Israel in Mexico
Sierra Madre #215
Lomas de Chapultepec
Miguel Hidalgo, CP 11000
Telephone: +52 55 5201 1500
Fax: +52 55 5201 1555