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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Jews And Hispanics Form Grass-Roots Coalition

by Patty Pensa

December 31, 2000
Copyright © 2000 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Growing up, Estrella Aruj knew that others saw her as an anomaly. In school, she spoke nothing of her religion. As a fashion designer in New York in the 1960s, she raised a few eyebrows wearing a Star of David around her neck.

Being Hispanic and Jewish seemed unnatural to the people she met. Today, increasing numbers of people in both communities are finding such blending completely natural.

For almost a year, the two groups have been meeting to discuss cultural, political and business issues.

Prompted by a meeting in Washington, D.C., between the American Jewish Committee and a dozen national Hispanic groups two years ago, leaders in Florida have started their own grass-roots coalition.

"There's a certain affinity between the Hispanic and Jewish cultures," said William Gralnick, southeast regional director of the American Jewish Committee.

For starters, the Jewish and Hispanic communities share people such as Aruj, who are known as Sephardic Jews.

The Lake Worth resident has traced her ancestors' roots to the Spanish expulsion 500 years ago, when Jews left Spain to avoid the Inquisition. Many traveled to the Americas or to the Middle East.

Second, both groups have faced discrimination in the United States. The American Jewish Committee, which has formed coalitions with blacks and Roman Catholics in the past, wants to offer the Hispanic community the keys to Jews' success in opening the doors of the business and political worlds.

"Jewish people can help Hispanics because Jewish people went through that," said Aruj, 66.

"They've shown that pushing and shoving don't work. You have to prove what you can do in the community."

Education in business is a key, said Henry Saldaña, president of the Latino Leadership Institute.

Jewish "involvement in this is more on a coaching basis. They have been very successful. They've seen the growth of our community, and they want to assist us," he said.

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