City Resilience Snapshot: Mexico City

Located on a lake basin and surrounded by volcanoes, Mexico City is continuously at risk of earthquakes, floods, heat waves, and other natural—and not so natural—disasters. More than half of the megalopolis’s workforce survives day-to-day and without a social safety net, which makes them particularly vulnerable to these shocks. The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic could serve as a template for how to help these communities become more resilient to crises. In an unprecedented act, public market

United by the Deportivo, Mexico's Jews were separated by coronavirus

It houses, among other things, a full-size Olympic swimming pool, another 25-meter covered pool, dozens of tennis courts, multiple basketball courts, fronton courts (for playing Basque pelota sports), other paddle courts, a 200-person theater, two full-sized soccer fields, a baseball field, men and women’s saunas, a Yiddish and Hebrew library, a hair salon and a restaurant. On a recent visit, the normally filled premises were eerily quiet. The restaurant — in pre-COVID times packed with childre

Mexico City, Struggling to Provide Clean Water, Tests a New Method

When Carmen Luna moved to a neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City in 1975, there was no sewage system. To get water, she carried buckets to and from a faucet in the street. At the end of the 1980s, her house was connected to the grid; her family would get tamarind-colored water three days a week. Last year, Ms. Luna signed up for a new rainwater-harvesting program led by Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, an environmental scientist. The city government had teamed up with local nonprofi

FARO: Cultural lighthouses brighten up Mexico City's art scene

That same year, the FARO in Milpa Alta, an area where suicide is the third most common cause of death for adults between 19 and 30, also opened its doors. Because of its confined space—originally 600 square metres— this project innovated by developing a “FARO outside of FARO” program, with the workshops taking place in smaller venues closer to people’s homes. Currently, there are 6 different FAROS across the city, with two more due to open this year; one of them, FARO la Perulera, is inside a b

He wanted to encapsulate Beijing's Jewish community in a Passover Haggadah. The coronavirus complicated that.

(JTA) — Unlike Shanghai or Hong Kong, which received Jews fleeing from World War II, Beijing does not have a robust Jewish history. In the words of Joshua Kurtzig, former president of the Reform congregation there, the massive Chinese capital is a “very transient city,” especially for Jews — meaning that many pass through without putting down generations of roots. Some 1,000 Jews now live in Beijing among its 20 million residents, and the congregation, Kehillat Beijing, has no permanent clergy

Running out of water in a liquid paradise

Mexico City’s problems with running water are acute: in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods such as Iztapalapa and Xochimilco, brown, murky water flows from the faucets just once a week, if at all. The irony is that water in this region abounds. Located in a valley 2250 metres above sea level, the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán – the precursor to today’s Mexico City – was once connected by a system of lakes and rivers. The Spaniards drained the basin to make way for their colonial city, and four cent

Colombia's Day of the Little Candles looks an awful lot like Hanukkah

(JTA) — Jews in Colombia preparing for Hanukkah saw something earlier this month that no doubt looked very familiar. On the night of Dec. 7, streets, plazas, windows and porches across the country were lit by thousands of candles in honor of Dia de las Velitas (Day of the Little Candles), a cherished holiday in the Latin American country that officially marks the beginning of the Christmas season. The holiday dates back to 1854, when Pope Pius defined the immaculate conception to be Catholic d

Econduce: Building sustainable mobility for a Latin American megacity

During the second half of the twentieth century, Mexico City’s metropolitan population more than quadrupled in size. As one of the first urban regions to reach the 20 million inhabitant mark, mobility has been a top concern for chilangos (as the city’s residents are known) for decades. In the 1990s, the city was also one of the most polluted in the world. Smog days, during which schools were closed and cars with certain licence plate numbers were banned from circulation, were a normal part of ev

Mexican-Jewish artist Aliza Nisenbaum on her colorful portraits of 'the other' in society

(JTA) — Mexican-Jewish artist Aliza Nisenbaum sees a failure to communicate in the modern world — and her work as a way to counteract the dilemma. “The problem today is that we are not sitting with real people, face to face, we are shouting to each other on social media,” Nisenbaum says. She looks to fight this cultural tendency through her paintings, whose intense, sensuous color forces the viewer to inhale the humanity of her subjects. Influenced by the work of Jewish philosopher Emmanuel L

From Cuba to Chile, a Journey through Jewish Latin America

This article is adapted from AQ's latest issue on the politics of water in Latin America Taken together, Latin America is home to the third largest Jewish diaspora group in the world, behind the United States and France. But as Mexican-born essayist and linguist Ilan Stavans notes in The Seventh Heaven: Travels Through Jewish Latin America, the story of Jews in the region can’t be told in one fell swoop. Every country has something different to say. Stavans’ book is the result of five years of

