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Another milestone for Mexico: first Jewish president

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Mexico elected its first Jewish president last weekend, a remarkable development for the world’s most populous Catholic nation.

Yet if this was a watershed moment for Mexico, it was overshadowed by another moment: President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum would also become the first woman to lead the country.

There’s another reason why there’s relatively little discussion of her Jewish faith.

Ms. Sheinbaum, 61, rarely talks about her ancestry. When she does, she tends to express a distant relationship with Judaism, which many in the Mexican Jewish community, which traces its roots to Mexico, see as different. Today, there are about Approx. 59,000 In this country with a population of 130 million.

“I definitely knew where I came from, but my parents were atheists,” Ms. Sheinbaum told The New York Times in 2020. “I was never part of the Jewish community. We grew up in a little bit of a different environment than the Jewish community.”

The daughter of left-wing, scientifically engaged parents, Sheinbaum grew up in a secular family in Mexico City during the 1960s and 1970s, a time of great political unrest in Mexico.

“She embraced her Mexican identity from a very early age, an acceptance that was rooted in science, socialism and political action,” said historian Tessy Schlosser, director of the Center for Documentation and Research on Mexican Jews.

Moreover, Ms. Schlosser said, Ms. Sheinbaum’s immigration story, as a descendant of Jews who immigrated to Mexico in the 20th century, “doesn’t add any political capital” in a political society where candidates often mention their mixed-race or indigenous ancestry.

Sheinbaum’s father, Carlos Sheinbaum Yoselewicz, is a businessman and chemical engineer whose parents are Ashkenazi Jews who fled Lithuania in the early 20th century. Her mother, Anne Pardo Semo, is a biologist and professor emeritus at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, whose parents are Sephardic Jews who fled Bulgaria before the Holocaust.

Although Ms. Sheinbaum (pronounced SHANE-balm) has downplayed her ties to Judaism, her origins have not been completely ignored, shedding light on the xenophobia and anti-Semitism that simmers in Mexican politics.

After becoming a presidential candidate last year, Sheinbaum faced attacks from “birthers” who questioned whether she was born in Mexico or even if she was Mexican.

Among those leading the attack on her is conservative former President Vicente Fox, who called Ms. Sheinbaum is a “Bulgarian Jew.” Ms. Sheinbaum responded by posting her birth certificate She details her birthplace: Mexico City. “I am 100% Mexican, the proud daughter of Mexican parents,” she says.

Still, Ms. Sheinbaum’s candidacy has drawn attention from Mexico’s Jewish community, as well as mixed reactions from Mexican Jews to her political rise.

Although Jews first arrived in Mexico during the Spanish conquest of 1519 and continued to arrive during the colonial period to escape persecution in Europe, their numbers grew significantly in the 20th century. A large number of Mexican Jews are of Syrian ancestry, while others come from the former Ottoman Empire or other parts of Europe.

Mexico remains majority Christian, with nearly 100 million Catholics and 14 million Protestants, according to the 2020 census. But Mexican Jews have long been prominent in public life, including as broadcast journalists, e.g. Jacob Zabludowski and Leo Zuckermann; the writers Margo Glantz and Enrique Krauze; and the politician Salomón Chertorivski, a progressive who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Mexico City this year.

Sabina Berman, a Jewish writer and journalist, was one of the prominent Mexican Jews who supported Ms. Sheinbaum, whom she praised as “disciplined” and an “excellent candidate.”

But the support is far from unanimous, reflecting skepticism among parts of Mexico’s Jewish community about the left-wing politics of Sheinbaum, a protégé of the combative current president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

For example, Carlos Alazraqui, a famous advertising executive explain Ms. Sheinbaum had a “huge resentment” towards rich people because her parents were what he called “communists.”

“Her envy of the middle class and above is impressive,” he said. “She’s malicious.”

More broadly, Sheinbaum also faced criticism during her campaign, accused of using religious figures to connect with Catholic voters. Her opponents questioned her faith after she met with Pope Francis and seized on her previous picture She wore a skirt with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an extremely important figure in Mexican Catholicism.

“We’ve all met with the pope,” her top rival in the election, Xóchitl Gálvez, said at a recent debate. “Did you tell the pope how you talked to Our Lady of Guadalupe in your skirt, even though you didn’t believe in her or in God?”

After these attacks, Ms. Sheinbaum was asked whether she believed in God. explain“I am a woman of faith and a lover of science,” he said, accusing Ms. Galvez of disrespecting the separation of church and state, a core principle of Mexico’s political system.

Some of Sheinbaum’s past statements give us a more nuanced picture of who she is. “I was not raised religiously, that’s how my parents raised me,” Ms. Sheinbaum said. Tell A rally organized by a Jewish organization in Mexico City in 2018. “But obviously, this culture is in your blood.”

She told her biographer Arturo Cano that she celebrated Yom Kippur and other Jewish holidays with her grandparents, but that “it was more of a cultural than a religious observance.”

Like other secular Jews in Mexico, Ms. Sheinbaum said she was not pressured to marry someone from her own religious sect. “It wasn’t like, ‘You have to marry a Jew,’ that’s how my mother was,” Ms. Sheinbaum told The New York Times.

Writing in a Mexican newspaper, Ms. Sheinbaum said her grandfather left Europe because he was a “Jew and a communist,” while her grandparents fled “Nazi persecution.”

“Many relatives of my generation were killed in concentration camps,” she said. Letter to the Editor of the Daily News Since 2009, she has also condemned the “killing of Palestinian civilians” in Israel’s bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Since the war broke out last year, Ms. Sheinbaum has condemned attacks on civilians, called for a ceasefire and expressed support for a two-state solution.

It remains to be seen how, as president, she will steer Mexico’s stance on the war, an issue that is increasingly contentious in Mexico.

Just last week, pro-Palestinian protesters Conflict There were clashes with police outside the Israeli embassy in Mexico City, and the Mexican government also supported South Africa’s accusation of genocide by Israel in the International Court of Justice.

Emiliano Rodriguez Mejia Reporting from Mexico City also contributed.

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