Son of Polish-Jewish immigrant has slight lead in Peru presidential race

The son of a Polish-Jewish immigrant from Germany has a slight lead in Peru’s presidential elections.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former prime minister of Peru and economist for the World Bank known as PPK, as of Monday morning held a 1 percent lead in the voting over Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the jailed former president Alberto Fugimori.

Final results are not expected until at least Tuesday.

Kuczynski ran in the 2011 presidential elections, when Ollanta Humala was elected.

Kuczynski’s Jewish father, Maxime, was born in Poland and moved with his family to Germany. He received his degree in philosophy in 1913 and a degree in medicine in 1919. He served in the German army during World War I.

Maxime Kuczynski fled to Peru in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. The candidate’s mother, Madeleine Godard, was of Swiss-French descent.

The younger Kaczynski served twice as finance minister as well as Cabinet chief under former President Alejandro Toledo. Previously he was an economist with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund before being named general manager of Peru’s Central Reserve Bank. He also served as co-chairman of First Boston in New York City, an international investment bank.


Israeli, 24, dies in Peru zip-line accident

An Israeli hiker was killed when a zip-line platform collapsed in Peru.

Max Sela, 24, of Shoham in central Israel, died at the scene of the accident at the Cola de Mono zip-lining site in the Machu Picchu region. The zip-line is a major tourist attraction.

Sela was climbing the ramp to the platform, which was suspended about 260 feet in the air, when it collapsed. The two friends with whom he was traveling were not hurt.

He was on a trip to South America after being released from army service, a typical Israeli rite of passage. Sela had visited Brazil and Argentina over the past three months.

Israeli judge who fled extradited from Peru

An Israeli judge who fled to Peru eight years ago following allegations of bribery and fraud was extradited to Israel.

Dan Cohen arrived in Israel on Sunday morning after he was arrested by Peruvian police and placed directly on an airplane leaving for Israel.

He has been fighting the extradition, which was approved in secret by the Peruvian government to prevent Cohen from going into hiding. The two countries do not have a signed extradition treaty.

Cohen is charged with of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, obstruction of justice and failure to report earnings.

Peruvian Amerindian neo-Nazi party takes root

Peru’s Jewish community has urged authorities to stop the activities of a nascent neo-Nazi party headed by an anti-Semitic Amerindian.

According to The Guardian, the Jewish community of Peru said in a statement that it rejected the “open expression of anti-Semitic racism” of the Andean Peru National Socialism Movement—a far-right group that is currently attempting to gather enough signatures to be registered as a political party.

Authorities needed to “take the necessary measures to halt the incitement to racial and religious hatred,” the statement reportedly said.

The Lima-based La Republica daily reported this month that the group had six members and that its founder, Martín Quispe Mayta, has called for the expulsion of the country’s Jewish community.

According to Mayta, the group has 70 volunteer activists. He said he founded the movement after reading Adolf Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf,” in his youth, and Henry Ford’s “The International Jew.”

“Hitler turned against the real enemy, the Jews, who killed millions and who poisoned millions,” Mayta is quoted as telling La Republica. He posed for the paper with five other party activists while wearing a Nazi uniform.

Asked about the Holocaust, he reportedly called it “a lie of the Jewish press” and added, “The gas chambers never existed.”

Fewer than 5,000 Jews live in the country, according to the Guardian.

Peru recognizes Palestinian state

Peru joined several Latin and South American states in recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Today the government communicated to the ambassador of Palestine in Lima recognition of the Palestinian state as free and sovereign,” Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said Monday, according to reports.

Belaunde did not specify the borders of the state endorsed by Peru.

Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile and Guyana all have recognized a Palestinian state, some specifying that it be located within 1967 borders, in the past two months.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a visit last week to the Palestinian Authority in Jericho reiterated Russia’s recognition more than two decades ago of an independent Palestinian state, saying that “We supported and will support the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to an independent state with its capital in east Jerusalem.”

