Jewish Community Grows Roots in San Miguel
By George Kalmar
To be part of a historical event is always exciting, and more so when the event has personal, emotional, and religious significance to all who participate. I have been a founder of several organizations and businesses, but never have I felt that what I am about to do may have lasting effects for generations to come. My participation in the new Jewish Cultural and Community Center (JC3) is an experience that, for me and other Jews in San Miguel, represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to build from scratch the first ever “full service” Jewish Center here in 500 years. Well, not exactly!
Jews in smaller numbers have been worshiping in San Miguel for many years. Soli Cohen, a long-time San Miguel resident, offered religious and High Holiday services many years ago. Most significantly, The Jewish Community of San Miguel, an organization founded by Miranda Nadel, offered weekly Torah study, holiday celebrations, trips to Jewish venues, and numerous social and cultural events for 20 years.
After her retirement, the torch passed on to Dr. Dan Lessner, Carole and Larry Stone, and other individuals who, with their vision, enthusiasm, and personal sacrifice, erected a legal entity called CHESMA, A.C. (Comunidad Hebrea en San Miguel de Allende, A.C.) nine years ago. It now stands ready to offer a viable and growing Jewish home for the Jews of San Miguel, and all those in the community who wish to enjoy our activities and help us grow roots in this great city.
CHESMA has now taken on a more ambitious path. Thanks to its active board members, it was able to raise enough funds to purchase its own building at Calle de las Moras 47, on the corner of Cinco de Mayo, which is now commonly referred to as the JC3. There are plans to expand and remodel the building to accommodate the growing membership. Kehilla Shalom SMA, a traditional/egalitarian minyan group that meets at JC3 has, thanks to Dr. Lessner’s efforts, gained the recognition and membership in the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. On a recent trip with now JC3 President Carole Stone, Dr. Lessner has applied for inclusion under the umbrella of the Central Committee of the Jewish Community of Mexico, an important and powerful organization administering Jewish affairs in all of Mexico.
Jewish presence in Mexico dates back hundreds of years, and perhaps there have been Jews in San Miguel for a long time as well, but never have they owned their own building and offered such an array of services. There is a Monday series on Jewish artists that continues by popular demand. There is a Tuesday film series showing handpicked films on Jewish and secular topics. JC3 is not a religious organization. Its programming leans toward Jewish topics, but the more than 112 members, elected officers, and appointed board of directors have an interest in secular programming that will attract Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. For example, on February 2, JC3 hosted a presentation by his honor Senor Ricardo Villareal Garcia, the new mayor of San Miguel. The community at large was invited to attend.
On February 28, Richard W. Soudriette, a political analyst with very long credentials that include being the Chief of Staff for a member of the US Congress, will deliver a lecture on the subject of democracy, its sustainability and legitimacy in world governments. On March 11, JC3 will welcome the honorable Jonathan Peled, the Israeli Ambassador to Mexico, who will speak at the Bellas Artes auditorium to the San Miguel community. In addition, plays, readings, classes, and other cultural events fill the JC3 calendar every week. They are posted on the http://www.shalomsanmiguel.org website.
Land for a new Jewish cemetery has been donated, fulfilling one of the traditional requirements for the establishment of a Jewish community. Cemeteries are often the most lasting marks of a Jewish community, as one can see in Eastern Europe, where the often neglected grave stones are the only reminders of a once thriving Jewish life. But it is in life, not in death, that Jewish tradition has its roots. L’chaim (to life), is the Jewish toast to every happy occasion. Giving birth to the new Jewish Cultural and Community Center feels like the beginning of something big, something important, maybe a source of light—not just for Jews but all of us who live here or visit this sacred old city that we love.