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Kibbutz with sabor.

They publish their own Spanish-language newspaper, Aurora. They boast their own farming settlement, Kibbutz Ga'ash, located along the Mediterranean coast. And on weekends, they dance up a storm at their own nightclub on Tel Aviv's trendy Hayarkon Street, where samba, salsa and merengue float out over the city long after everyone else have gone to sleep.

These are Israel's Hispanics--idealistic Jews who left their native Latin American countries years ago, and who, along with more recent arrivals, have made this dynamic, El Salvador-sized nation in the Middle East their new home. According to the Organization Latino-americana en Israel, these immigrants currently number 85,000--constituting nearly two percent of Israel's population. More than half are from Argentina, according to Saverio Lewinsky, the organization's vice-president. The rest hail from Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico and a handful of Central American republics. Lewinsky, a retired science professor from Buenos Aires, says his Tel Aviv-based association counts 4,000 member families and 32 branches throughout Israel, from Eilat in the southern Negev Desert to Qiryat Shemona in the northern Galilee.

At Kibbutz Ga'ash, founded by Latin American immigrants in 1950, many of the original pioneers can still be seen driving tractors, milking cows or working at a small lamp factory that exports lighting equipment to Europe, Africa and the United States. "It took a lot of ideology to build this country. There was a lot of desert, enemies and war" recalls Haim Levine, who was born in Matanzas, Cuba, and came to Israel in 1949.

Another pioneer, 66-year-old Dov Naiman, says that following the War of Independence between Israel and her Arab neighbors, a group of 70 Latin American Jews sailed to Israel, full of dreams for the new nation. "We abandoned our families, our parents, our houses to build up this country and fight for peace," he said. "In 1950, with the help of the Jewish Agency, we founded Kibbutz Ga'ash." Over the years, more immigrants arrived, and today, the kibbutz has 600 members. "Of course, our kids are Israelis," said Naiman, whose son Shlomo is the kibbutz manager and teaches Arabic in his spare time.

Today, with the decline in Jewish emigration from Latin America to Israel, new arrivals at Kibbutz Ga'ash are more likely to speak Russian than Spanish. In the last three years, nearly 400,000 Soviet Jews have emigrated to Israel. "These days, we are receiving lots of families from Russia," said Nairman. They work at the lighting factory and live in Netanya.

Yet there are still some 450,000 Jews in Latin America--mostly in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay--and Lewinsky says many of them would come to Israel if the conditions were right. "We think," says the aging pioneer, "that the highest percentage of immigration will yet come from Latin America."
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Title Annotation:Hispanic Jews in Israel
Author:Luxner, Larry
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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