Peruvian Jews rally to collect aid for earthquake relief

A small storage area off the courtyard of Leon Pinelo School is piled high with boxes and bags, as staff and volunteers sort through stacks of canned milk and bottled water, huge sacks of rice and beans, diapers and other essentials.

On the second day after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake shook the southern coast of this Andean country, killing at least 500 people, injuring more than 1,500 and leaving tens of thousands homeless, students began arriving at the school carrying food, water, clothing, sleeping bags and other relief items for the victims.

The collection is part of a two-pronged response to the disaster, according to John Gleiser, president of the Jewish Association of Peru. The first step is delivery of emergency aid, while the second will focus on helping with long-term reconstruction.

“We are united with a single purpose,” said Elizabeth Vexelman, a spokeswoman for the committee organizing the effort. Although the disaster “did not affect us personally, it did affect us as Peruvians.”

The quake, which struck at 6:40 p.m. on Aug. 15, shook buildings in Lima, where most of Peru’s Jewish community lives, but did little damage in the capital of 8 million people.

About 125 miles south, however, near the epicenter, it virtually destroyed the town of Pisco and leveled many buildings in the towns of Ica and Chincha.

Most of the houses that collapsed were older dwellings made of plaster-covered adobe bricks. The prolonged tremor caused walls to buckle and roofs to collapse. In the fishing village of San Andrés, high waves caused by the earthquake flooded houses and battered fishing boats, leaving them scattered on the streets.

The disaster brought an immediate response from Jewish leaders and entrepreneurs not just in Peru, but also in Uruguay, Argentina and other countries. Because getting donated goods through Peruvian customs often results in delays, a bank account was set up for donations from abroad. The funds will go to a longer-range post-quake project, such as helping to rebuild a school or health center, Vexelman said.

Several American Jewish organizations are also raising money for the relief effort. And the Israeli government donated half a ton of medicines and medical supplies as part of the relief effort. Embassy officials announced that the Israeli government would provide food and housing assistance as well, and was evaluating the possibility of sending water purification equipment. Peru is a popular destination for young tourists from Israel, but a spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy in Lima said no Israeli citizens were known to have been killed or injured in the disaster.

The disaster sparked an immediate outpouring of solidarity in Lima as businesses, churches and district governments set up drop-off points for donations.

Members of the student volunteer program at Leon Pinelo School immediately began asking members of Lima’s three Jewish synagogues to donate relief supplies. By Aug. 19, between three and four tons of supplies had arrived, and organizers were expecting four or five more tons, when they will load trucks to ship the items south, Gleiser said.

Nearly all of Peru’s 3,000 Jews live in Lima. About half belong to the Union Israelita del Peru, while the rest are divided between the Sociedad de Beneficiencia Israelita Sefaradi and the Sociedad Israelita de 1870.

Organizers of the relief effort have used cash donations to purchase several thousand blankets, more than 200 picks and shovels, and huge cooking pots for the communal soup kitchens being set up in parks and shelters in Pisco, Ica and Chincha.

They decided to channel the assistance through Caritas, the Catholic Church’s humanitarian aid organization, which has local representatives in the affected cities.

“We are going to be very careful,” Gleiser said, to get the aid “to the people who really need it.”

The following Jewish organizations are taking contributions to help relief efforts in Peru:

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Make checks payable to:
Peru Earthquake Relief
P.O. Box 530
132 East 43rd St.
New York, N.Y. 10017
(212) 687-6200

B’nai B’rith International
Make checks payable to:
B’nai B’rith International Disaster Relief Fund
2020 K Street, NW, Seventh Floor
Washington, D.C. 20006
(202) 857-6600

Terrorism of ’70s Forced Israeli Move

The dates and times are all one blur. What remains crystal clear, however, is what it was like to be an Israeli in the early 1970s, when the phenomenon of international terror began: Japanese terrorists landing at Lod Airport and gunning down dozens of pilgrims just arrived from Peru; German terrorists trying to shoot down an El Al airliner taking off from Kenya; the hijacking of Israeli and foreign aircraft en route to Israel; attacks by the Red Brigades on Israelis and on embassies in London and Seoul, and in Athens, Paris and Rome. And, of course, the horrible massacre at the Munich Olympics.

