Annual Report for LCJE Central America 2003
By Yosef Koelner, LCJE Coordinator for Central America

In recent years, I have been LCJE coordinator for the enormous area called Latin America. At the LCJE conference this summer in Helsinki, it was decided to divide Latin America into two areas, each with its own LCJE coordinator. David Sedaca is now coordinator for South America that includes the countries south of Panama.

Even though I am now coordinator for Central America, my responsibilities include the Spanish speaking countries of North America and the Caribbean. Central America includes all the countries between Guatemala and Panama, with an estimated Jewish population of 13,000. Spanish-speaking North America includes Mexico, the southwestern part of the United States, and south Florida, with an estimated Jewish population of 100,000 – 40,000 of which are mostly in Mexico City. Spanish-speaking areas of the Caribbean include Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, with an estimated Jewish population of 5,000. The term estimated is used according to the World Jewish Congress not just because of the traditional Jewish reluctance to count its people, but also because of the impossible task of reaching out to so many unaffiliated Jews in the Diaspora.

The first known Jews came to the Caribbean with Columbus who is thought to be of Jewish origin. Five of his crew, as well as his interpreter, were known to be Jewish. In 1574, there was already a Jewish community in Mexico City. Subsequently Jewish people began to settle in the Caribbean and Central America. Another wave of Jewish immigration to the Caribbean and Mexico was during the period from 1933-1945 known as the search for safety. Though the official Jewish population is relatively small, there are countless thousands whose ancestors were Marranos (secret Jews). The Southwestern United States was originally a part of Mexico. The Jewish population there has its roots in the original settlers and recent immigrants. Due to economic hardships and political turmoil in much of Latin America, there has been a surge in the Hispanic Jewish population of south Florida.

My plan is to appoint a coordinator for each country who will help facilitate the vision of the LCJE. These coordinators, in turn, will work with the various Jewish ministries in their countries to help unify our efforts. I also hope to have an annual regional conference similar to the Latin American conference held in Orlando.

It seems to me that more and more Jewish ministries are focusing their attention on Latin America. Chosen People Ministries has planted several congregations. Jews for Jesus is planning “Behold Your God” campaigns in the major Jewish population centers of Latin America. Many Jewish people are being reached by the music ministries of Paul Wilbur and Jonathan Settel. I eagerly anticipate participating in the end-time harvest of our Jewish people of this vast area.

Yosef Koelner