According to the Berman Institute-North American Jewish Data Bank, there are 49,500 self-identified Jewish Latinos in the United States.
Rabbi Mordechai Lichy and his 200 members of the Habbad Spanish Center in Coral Springs, Florida have created a Latino community where their Jewish faith, Spanish language and Latino culture co-exist as one.
"It's Judaism in your language," says Lichy.
Rabbi Lichy is a second generation Cuban American Jew and his congregation is mostly made up of Latin American Jews from Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Venezuela. According to the Jewish Data Bank, there are approximately 15,744 Jewish Latin Americans living in South Florida.
Those who attend Habbad Spanish Center not only pray in Spanish but as Rabbi Lichy likes to say, they "eat in Spanish" too. During the annual 8-day celebration of Hanukkah, or festival of lights, which just ended on Sunday night, members ate churros loaded with sugar and fried arepas filled with cheese instead of jelly donuts and potato latkes.
In fact, over the course of two nights during Hanukkah, Lichy's wife Shoshana made approximately 300 arepas and 800 churros for the congregation.
"The Latin American immigrant has transformed the landscape of the Jewish community of South Florida by adding a very family-oriented environment and dynamic Zionist approach to Judaism," said Juan Dircie, Associate Director-Miami of the American Jewish Committee's Latino and Latin American Institute.
Even though Cuban Jews have been in South Florida for over five decades, recent Jewish immigrants have arrived from all over Latin America due to political and economic factors. "The Latin American landscape has changed drastically," says Dircie. "Many Argentineans Jews came after the 2001-2003 economic crisis. Large numbers came from Venezuela when Chavez came to power and the numbers continue to increase year by year. Many Mexicans have come because of their security concerns."
The Habbad Spanish Center has been serving the community of Coral Springs for the past seven years. "We created an atmosphere in the synagogue where the people love coming to the synagogue," said Rabbi Lichy. "People love coming and expressing themselves in their language and being in an atmosphere where they have a Spanish speaking person next to them."