Israel’s response to the Munich killings was the targeted assassination of the perpetrators, a strategy that became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Munich.”

To understand Israel’s decision, it’s necessary to understand what that time was like. Nowhere on earth, it seemed, was it safe to travel, let alone do so openly as an Israeli. The attacks were at home, abroad, everywhere. And the attackers — in addition to the Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenite and other assorted members of the various arms of the Palestinian liberation movements — were radicals from half the member states of the United Nations.

In the early 1970s, when on my first work trip abroad, I remember receiving written instructions from my travel agent, obviously supplied by the authorities, that I was to wear or show no overt sign that I was an Israeli, such as carrying an El Al travel bag, for example, and I was advised to buy a cover for my passport so that only immigration officials and not others in line would know my nationality.

But it was more than that. Suddenly, Israeli embassies around the world needed to implement new security regimes costing hundreds of millions and fully guaranteeing nothing. Every Israeli delegation traveling abroad, especially after the Munich massacre, needed professional security protection. Every suitcase going onto every flight to and from Israel needed to be checked; every check-in counter turned into a fortress.

Israel was again being strategically challenged, despite its string of successes: the 1967 War — when Israel conquered the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, re-united Jerusalem and destroyed Arab air forces as far away as Iraq; its steadfastness during the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal; and its ultimate victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

This time, it was a different kind of enemy playing on a different battlefield. And while not posing an existential threat to Israel, this danger threatened to cripple the country economically, physiologically and diplomatically. It was something that could not go unchallenged. If not confronted, the threat would bask in its own success and grow. It had to be defeated.

Assigned by Prime Minister Golda Meir to mastermind the effort was a diminutive figure by the name of Aharon (Arele) Yariv, a retired major general who had served as Israel’s head of military with distinction for nine years. He had retired in 1971 and had subsequently served as a minister in Meir’s government.

What he headed was not a rogue operation made up of foreigners; nor was his mission vengeance. He was chosen because he was trusted by the prime minister and respected by the head of the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency), as well as by the senior echelons of the military. And he had the skill, ingenuity and experience to understand the new threat and to formulate Israel’s strategic response.

The strategy Yariv developed — and one that has been refined ever since, culminating in the current concept of “preemptive targeted killing” — was not to waste energy and resources to go after the rank-and-file echelons of terrorist movements but their operational capabilities and leadership.

“Use a scalpel not a sledgehammer,” he once told me in the temporary offices he had set up on the second floor of a cinema adjacent to Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle in the mid-70s.

“Place them on the defensive, and they will suffer operationally, having to defend themselves, rather than having the luxury of only having to think about how to plan the next attack on Israel,” he said in an interview that was off-the-record at the time. “When one of their leaders is exposed, they wonder who exposed him. That leads to mistrust in once-cohesive and secretive organizations. They look to find the leak. It distracts and weakens them.”

Was Israel’s campaign against the terror movements effective or did it lead to more terror in revenge for Israel’s actions?

The question is not really relevant. In declaring its war on terror in the 1970s, Israel was responding to a threat of international proportions and strategic consequences; it was not on a campaign of vengeance.

These terrorists were not the Nazis of the past who deserved retribution but a new enemy using new means on new turf and requiring a new answer. The answer was Yariv’s policy of going for the jugular in order to strangle the body. It was pinpoint, effective and ultimately successful at the time, despite the mistakes — like the killing in Lillehammer, Norway, of an innocent waiter, Ahmed Bushiki, wrongly identified by Israeli agents as a terrorist.

The overall capabilities of the terrorist movements dropped dramatically; international terror groups, including the Red Brigades and others, faded into history. And international cooperation to challenge terror was born. Yariv and the Israeli government demonstrated that while one may not be able to fully defeat terror, it can be thwarted.

Hirsh Goodman is the author of “Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself,” published in April by PublicAffairs and a senior fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.


