Even though it is our closest neighbor to the south, many Americans know little about life in Mexico besides the existence of sombreros and siestas.
That lack of information has made it easy for those living north of the border to get caught up in images of Mexican life that overlook that nation's dynamic culture and its history as a land that has graciously accepted immigrants from around the world.
Part of that immigrant story includes the fate of thousands of Russian Jews who left their native land in the face of a government crackdown led by Lenin in the 1920s. Finding that the United States had virtually closed its door to all European immigrants in 1925, many of those fleeing religious oppres-sion found that Mexico still had its welcome mat out.
The little-known story of how Jews made a way for themselves in their new home is the theme of a presentation set for Sunday afternoon, Jan. 14, at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center. Leading off with the documentary film Tijuana Jews about the impact a community of Jews has had on a major Mexican border city, the presentation will highlight the lives of the largely unknown immigrant group. After the film, Max Lifchitz, a professor at the University of Albany, will recount his boyhood as a Jew growing up in Mexico City and offer his own insights on life in what was once called "The City of the Eternal Spring."
"A lot of people have never heard anything about Jews in Mexico, but there are Jews everywhere," said Lifchitz. "For us, my father was a soldier in the Russian army, and one day they handed him his papers. They told him that he was no longer a soldier, and he asked why. They said Lenin was afraid of a counter-revolution and all Jews were being kicked out of the army.