Jews of Colombia host Limmud learning festival

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The Jewish community of Colombia hosted a Limmud Jewish learning festival.

Limmud Bogota drew over 200 participants from the Colombian capital as well as the cities of Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla.

Sunday’s event included both a children’s and high school track. Presenters included Adriana Cooper, columnist in El Colombiano, Medellin´s daily newspaper; Sheikh Ahmad Tayel, whose Sunni community is comprised of Syrians and Palestinians from Bogota’s first mosque; Hassan Nassar, a top TV and radio personality; former Senator and political reformer John Sudarsky; Dr. Salomon Kalmanovitz, former director of Colombia´s Central Bank; Jose Simhon, Colombia’s most famous magician; and Rabbanit Rachel Askenazi, of Barranquilla.

“It was wonderful to have Jews from every part of the community and from every community in the country under one roof,” said Limmud Bogota Chair Jack Goldstein, a hotel manager. “We had Sephardic, Hasidic, Ashkenazi, liberal, atheist, feminist and LGBT Jews learning and sharing together.”

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“Intercultural exchange is fundamental for understanding our world and resolving our differences,” said presenter Hassan Nassar, a Palestinian who heads FM Noticias, Colombia’s premier radio network. “Limmud Bogota has been a great opportunity to talk with the community.”

There are about 3,500 Jews in Colombia, down from 7,500 in the mid-1990s, when a deep economic crisis led to a mass exodus to places such as Costa Rica, Miami and Panama.  Most Jews – about 2,500 – live in Bogota, which is home to several Jewish institutions and organizations.

There are over 80 Limmud organizations in 43 countries. The volunteer-based Jewish learning festival debuted in England more than 25 years ago and has spread to dozens of cities around the world. Latin America Limmud communities include: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay.

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