High Court Recognizes ‘Leaping Converts’


After 22 years of living as an Israeli, Justina Hilaria Chipana can finally consider herself a full-fledged member of the Jewish state.

The 50-year-old native of Peru was one of 17 petitioners who won High Court of Justice recognition of their non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism on Thursday, in what the Conservative and Reform movements hailed as a breakthrough for efforts to introduce more religious pluralism to Israel.

Orthodox rabbis and politicians disagreed.

By a vote of 7-4, the High Court ordered the state to recognize “leaping converts” — so called because they study in Israeli institutes but then convert with Reform or Conservative rabbis abroad — as eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return.

The ruling was a small step in a decades-long controversy in Israel over who is a Jew, who can turn a non-Jew into a Jew and who can decide whether that process was done correctly.

Thursday’s ruling also broadened a 1989 decision recognizing immigrants who arrive having gone through the entire non-Orthodox conversion process abroad; those immigrants are considered to be Jews and the Law of Return applies to them.

But the ruling did not endorse Reform and Conservative conversions performed in Israel, a move that effectively would end Orthodoxy’s de facto hegemony in the Jewish state and could stir up a government crisis.

In response to a demand presented by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and signed by 25 legislators, the Knesset will meet in special session next week to debate the court decision.

Shas Chairman Eli Yishai called the ruling an “explosives belt that has brought about a suicide attack against the Jewish people,” according to Ha’aretz.

The Orthodox Rabbinate, which controls the observance of life-cycle events in Israel — including births, weddings and funerals — also cried foul.

“There aren’t two movements or three movements in Judaism. There is only one Judaism,” Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar told Israel Radio. “Whoever doesn’t go through a halachic conversion is not a Jew.”

Yet with many Israelis increasingly concerned about the lack of a unifying religious identity in the country — where some 300,000 citizens are non-Jews from the former Soviet Union — the Conservative and Reform movement remained confident that their more lenient conversions would provide a solution.

“We believe that with this precedent, it is just a matter of time until alternatives to Orthodox Judaism are fully recognized,” said attorney Sharon Tal of the Israel Religious Action Center, a pro-pluralism lobby associated with the Reform movement. “It could mean filing more High Court petitions, or just waiting for Israel to come to its senses.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that the Reform movement was unsatisfied that the court didn’t issue a more far-reaching decision, and plans to bring another petition in hopes of forcing the state to recognize Reform conversions performed in Israel.

The only way for the Orthodox to counter Thursday’s ruling would be to have a new law passed defining their stream as the only legitimate form of Judaism in Israel. But repeated efforts to mount such legislation in the past failed to muster majorities for even preliminary Knesset readings.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon counts one Orthodox political party, United Torah Judaism (UTJ), in his coalition, and he has been courting Shas. Still, it seems unlikely that either party would be able to apply enough pressure on the government to push through motions against the High Court ruling.

“We have no coalition agreement regarding this,” UTJ leader Rabbi Avraham Ravitz said. “I’m sure there will be discussions about what can be done, but I’m not especially hopeful.”

The High Court ruling is immediately binding on the government. That’s a relief for Chipana and her fellow petitioners, who filed their suit in 1999.

“We are going to implement the decision in a crystal-clear manner,” Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz of the Labor Party told Army Radio. “I think that it provides an answer for many people who are living among us and are forced to go through a very tough journey, exhausting and tiring, that causes many to lose hope.”

In the United States, reaction to the decision broke along denominational lines.

“As a Conservative rabbi, I am of course delighted that the High Court in Israel has mandated the recognition of conversions performed by Conservative rabbis in America,” said Rabbi Joel Roth, a scholar of Jewish law and the former head of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Law Committee.

“I’m very much aware that some segments of the Jewish world will continue to refuse to accept as valid conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis, and the court’s decision will create problems in those communities,” he said. “I accept as valid any conversion that complies with halachic requirements, and conversions that do not, I do not accept.”

The Orthodox Union, on the other hand, said it is “deeply concerned” by the ruling.

