When six teens allegedly beat a Guatemalan immigrant into a coma last July in a Boston suburb, a Jewish and Latino coalition called the attack “hateful.”
In October, when a Cape Cod Jewish center was trashed and Nazi images were downloaded onto a rabbi’s computer, Boston Latino leaders came to a rally to denounce the vandalism as a hate crime.
The responses in the two cases, advocates say, are examples of recent efforts by Jewish and Latino leaders to forge alliances.
The Anti-Defamation League of New England has planned a “Community Seder” on Sunday with an immigration theme, highlighting a shift by the Anti-Defamation League in fighting against hostility against immigrants and tackling anti-Semitism among some Latinos. Both, it contends, are rising.
Similar events are scheduled this month in Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego and Orange County, Calif. -- areas that also have seen growing ties between Jewish and Latino community leaders.
Jennifer Smith, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England, said the Boston group is using the traditional Passover event that celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt as a means to also celebrate immigration in the United States.
Issues around immigration, Smith said, bring Jewish and Latino leaders together.
“As the scope of our communities have changed and grown, we wanted to create a bigger event that was more encompassing of all of our neighbors,” Smith said.
The move to build a coalition in Boston began in 2007 after the Anti-Defamation League of New England, a group primarily known for combating anti-Semitism, announced new efforts to fight against “anti-immigrant rhetoric” and hate crimes. Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League said at the time they were alarmed at the animus toward immigrants surfacing as the country debated immigration reform.
In addition, surveys of Latinos in the Boston area found that a significant number of immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean held anti-Semitic views.
Diego Portillo, president of the Latino Professional Network in Boston, said the two groups can address both matters by joining forces.
“It’s really eye-opening,” Portillo said. “There are stereotypes on both sides, but we can change that.”
The Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz, associate professor and chair of Theology and Religious Studies at St. John’s University in New York, said sporadic attempts to build better Jewish-Latino relations have been happening for years.
But the Boston example shows that more cities are seeing Jewish-Latino coalitions pop up as they rally around a shared history, immigration reform and cases of violent hate crimes against immigrants, he said.
“It's very clear that the Jewish community in the United States is recognizing the importance of outreach to the growing Latino community throughout the United States,” Ruiz said. “I think they see parallels in their own experiences as immigrants.”
Those outreach efforts include round-table discussions and community events. “There have been moments where discussions have gotten tense,” said Ecuadorian-born Jerry Villacres, co-chair of the Latino Jewish Roundtable in Boston. “People aren’t guarded or politically correct, but that’s what we need.”
Outreach efforts also include sponsored trips to Israel for Latinos -- something used in the past to build relations.
For example, Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor visited Israel in 1986 as private lawyer during a trip sponsored by Project Interchange, affiliated with the American Jewish Committee.
Ten years later as a federal judge, she visited Israel again and then joined a Project Interchange U.S.-Israel forum on immigration.
Villacres said he also visited Israel a few years ago on behalf of the American Jewish Committee. He has since encouraged other Latino leaders to consider the Anti-Defamation League's offer for Latinos to visit the Holy Land. “I think in order for us to learn, we have to get out of our comfort zone,” he said.
In December, Portillo went to Israel with three other Boston-area Latino leaders on a trip sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. They were joined by 18 other Latino leaders from Texas, California, and New Mexico. The group visited five Israeli cities and heard from 19 speakers, Portillo said.
Another trip is in the being planned.
After both sides get more familiar with each other, the next stage will be to act on collective efforts to push for immigration reform, Portillo said.
“Who knows what we can accomplish together,” he said. “That’s the exciting part.”