History of Jews in Mexico
Some “crypto-Jews” likely arrived in Mexico with the Spaniards in the 16th century. Due to the Spanish Inquisition and a strong Catholic presence, conversos, Jews who were forcibly converted in 1492, hid their Jewish roots, although some continued to practice Judaism in secret. Freedom of conscience is enshrined in the Mexican Constitution of 1857, but there were few Jews in Mexico until the beginning of the 20th century, when immigration from Turkey, Syria and Europe burgeoned. In 2000, Mexican Jews numbered about 45,000, many of them leaders in education, culture and business.
History of Jews in San Miguel de Allende
The first known Jewish residents of the city were the Cohen family, originally from Damascus, Syria, who came in the early 1900’s as peddlers. They opened the first hardware store in town in the fanciful “Noah’s Ark” building on Calle Reloj, 1/2 block from the Jardín. Its façade is covered with a veritable menagerie of carved animals and stars of David and is a tourist attraction.
After WW II ex-US soldiers to San Miguel’s Instituto Allende and other art schools on the GI bill. Some of the Jewish students among them gathered for holiday celebrations. A group of expatriates organized a community Seder that met for 30 years or more with up to 100 people attending.
Shalom San Miguel de Allende formed in December of 2005, when Miranda Nadel, founder and leader of the Jewish Community of SMA, AC retired. Under Miranda’s leadership, San Miguel enjoyed 20 years of weekly Torah study, holiday celebrations, trips to Jewish venues, and numerous social and cultural events. The group contributed to a variety of charities locally and internationally.
The newly formed Shalom San Miguel held weekly egalitarian/traditional Shabbat services. Other activities were added--classes in Jewish history, Hebrew language, Kabbalah, and Mussar; a Hebrew school for children, Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation; holiday parties and social events.
Five years ago, several Mexicans interested in conversion to Judaism came to our services. We initiated a Torah discussion group in Spanish, classes in basic Judaism and Hebrew, Jewish history and culture all in Spanish. Dan Lessner, our spiritual leader, is fluent in Spanish and devoted time and talent to the project.
More Mexicans followed, from towns near and not so near--Villagrán, Guanajuato city, Querétaro and León. In 2011 and 2012, a total of 24 Mexicans were converted by a Beit Din of three Conservative rabbis from the US, with the support of the Shalom community.
Mexicans now make up about 30% of our membership. As young families, they bring energy and vitality to our retired ex-pat demographic. We had our first brit milah, ritual circumcision, in September of 2011.
Past presidents: Larry Stone, 2006-2007
Carole Stone, 2008-2010
Soli Cohen, 2011-2012
Carole Stone/Dan Lessner 2013-2014
Dan Lessner, 2015
Carole Stone, 2016