Jewish Literature Latin Style

Latin American Fiction is rich in imagination and varied in genre and style, boasting a large number of Jewish writers. Menorah explores the diversity and complexity of Jewish Latin American Literature in a symposium Sunday from 2-6 pm at the Boulder JCC.

The keynote address will be given by DU Professor Lydia Gill Keff, whose principle area of research is Jewish Latin American fiction. She will provide an overview of the field.  In break-out sessions following the keynote, the work of authors in specific regions will be discussed in greater depth by Carlos Zarur, Marc Raizman and Asuncion Horno-Delgado.

The history of the Jews in Latin America dates back to Christopher Columbus and his first cross-Atlantic voyage on August 3, 1492, when he left Spain and eventually “discovered” the New World. His date of departure was also the day on which the Catholic monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon decreed that the Jews of Spain either had to convert to Catholicism, depart from the country or face death.

At least seven Jews (either crypto-Jews or Marranos) sailed with Columbus in his first voyage. Later, Jews settled in the new Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Caribbean hoping they would be safe from the Inquisition. Some took part in the conquest of the “New World.” By the mid-17th century, the largest Jewish communities in the Western Hemisphere were located in Suriname and Brazil.

Some Jewish communities in the Caribbean, Central and South America flourished, particularly in areas under Dutch and English control. By the 16th century Jewish communities existed in Brazil, Suriname, Curaçao, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Barbados, and in the Spanish and Portuguese territories, where the Inquisition was active, including Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Today, Latin American Jewry is composed of more than 500,000 people, most of whom live in Argentina and Brazil.

Despite the early Sephardic presence, which continues today, Jews in Latin America are mostly Ashkenazim descended from Jews who emigrated from Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia.

Isaac Goldemberg, Samuel Rawet, Teresa Porzecanski, Alicia Freilich, Ilan Stavans, Moacyr Scliar, Francisco Goldman, Clarice Lispector, Ariel Dorfman, Alberto Gerchunoff, Jacobo Timerman and Rosa Nissan are among the Jewish writers in Latin America exploring issues of assimilation, acceptance, cultural identity, the immigrant experience, return to Judaism and contemporary concerns.

This is the first of three symposia Menorah will present. The 20th Century Jewish American Fiction Symposium will take place on Sunday, February 13 and the Yiddish Fiction and Culture Symposium will be held on Sunday, April 3.

Tickets for each Sunday Symposium are $18 in advance; $22 at the door; cost includes Latin American refreshments. Call Kathryn at 303-641-2056,

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About Kathryn Bernheimer

Founding Director of the Boulder Jewish Film Festival, Boulder JCC. The former film and theater critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, Kathryn is the author of "The Fifty Greatest Jewish Movies" and "The Fifty Funniest Films of All Time." She was also Director of Menorah and ACE at the J from 2003 through August, 2019.

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