Jewish-Christian Relations in Chile

By Bob Mosher
September 4, 2011

Glory be to God…

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings’
Landscape plotted and pierced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

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The Confraternity of Jews and Christians in Chile, La Confraternidad Judeo-Cristiana, meets once a month, and facilitates the encounter of the two faiths through the celebration of common spiritual roots, the shared patrimony that the bishops at Vatican Council II spoke of:

Rabbi Stefan Veghazi and his wife escaped from Hungary and settled in Chile soon after World War II ended.  Their entire families were wiped out in the Nazi concentration camps.  When I met them in 1995, Rabbi Veghazi was the most active proponent of dialogue and cooperation among the Abrahamic faith communities in Chile—among Christians, Muslims and Jews, descendents of European settlers over the two hundred years of Chile’s republican existence.

Every year, the Confraternity and the local B’Nai B’Rith organization invited leaders and students from academia and social life in general, and leaders of the different Churches and Christian communities in Chile, to participate in a massive Pesaj in Chile’s capital, Santiago—the Passover celebration, always falling on or near Holy Week in the Christian calendars.  The simple meal was shared, and the traditional songs were sung.  A special cup of wine was blessed and shared after the meal, just as in Jesus’ Last Supper.

One year, I joined a rabbi and the president of the Confraternity and his wife in visiting several towns and cities in the south of Chile, where we promoted the establishment of local chapters of our organization.  Such areas of Chile are also scenes of occasional anti-Semitic activity, as the old Nazi myths continue to be preached among the unemployed and those looking for scapegoats to blame for their problems.

The oldest synagogue in Chile is in Temuco, a city in the heart of indigenous Mapuche territory.  This reflects the strong and venerable presence of Jewish families in several cities of the forested and cooler south of the country.  Jewish settlers in the late 19th century, among others from Eastern Europe, took advantage of the offers of the Chilean government to purchase land cheaply in great numbers.

Unfortunately, most of this land had been taken from the Mapuche people, after the “pacification” battles waged against them by the Chilean forces, which decimated their population.  The Chilean government of the period restricted their possessions to small reducciones, similar to Native American reservations in the U.S., distributed according to extended families.

The lessons of the Holocaust are directly applicable to the ongoing discrimination the Mapuche people suffer today, the members of the Confraternity felt.  In promoting programs that included exhibits on the Holocaust, and testimonies from survivors who now lived in Chile, presenters often included this reference to the victims of racial discrimination today and showed the ongoing relevance of standing against the myths that foster attitudes of hatred and genocidal practices in the world today.