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April 28, 2016 12:40 pm

Catholic Grocer Caters to Mexico’s Jewish Community, Stocks Stores With Kosher Products

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

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A man wearing a kippa. A grocery store in Mexico is catering to Mexican Jews in the area. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A man wearing a kippa. A Catholic grocer in Mexico offers kosher fare. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A Catholic grocer in Mexico is catering to Jews in his two shops, the Lost Angeles Times reported.

Noe Trinidad Chavez, 56, is doing this by stocking his stores with produce and packaged products commonly eaten by Sephardic Jews, such as tahini (sesame paste), eggplant, grape leaves and tamarind syrup, which he prepares himself.

One of his small shops in San Miguel Tecamachalco, west of Mexico City, is called “El Tope” — “speed bump” — a tribute to the start of his career as a street vendor.

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A native of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Chavez was 10 years old when he met a Jew for the first time. He went to Mexico City to find work and got a job helping Jewish families with daily chores, such as cleaning and cooking, according to the LA Times.

Chavez, the article said, knows all about Jewish dietary laws. And though he cannot read the Hebrew labels on the products in his store, he knows which ones certify items as kosher.

The store owner refers to Passover by its Hebrew name, Pesach, and told the LA Times that he prepared for the Jewish holiday by clearing his shelves of forbidden products. He also said he performed the Jewish ritual of making his utensils kosher for the holiday by immersing them in boiling water.

A star of David decorates El Tope’s awning and hamsas — five-fingered amulets believed to guard against the evil eye — on the walls inside are gifts from Jewish customers, as is a Book of Psalms in Hebrew and Spanish.

Historian Monica Unikel, who gives walking tours of the Jewish parts of Mexico City and is quoted in the piece, said most Jews in Mexico today are descendants of both European and Middle Eastern immigrants who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries. After becoming affluent, many left in the 1950s-1970s for the suburbs.

“It’s a very, very small community, but if you ask someone [in] the street — anybody — ‘How many Jews do you think there are in Mexico?’ they would say about 1 million because we make a lot of noise,” Unikel told the Times, referring to the prominence of Jews in different professions.

Unikel added that Jews in Mexico have very low rates of assimilation, and about 90 percent of their children attend Jewish schools. “In the States, in Europe, the Jewish population is going smaller and smaller, but in Mexico it’s always keeping the same because it’s a very close and traditionalistic community,” Unikel said.

Mexico has a Jewish population of about 40,000, concentrated mostly in Mexico City, and El Tope is among dozens of shops in San Miguel Tecamachalco that caters to Jewish customers, according to the LA Times.

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  • Jay Lavine

    Many people who complain about the lack of kosher food in some areas forget that unprocessed plant foods (free of insects) are all kosher. Thus, kosher food is always available even if convenience items are not.

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