“The decision of the court may eventually lead to the division of the people of Israel into two camps. There will be a group of halachically valid Jews and a group of people who are Jewish only by the ruling of the Supreme Court,” the union said in a news release signed by its president, Stephen Savitsky, and executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. “The consequences of this ruling will be tragic.”

For the petitioners, however, the ruling was a long-overdue relief.

“I always dreamed of really belonging to the country,” said Chipana, who first came to Israel in 1983. In 1993 she converted at a Reform congregation in Argentina, and filed the lawsuit in 1999. “Now perhaps it can really happen.”

But should she want to marry to her Israeli-born boyfriend, Yosef Ben-Moshe, she will have to go on waiting or do it abroad: The chief rabbinate in Israel remains exclusively Orthodox, and its grip on life-cycle events remains unchallenged.

That’s the way the UTJ’s Ravitz wants it. Asked what will happen if “leaping converts” apply for marriage licenses in Israel, he said, “I imagine they will be told to take a flying leap.”

Sallai Meridor, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, sees the question of Orthodox control as a larger problem than the one the High Court addressed.

“The entire acrobatic phenomenon in which people are forced to marry or convert abroad does no honor to Judaism or the State of Israel,” he said.

JTA Staff Writer Joanne Palmer in New York contributed to this story.


The Nation and The World


New Anti-Semitism Report

The U.S. State Department praised the work of European governments against anti-Semitism, but said law enforcement must do more to respond to anti-Semitic crimes. The State Department�(tm)s report addressing anti-Semitic incidents around the world – slated for release Wednesday and obtained in advance by JTA – comes after Congress passed a law last year mandating increased monitoring of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. The report says recent anti-Semitism has come from traditional anti-Jewish prejudice in Europe, along with anti-Israel sentiment “that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.” It also cites anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims in Europe, and spillover criticism of the United States and globalization.

Holocaust Lawyer Charged

A lawyer involved in the lawsuit against Swiss banks for Holocaust-era accounts was charged with misappropriating funds from two survivors. The Office of Attorney Ethics in New Jersey, the investigative arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court, charged last month that Ed Fagan, one of the lead attorneys in the case that resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement, transferred funds from the survivors�(tm) accounts to pay off debts. Fagan has yet to respond to the charges, which were first reported by the Black Star News.

Peruvian Community Gets Rabbi

An “emerging Jewish” community in Peru now has a rabbi and Jewish educator. The Jewish professionals serving the community in Trujillo are courtesy of the Israel-based Shavei Israel group. The community dates back to the mid-1960s, when several hundred Peruvian Catholics decided to live as Jews. Some 300 members of the community have already moved to Israel.

WJC Faces Informal Probe

New York�(tm)s attorney general has launched a preliminary inquiry into allegations that the World Jewish Congress (WJC) mishandled its finances. In a statement, the group said it promised to cooperate with the informal probe launched recently by Eliot Spitzer. Officials with the group have said issues of financial transparency, which have roiled the organization in recent months, will be laid to rest at a meeting next week in Brussels. At the meeting, Stephen Herbits is expected to be nominated to the post of secretary-general, and the organization�(tm)s president, Edgar Bronfman, is expected to be re-elected.

Abuse in Ethiopia?

A North American Jewish group was accused of abusing Ethiopian Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, some people living and working in Ethiopia accused the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) of refusing to distribute food to the Falash Mura at the group�(tm)s Addis Ababa compound; of treating Ethiopians employed in a sewing facility like slave laborers; of threatening those who cry foul at their treatment; and of dispatching a thug to rough people up. NACOEJ denied the accusations, insisting the claims were born of a labor dispute between the organization and some school teachers that NACOEJ fired and who were refused permission to immigrate by Israel. NACOEJ�(tm)s executive director, Barbara Ribakove Gordon, told the Post that, as a result of some Ethiopian trouble-makers, the group had to shut down its school in Addis Ababa, which also served as its food-distribution hub, for three weeks, and that the group was unable to operate the program during that time. Some 300 Falash Mura Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity but who now have returned to Jewish practice immigrate to Israel each month, and thousands more are waiting.

