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Tucsonan: Jews in Chile successful but isolated

Barry Baker, one of 43 Jewish Federations of North America Young Leadership Cabinet members from around the United States, represented Tucson on a JFNA mission to Chile — its first ever — and Argentina earlier this month. After spending two days in Chile and three in Argentina, Baker told the AJP that the Chilean Jewish community of 15,000 “has an incredible challenge, especially on issues relating to Israel.” Chile’s self-identified 300,000 Palestinians left Israel when it became a state in 1948, making them the world’s largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East.

Chilean Jews are outnumbered by the Palestinians 20-1, says Baker, adding that the distinction also holds in the Chilean parliament. Considering that statistic, the Jewish constituency “felt quite successful,” he says, when they convinced the Chilean government to back a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution, while not coming out in favor of specific borders.

“They need our support, emotionally, spiritually and politically,” notes Baker. “The Chileans feel so isolated. They were thrilled to have us there to tell their story.”

On the other hand, he says, “I saw the most beautiful, modern synagogue I’ve ever seen. They had a $20 million budget.  Who would think you’d find that in Santiago?”

In Argentina, where there are around 250,000 Jews, Baker cites the “thriving Jewish community that may not exist without the involvement of [JFNA] during the financial downturn.”