Jewish Latin American Clergy to Discuss Life in America


Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s Latin American Jewish & Gender Studies project features a conversation Feb. 13 among the Boston area’s Jewish Latino clergy, moderated by Dr. Dalia Wassner.

Latin American Jewish clergy have been working in the United States since its first students graduated from Seminario Rabbinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires. The Seminario was founded in 1962 by American rabbi Marshall T. Meyer. Dr. Dalia Wassner, director of Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s Latin American Jewish & Gender Studies, has assembled a stellar panel of Latino Jewish clergy who will discuss their experiences in Boston-area synagogues.

“Latin American Jews,” Wassner told JewishBoston, “both men and women, cantors, rabbis and educators, not only participate in Jewish communities, but lead them. They bring joy and music and their perspective of human rights and inclusion to their congregations. They help American Jews feel connected to Jews in other places.”

Cantor Elias Rosemberg of Temple Emanuel was the first cantor to receive smicha, or ordination, from Seminario in 1994. The Buenos Aires native had been singing in synagogue since the age of 11 and went on to sing at the German-Jewish synagogue in Buenos Aires. When he was 21, Seminario opened a cantorial school. “I always knew there was something special about singing in the synagogue, and my calling as a cantor came to me in my early 20s,” he told JewishBoston.

Among the many innovations Rosemberg has brought to Temple Emanuel, where he has served as cantor for over a decade, is “Shabbat Alive.” The service is participatory and features instruments, as well as various singers leading the service. Rosemberg came to the United States with his wife, Lorena, in 2000, and said he experienced Judaism differently as a Latino. “As a Jew in Argentina, you feel you don’t belong,” he said. “That’s why people go to synagogue and are very involved. It’s not uncommon to go to a Buenos Aires synagogue on a Friday night and see 500 people there. Jewish institutions are where you feel you belong as an Argentinian Jew.”

Rabbi Michael Fel is a first-generation Latino. Fel, one of two rabbis at Temple Emunah in Lexington, grew up with his Argentinian-born parents in Miami. At Temple Emunah, Fel noted he has “introduced a variety of different programs and initiatives to help build a more inclusive, accessible community. I often use technology and social media to lower barriers to synagogue engagement.”

Fel said that as a first-generation Latino, he understands that everyone has a backstory. “Having immigrant parents,” he said, “has taught me to always try and see the whole person standing in front of me—where they were born, what challenges they’ve faced and how language or life experience limits their ability to share their full selves.”

Fel speaks Spanish to his children, transmitting his Latino heritage to the next generation. “One of the great things Dalia is doing in this project is studying how one balances multiple identities,” he said. “Having had parents who inculcated Jewish and Hispanic identities in me, I feel more able to pass that heritage on to my kids. I teach them that they are Hispanic, Jewish and American, and they are heirs to all those wonderful traditions.”

Rabbi Claudia Kreiman grew up in Chile with Argentinian parents. Her father was the Santiago Jewish community’s head rabbi throughout her childhood, and her mother was a Jewish educator. The family moved back to Argentina when Kreiman was 18.

Kreiman has been at Temple Beth Zion since 2007, and will become the senior rabbi there this summer. Kreiman was not available for an interview but sent extensive biographical information to JewishBoston. She wrote that growing up under the repression of the Chilean dictatorship inspired her to work for social justice at an early age. Personal tragedy also contributed to her instinct “to repair the world.” In 1994, her mother, Susy Wolynski Kreiman, was killed in the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina—the AMIA Center for Jewish life. Afterward, Kreiman lived in Israel, earning a master’s degree in Jewish education and rabbinic ordination from the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies.

A Yom Kippur sermon she gave this past year is an exquisite reflection of her commitment to social justice and human rights. She wrote: “…I have a hard time understanding…the case for leaving politics outside of the sanctuary. We might not all agree, and that is fine, and even welcome. Torah does not speak in one voice. But if we do not talk about our values, about our moral and religious obligations to care for those in need, for the poor, the widow, the stranger, the children, the immigrant, the person with special needs, the women, the minorities, of every human being created in the image of God, then Torah is not speaking at all.”

Rabbi Sonia Saltzman grew up in Santiago, Chile. She received her ordination from Hebrew College’s rabbinical school and recently retired as the rabbi at Ohabei Shalom. Saltzman, who came to her Jewish education relatively later, learned to read Hebrew in her mid-30s. She further distinguishes herself as a first-generation Chilean. Her mother came to Chile from Germany just after Kristallnacht when she was 8 years old. Her father, a Russian Jew, made his way to Latin America through China.

Saltzman recalled that growing up in Chile, there was not a Spanish-speaking rabbi in her community. “I grew up with a rabbi who was a Holocaust survivor and gave sermons in German, which I didn’t understand,” she said. “I didn’t go to a Jewish day school and didn’t know the Hebrew prayers.” Saltzman’s father took it upon himself to remedy the situation and brought a Spanish-speaking rabbinical student to engage first-generation Chileans. That seminarian was Rabbi Claudia Kreiman’s father from Argentina. “It was the beginning of a community that would become relevant, and I’m that transition,” Saltzman said.

Saltzman also noted that being an outsider is key to her identity. For example, her parents were not born in Chile. “Being a foreigner informs the way I am in the world,” she said. “It permeates everything. I know how it feels not to be the majority. I want to bring people in and make them feel that they are part of the community.”

Find more information about the event, “Latin Jewish Clergy: An American Conversation,” here.


Judy Bolton-Fasman

Judy Bolton-Fasman is the culture reporter for JewishBoston.com. She has written about arts and culture for over two decades. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, The Jerusalem Report, Cognoscenti and other venues. Email her at judy@jewishboston.com.