Kulanu in Guatemala (May 2016)

image: Daneel and Adat Israel members visiting La Merced Church in Antigua, Guatemala

Daneel and Adat Israel members visiting La Merced Church in Antigua, Guatemala
(Photo courtesy of JEANNETTE ORANTES)

Briefly, we are a new Jewish Reform community in Guatemala City, founded in 1999 with help from Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of Toronto, Canada. (There had been a Reform community in Guatemala in the 1970s, but most of their members were absorbed by the ‘official’ and traditional community here, which is Ashkenazi-Modern Orthodox, which caused our Reform community to disappear.) In 2011, we adopted the name Adat Israel. Our main mission is to accept any Jewish person who approaches us to share in Jewish life cycle events and in our holy days. Now, we are the Reform Community in Guatemala, known as Asociación Judía Reformista de Guatemala Adat Israel.

In May 2012, we received a message from Rabbi Elyse informing us that someone would visit our community to teach Hebrew and about Shavuot; it was a Kulanu volunteer from America who had been visiting El Salvador. His name was Daneel Schaechter. Our community hosted him in our community house. He stayed with us for one week, and every night we learned some Hebrew words, roots, and letters, as well as about Shavuot. We felt very familiar with him because of his warm way of teaching.

During September of the same year, Harriet Bograd, a remarkable person from Kulanu, along with Rabbi Elyse, organized to send us Rabbi Diana Lynn and her husband, Dr. Fred Lipschultz, to conduct the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. That was the first time Adat Israel had celebrated the High Holidays with a rabbi. We learned a lot with Rabbi Diana and her husband Fred, including chanting, reading, and singing. It was a very special celebration.

After that, in November 2013, under Kulanu’s directive, Rabbi Elyse selected one of our young members to attend a very special event in Los Angeles: Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI), a place that gathers young Jewish adults from many places around the world and gives them the opportunity to make worldwide friends and redefine their identity. He attended in the summer of 2014.

In August 2014, Daneel sent us information about a Kulanu “mini-grant” program offered to the emerging Latin American Jewish communities. We were selected as one of six winners out of more than ten applications! We were so excited to receive a Hebrew language course (on CDs), a collection of 5 books with tales from the Talmud, and a Chumash in Hebrew and Spanish.

Another young member from Adat Israel, Rivka Orantes, was designated to attend BCI in the summer of 2015. It was so remarkable for her that she has now decided to pursue the path to becoming a rabbi. And in November 2015, there was a worldwide Women of Reform Judaism meeting in Orlando, Florida. Kulanu sent some funds so that the president of Adat Israel could attend.

What I’ve mentioned above are times when Kulanu and its members have taken direct actions in favor of our Guatemalan community. Yet there is something more that Kulanu has contributed to Adat Israel Guatemala. Kulanu has trust in us and has given us the opportunity to demonstrate how intensely we identify with our Jewish community, how deep our wish to develop Judaism in this country is, and how committed we are to letting our children continue with our Jewish traditions as the Torah says, and to be an open and welcoming community. Our community is reminded to remember all the commandments and to "teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit down and when you walk, when you lie down and when you rise," to recite the words of God when retiring or rising; to bind those words "on thy arm and thy head" and to "inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Adat Israel is very grateful to our Rabbi Elyse Goldstein and to Kulanu and its members, especially to Harriet Bograd and Daneel Schaechter, and we will remember forever that Adat Israel Guatemala would not exist without them.