Vatican: Don�(tm)t Return Survivor Kids

The Vatican instructed French churches that protected Jewish children during the Holocaust not to return the young Jews to their families at war�(tm)s end. According to a letter from Nov. 20, 1946, published this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the wartime pope, Pius XII, said that children who had been baptized while in the church�(tm)s guardianship should not be reunited with surviving members of their families, Ha�(tm)aretz reported. “The documents indicate that the Vatican completely ignored the Holocaust and murder of Jews,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, was quoted as saying in Ha�(tm)aretz. “There is a sticking to theological arguments as though this were an ordinary situation, when in practice these children were not entrusted to churches to convert to Christianity but to save them from murder.” The pope�(tm)s letter was sent to Angelo Roncalli the Vatican representative in Paris who later became Pope John XXIII who shortly thereafter told Israel�(tm)s then-chief rabbi that Roncalli�(tm)s authority could be used to return such children to their families.

Clerics Talk Reconciliation

Rabbis and imams opened a three-day peace conference in Brussels. Around 100 clerics attended the symposium, which began Monday under the auspices of Belgium�(tm)s King Albert II and the Hommes de Parole Foundation.

“For the first time, two religions that have been too often used as a pretext for war will be used to achieve peace,” the event�(tm)s Web site said. Rabbi Michael Melchior, a left-wing Israeli politician and Norway�(tm)s chief rabbi, said Jews had as much to learn from the conference as Muslims.

“There are religious leaders on both sides who incite to violence in the name of religion,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “And that must be stopped.” The attending imams came from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sao Paulo Jews Face Missionaries

Brazil�(tm)s largest Jewish community published a guide to combat missionary activities. Supported by the U.S.-based organization Jews for Judaism, the Sao Paulo State Jewish Federation published an online guide on its Portuguese language Web site,, to teach Jews how to resist Jews for Jesus and other Christian missionaries. Some 60,000 Jews, one-half of Brazilian Jewry, live in Sao Paulo.

Farewell, Foie Gras

Israeli geese farmers were given three months to stop force-feeding their livestock, a step in making foie gras. On Monday, the Knesset�(tm)s Education and Culture Committee upheld a High Court of Justice ban, as of April 1, on the controversial practice of force-feeding geese. The decision was a triumph for animal-rights activists and a snub to the Agriculture Ministry, which had argued that a humane method of feeding could be devised.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Shalom, Amazon

A few weeks ago I welcomed Shabbat in Iquitos, Peru, one of the most isolated cities in the world. Located four degrees south of the Equator and surrounded by nearly impenetrable jungle, Iquitos is accessible only by air or by river — that is, the Amazon.

The Shabbat service was unlike any I had ever attended. But that wasn’t because there was no rabbi or Torah, or because it was conducted in a space that used to be a bar and is now an elderly couple’s living room.

Here in Iquitos it was very familiar and very different at the same time, reminding me of Camp Tranquillity, my Jewish summer camp in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where we had welcomed the Sabbath in an old Dutch barn.

Here, mosquitoes pricked my ankles as I sang “Shalom Aleichem,” just as they did at camp. But here the Amazon was right outside, and my fellow worshipers had round mestizo faces and skin the color of chocolate pudding. They looked more Asian than Jewish.

Indeed, under Jewish law, which stipulates that religious identity is transmitted through the mother, they would not be considered Jewish at all. They came by their Jewish heritage paternally, from grandfathers or great-grandfathers who made their way to Iquitos from places like Tangiers, Alsace and Gibraltar during the rubber boom a century ago.

When the boom went bust, most of these traders returned to more temperate climes, leaving their mestizo (mixed-race) children behind. The beliefs of their heirs, who have little or no Jewish education, reflect the influence of Judaism, Catholicism and Amazonian mythology. Yet through the decades they have maintained a stubborn Jewish identity.

