Academic journal article Shofar

Between the Undying Authoritarianism and the Unborn Democracy: Communal Organization in Ashkenazi Mexico - 1997-1998

Academic journal article Shofar

Between the Undying Authoritarianism and the Unborn Democracy: Communal Organization in Ashkenazi Mexico - 1997-1998

Article excerpt

Between the Undying Authoritarianism and the unborn Democracy: Communal Organization in Ashkenazi Mexico -- 1997-1998

The article describes the latest structural changes that the Mexican Ashkenazi communal leaders have undertaken. It describes the interplay of religious and lay leaders in effecting essential changes within the community. At the same time, the political and philosophical implications of the choices taken by this leadership and the passivity of its constituency are brought to the fore in an attempt to highlight the enormously important consequences that specific voluntary living arrangements carry with themselves.

One of the most interesting aspects of social life that different groups have engaged in at different times and places involves the painful reconstruction of their way of life in new settings. History offers many varied examples in time and place. In each case, extraordinary human resources have been invested in these constructions, which often embody the group's wisdom as well as its follies. Jews in Mexico provide a case in point. They came as separate individuals and formed a group. As a group they managed the creation and re-creation of former social institutions as an attempt to live in Mexico immersed within a framework that had meaning to them. Those efforts not only linked them to the traditional way of living of their very old ethnic-religious group, but also reconfigured political arrangements that had ensured their collective cultural survival in the Diaspora for centuries. Groups of Jews had used these political arrangements -- variations of communal organizations known mostly as Kehillahs -- to re-create and adapt in different locations (for nothing was a pure copy of anything) political bodies which became the framework for their internal ethnic life. Because Jews arrived in Mexico from many diverse countries during the first two decades of this century, they had to negotiate among themselves their different styles of folklore, religious rites, habits and languages, the elements that were to become the common ground for their interrelations. With the Yiddish language as their linking subtext, they began developing a context to sustain and redefine their identity.(1) Ashkenazi Jews in Mexico, the group that we examine here, confronted and grasped -- not fully aware of the complexities -- the opportunity that Mexico offered: a place to live as Jews. As it turned out, this proved to be a most demanding challenge.

From within the many organizations that Jews created -- economic help associations, synagogues, schools, cultural committees, political parties, etc. -- the Kehillah was the umbrella organization which orchestrated political life mostly within the community, but also vis-á-vis the outside society. Yet the Kehillah itself came much later. Only after many years and the creation of many specific organizations was the need for an umbrella organization conceived and articulated. At the time of the Kehillah's creation, there were some 57 Ashkenazi organizations.(2) Thus, for Ashkenazi Jews in Mexico, the establishment of a Kehillah became the symbol of the community's political coming-of-age.

Once established, the Kehillah became not only an achievement but a hallmark of this community; it represented the crowning of a long process of diversification. Yet, once established, its political life had issues of its own, from infighting to political competition and political alienation. Although the Kehillah sought to establish the common ground for a variety of organizations and types of political representation, a specific style and modus operandi became associated with its existence. The Kehillah evolved into a complex bureaucracy linking itself and its character to the personality of its leader and major player from 1924 to 1992: Shimshon Feldman.

After Feldman's death in 1993, doubts concerning the Kehillah's continued existence were occasionally voiced among members of the community. …

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