A new book takes readers on a journey through Jewish Latin America

MEXICO CITY (JTA) —More than 10 years ago, Ilan Stavans scandalized language purists of the Spanish-speaking world by translating a chapter of “Don Quixote” — into Spanglish. Since then, the so-called czar of Latino culture has become one of the most important interlocutors for Hispanics in the United States. In his latest book, “The Seventh Heaven,” published earlier this month, the Mexico-born Stavans shares a travelogue of a trip through Jewish Latin America, a topic on which he has emerged

Argentinian Jews are split over de Kirchner's political comeback

Argentines head to the polls for the final round of presidential elections later this month. The two candidates are the incumbent, Mauricio Macri — the first conservative elected in the South American nation in several decades — and Alberto Fernandez, a left-wing populist. Things are not looking good for Macri — in the first round of voting, Fernandez won 47 percent to Macri’s 32 percent. The challenger brings a recognizable name to his ticket: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s presi

Mexico City’s Rain-Harvesting Program Could Change How Cities Manage Water

When Maria Isabel Contreras and her husband moved to Mexico City’s Iztapalapa district, 30 years ago, water was not an issue. But as the district urbanized, the taps began to dry up. Today, the nine-person household — four adults and five children — receives three hours of continuous supply of murky, brown water each day, before the water runs out. This translates into a daily struggle for the Contreras household, and she is quick to enumerate all the tactics used to get by. “We inserted water

Rescued twice: The archive that survived the Holocaust and the AMIA attack

(JTA) — Abraham Lichtenbaum was getting ready to leave his house on July 18, 1994 when, at 9:53 a.m., he heard an explosion: The headquarters of Argentina’s 200,000-strong Jewish community, the AMIA, located less than four miles from his home, had been bombed. Eighty-five people died and 300 were injured in what has become Argentina’s biggest terror attack. Lichtenbaum worked in the building and typically arrived there at 9 a.m. But he had been up the night before recording a weekly radio show

Barcelona's oldest house is now a Jewish cultural center

BARCELONA, Spain (JTA) — Tucked away in one of the narrow streets of this city’s El Call neighborhood, a former Jewish ghetto that these days house upscale shops and restaurants, sits the oldest residential house in Barcelona — a nondescript white stone building full of history. The house was owned originally by Astruch Adret, a Jewish businessman who was forced to sell the property and convert to Catholicism in 1391, when Jews were savagely murdered after being accused of causing the Black Pla

Mexico City's rivers reborn

In Mexico City, the name Viaducto Río de la Piedad conjures images of a noisy, polluted, traffic-ridden eight-lane highway that turns into hell-on-wheels, with cars inching by at a mere six kilometres per hour during rush hour. It’s not a place to go for an afternoon stroll, let alone hang around. Yet in 2012, that’s precisely what a group of activists led by environmentalist architect Elias Cattan did. After scaling a fence on a bridge, they sat down in a circle on the concrete structure that c

Roma, the Mexico City setting of Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar frontrunner, used to be a Jewish neighborhood

MEXICO CITY (JTA) — Alfonso Cuaron’s film “Roma” has already won two Golden Globes, and many think it will be the first Netflix film to win the Oscar for best picture. The film is set in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City — where Cuaron grew up — and follows a well-off family and its beloved housekeeper, as they navigate life there in the 1970s, a politically fraught time for the country and the city. Not mentioned in Cuaron’s autobiographical film is that in past decades Roma used to be an i

New Jewish Documentation Center, Containing 100 Years of Jewish Life in Mexico City, Opens This Week

A catastrophic 1985 earthquake that killed thousands of people in Mexico City and destroyed the (back-then) Jewish neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa also left the archives of the Ashkenazi community in a state of complete disarray, stashed away in makeshift boxes in the damp and dark basement of the Nidje Israel synagogue, colloquially known as Acapulco 70 for its street address. In the early 1990s, Alicia Gojman de Backal, a history professor at the National University of Mexico, decided to mak

Mexico City’s Jewish mayor wants to be identified by her policies, not her ethnicity

MEXICO CITY (JTA) — It was during her ultimately successful campaign for Mexico City mayor that Claudia Sheinbaum made a reference to her Jewish heritage. Speaking before a group of Jewish women, she said she was proud of those origins. “We celebrated all the holidays at my grandparents’ house,” she recalled. For Sheinbaum, the capital city’s first elected Jewish and female mayor, the reference to her Jewishness was rare. Like many other liberal, secular Jewish politicians around the world, Sh
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