'How 90 Peruvians Became the Latest Jewish Settlers'

StoryAugust 29, 2002
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Israeli author Neri Livneh wrote in a recent article in the newspaper Haaretz:

“In a prefab structure at a school in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut, a few dozen people are sitting and singing a popular Hasidic song: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be afraid.” They are singing with feeling, even though most of them don’t understand a word of the song. As is the custom in religious schools, the class is divided into a men’s section and a women’s section. The women are wearing hats and the men’s heads are covered by knitted skullcaps. The men and women alike have distinct South American Indian features.

“Almost unnoticed, a new branch of Jews is springing up in the settlements, Jews who are connected to Israel and all things Israeli by a very narrow bridge indeed. They have yet to visit Tel Aviv or Haifa, and have never even heard of Degania, the very first kibbutz, or its neighbour, Kinneret. Miki Kratsman, the photographer, and I had the privilege of being the first secular Jews they had ever met. Nevertheless, they are fired with a historic sense of their right to this land.

“We are of Indian origin,” says Nachshon Ben-Haim, formerly Pedro Mendosa, “but in Peru, in the Andes, there is no Indian culture left. Everyone has become Christian, and before we became Jews, we also were Christians who went to church.

“The miracle of the creation of this community of new Jews has to be chalked up wholly and exclusively to the credit–or debit–of the chief rabbinate of Israel. At the order of the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, a delegation of rabbis travelled to Peru. During their two weeks in the country, they converted 90 people to Judaism, most of them of Indian origin.”Today we’re going to have a discussion about this particular case, and also on Israeli settlement policy in general.


  • Bryan Schwartz, President, Scattered Among The Nations. Schwartz is responsible for raising the funds that made it possible for a group of Peruvians to become the latest settlers in Israel.
  • Michael Tarazi, legal advisor to the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
  • Jessica Montel, executive director of B’Tselem, The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

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