I’ve never been to Guatemala and I‘ve never heard of the small Guatemalan town San Juan La LaGuna. Chances are that many of the close to 10,000 residents of this small town are wishing that I wasn’t the only Jew clueless of their existence; chances are that the residents of this small Guatemalan town are wishing that 10 ultra-Orthodox families that settled there had never heard of San Juan La Laguna either.
While I am admittedly at the mercy of the media and am therefore not necessarily being provided with the entire story of what actually did occur, it seems that a week ago or so, members of 10 ultra-Orthodox Jewish families, most of whom were recent arrivals to San Juan La Laguna, were asked to provide proper identification to the authorities to show proof of their country of origin and to ascertain that they are in fact in the country legally. Such a request was tantamount to asking members of the 10 ultra-Orthodox families to leave the country. Interestingly enough, this action taken by the Guatemalan authorities is extremely rare. Needless to say, along with so many others, I can’t help but wonder why these 10 families are being singled out. Furthermore, I can’t help but wonder why:
1. A community such as San Juan La Laguna would be xenophobic. It’s not as though all of a sudden its Guatemalan character is being threatened. If anything, one would think that the indigenous population would be hospital and welcoming to 10 ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. Wouldn’t it seem fitting, that in line with their Christian upbringing, those of San Juan La LaGuna would open their homes, as well as their hearts to newcomers?
2. Those 10 ultra-Orthodox families are being so compliant. When 23 Jews arrived in New Amsterdam 360 years ago, they were also “asked” to leave by Peter Stuyvesant, its mayor. Yet, those 23 were adamant that they were staying. Thanks to Jewish connections in the Dutch West Indies Company, Mr. Stuyvesant had to rescind his order. Look at the Jewish composition of New York City today, thanks to Jewish determination. Why does such determination seem to be absent among the 10 families in San Juan La LaGuna? Can it be that among the 10 families, there are those under suspicion, not unlike a group of Ultra- Orthodox Jews in Ste. Agathe, Quebec, where the department of child and family services was called in because of complaints of rampant abuse? A Canadian Ultra-Orthodox Jewish family from Ste. Agathe, accused of such behavior did recently relocate to San Juan La LaGuna, rather than answer to Canadian officials.
3. The World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and other similar Jewish watchdog groups care so ominously silent? Haven’t we grown accustomed to the super sensitive radar of such groups that sound at the slightest hint of anti-Semitism on the part of any government, whether local or national, in any part of the world? Yet, the 10 Ultra-Orthodox families being asked to leave San Juan La Laguna haven’t evoked so much as an Oy Vey from any recognized group.
Just as we Jews are known for detecting Anti-Semitism, so too are we Jews known for detecting a shanda (public embarrassment) brewing. While neither I nor anyone else has any hard evidence, I can’t help but feel that these 10 Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families might not be welcomed in any civilized society. Along with others, I hope and pray that whatever took place in San Juan La Laguna has not soured the residents against all Jews.