I had read about this community in “Jews of the Amazon,” a book by a Venezuelan Jew, Ariel Segal, first written as a dissertation and published last year by the Jewish Publication Society. This summer, when I decided to join some friends on the trip to Iquitos, I e-mailed Segal for advice. He told me where we could find the Sabbath service.

We knew from his book that we would encounter relics of the city’s Jewish immigrants in its commercial center, near where tourists register for jungle excursions. Riding in the canopied back of a motorcycle taxi, we marveled at shop facades with the names Cohen and Levy; at stars of David carved into building facades; at a weather-beaten mezuzah on a doorpost. We tracked down the Jewish cemetery, where some tombstones bear both crosses and Jewish stars, evidence of the syncretic beliefs of those buried there.

The Shabbat service we found was a relatively recent phenomenon. It was attended by members of a mestizo community who have been embracing Jewish belief and practice with a new intensity — for reasons ranging from spiritual conviction to the perception that Jews abroad live better.

Some have emigrated to Israel. Others aspire to. But Lima’s Jewish community and Israel’s government have been slow to help — for religious reasons, certainly, but also, one supposes, for racial ones.

As a result, Segal notes in his book, visiting Jews are often asked to publicize the community’s plight and to send materials for prayer and study — and so we were.

But I was less prepared for something else. Since Iquitos’ inhabitants have not seen many Ashkenazis, certainly not of the New York artsy type, clad in black, several mestizos asked me when we met if I were Jewish. This was a nice twist on “Funny, you don’t look Jewish.”

But not so funny, because I suspected that they would be more confused after watching me stumble through the service. My Spanish is excellent. But despite Camp Tranquillity, my Jewish education is limited. I was aware that this isolated community, reading from photocopies of prayer books and singing songs they’d heard on cassettes, had put more effort into learning the service than I ever had.

For a few moments, my embarrassment — what a bad impression of assimilation! — threatened to ruin the experience. But then I had my Proustian moment with the mosquitoes. And I became transfixed by the sentimental power of the service, its fascinating incongruities and visceral evidence of how Jewish identity perseveres.

Dictators’ Waltz

Among the myriad new possibilities opening up for American Jewish women these days, there’s none quite as dizzying as the possibility facing Eliane Karp in the coming weeks. There’s a chance she might become first lady of Peru, the third-largest country in South America.

Karp’s husband, mild-mannered economics professor Alejandro Toledo, is the unlikely insurgent seeking to topple Peru’s iron-fisted ruler, President Alberto Fujimori. They were supposed to face off at the polls May 28, but Toledo withdrew, charging massive fraud. Fujimori, unopposed, was reelected by a slim margin. He now plans a July 28 inauguration. The Organization of American States is now trying to isolate him. Toledo, meanwhile, has taken his case to the streets. He hopes to lead a protest campaign like the one that unseated Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Eliane Karp, an anthropologist and rural development expert, is widely viewed as the fire beneath her scholarly husband. “She’s got excellent political antennae,” says journalist and Latin America expert Douglas Payne. “She’s had a significant role in Toledo’s emergence as a major contender against Fujimori.”

A naturalized U.S. citizen, Karp was born in Paris to Belgian parents. Reared in the leftist Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, she went to kibbutz after high school, earned a B.A. at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, then went for a master’s at Stanford University in California. That’s where she married Toledo in 1979.

Since then, except for stints with the World Bank in Washington and Bank Leumi in Tel Aviv, she’s worked steadily among the Indians in the Peruvian Andes, becoming something of a local hero.

An avid feminist, she wants to reshape Peruvian notions of presidential spouses. “For the first time,” she says, “they would have a first lady who is a professional and could work with grass-roots organizations.”Such talk brings constant comparisons to another outspoken first lady, Hillary Clinton – or, for detractors, Argentina’s Eva Peron.

There’s another, more precise parallel: Janet Jagan, former first lady of Guyana. Born Janet Rosenberg in Chicago in 1920, she was married in 1943 to Cheddi Jagan, a Guyanese dental student. He went home to lead Guyana’s independence struggle from Britain,was repeatedly elected prime minister, deposed twice, restored to power by Jimmy Carter. After Cheddi died in 1997, Janet was elected president in her own right, perhaps the first American Jew to rule a South American country. She resigned last summer after a heart attack.

The parallels between Karp and Jagan are uncanny. Both married foreign grad students. Both saw their parents, furious at their intermarriage, refuse to talk to them for years, relenting only when a grandchild came. Both played lead roles in their adopted nations’ democracy struggles.In Karp’s case, though, the story’s still unfolding.

There’s another key difference. For Jagan, a lifelong Marxist, “Jewishness wasn’t much of a factor in my life. There’s no Jewish community in Guyana.”

For Karp, it’s central. She visits Israel frequently, made sure her 17-year-old daughter speaks Hebrew, attends Lima’s small Conservative congregation. But, she says, “for the first time in my life I’m not really involved in the Jewish community.”

Her Judaism is straight from the kibbutz teachings of her youth. “My vision of Judaism, although it is not religious, is one of enlightenment and justice,” she says. “This is how I was brought up.”Opposition to Fujimori follows naturally, she says. “My commitment as a Jew and a human being is to fight against dictatorship and injustice wherever it exists.”

Not everyone considers Fujimori a dictator. First elected as a reformer in 1990, he suspended the constitution in 1992 to crush Peru’s Marxist insurgencies. The crackdown won him broad popular support.But he never eased up. He insists he’s Peru’s last defense against communism and anarchy. Controlling the press, suppressing dissent, contemptuous of legal niceties – his current bid for a third term isn’t even constitutional – he’s widely regarded as one of the Western Hemisphere’s most autocratic dictators.”Every dictator makes the same argument, ‘After me comes chaos,'” says neoconservative scholar Elliott Abrams, who headed Latin America policy in the Reagan administration. “It isn’t true. I would argue that the greatest threat to stability in Peru right now is Fujimori.”

Peru’s 3,000 Jews, like much of its middle class, don’t necessarily agree. “People in the community are very, very afraid – not so much of Toledo, but of the change that might follow if he’s elected,” says Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein, the Conservative rabbi. “They’re looking to their own interests. The last item on the community’s agenda is whether Fujimori is democratic or not.”

As for Karp, many admire her – but can’t forgive her marriage to a non-Jew. Beyond that, says Bronstein, “people in the Jewish community are indifferent to politics.”

A few are very political, though. Ephraim Goldemberg, a longtime community leader, is Fujimori’s finance minister. The Winter family, pillars of the community, control TV Channel 2, Fujimori’s main mouthpiece. “Every day they spit out more lies about my husband and me,” says Karp.

How the Winters took over Channel 2 is one of the ugliest episodes of the Fujimori era. The station was founded by Baruch Ivcher, an Israeli who settled in Peru in 1970. As Fujimori cracked down, Channel 2 dogged him with hard-hitting coverage of corruption and human rights abuses.

Fujimori and his generals responded with savage attacks. They accused “the Jew Ivcher” of spying for Israel and selling arms to Ecuador, Peru’s traditional enemy. In May 1997 he fled to Miami. “If I’d waited another day they would have tried me for treason and put me before a firing squad,” he says.

The government promptly revoked his citizenship and seized his assets. Channel 2 was handed to the Winters, minority shareholders.

For foreign policymakers and diplomats, the persecution of Ivcher, Peru’s leading press baron, epitomizes Fujimori’s heavyhandedness. “The government of Peru was responsible for arbitrarily depriving Baruch Ivcher of his nationality, his right to own property and his freedom of expression,” declares Claudio Grossman, a Chilean Jewish lawyer who heads the human rights commission of the Organization of American States.

The Peruvian Jewish community has scarcely spoken, though. “The community was very, very slow to react,” says Bronstein. “They finally produced a letter asking the government very politely to give Ivcher back his citizenship.”

Karp, who was raised with different Jewish values, says she’s outraged. “I come from a family of Zionist fighters who fought the Nazis in the Second World War,” she says. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen Jews serve dictators and dictatorship.”

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.