Florida Jews to go to Guatemala to give thanks for Jerusalem embassy stance
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Florida Jews to go to Guatemala to give thanks for Jerusalem embassy stance

On joint ‘mission of gratitude,’ Conservative and Orthodox congregations of Palm Beach will meet top officials, local Jewish community

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Scheiner and members of the Palm Beach Synagogue during a previous synagogue mission to Israel (courtesy)
Rabbi Scheiner and members of the Palm Beach Synagogue during a previous synagogue mission to Israel (courtesy)

Two Florida congregations are planning a joint “mission of gratitude” to Guatemala later this month to thank the Central American country for its declared intention to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In Guatemala City, members of the Conservative Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach and the Orthodox Palm Beach Synagogue are set to meet with senior government officials and members of the local Jewish community.

“It is our desire to demonstrate to the world how Jewish people honor and support our friends in the hope that other groups will follow with similar support,” said Peter R. Bendetson, who organized the trip. “Perhaps this can become a stimulus for other nations in Latin America and Europe to follow the lead of Guatemala in moving their embassies to our eternal capital.”

On December 24, Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales announced his intention to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem, making his country the first to follow the US in recognizing the city as Israel’s capital earlier that month.

Other countries, including its neighbor Honduras, have been rumored to be intending to follow suit, even though El Salvador last week said it would not move its Israel embassy.

The Palm Beach synagogue mission will fly from Miami to Guatemala City on January 25, planning to return three days later.

The itinerary includes a full day of meetings with Guatemalan government officials. The group has reached out to the offices of Morales, Vice President Jafeth Cabrera, and Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel, all of whom are said to have been instrumental in the government’s decision to announce the embassy move.

According to people involved in the trip’s planning, there is a good chance that either the president, the vice president or the foreign minister will make time for the group.

On Shabbat, the joint mission will be hosted by the Hasidic Chabad movement.

“Together with the entire Jewish world, we were overjoyed when the US decided to move its embassy to Yerushalayim,” said Rabbi Moshe Scheiner, the Palm Beach Synagogue’s spiritual leader, using the city’s Hebrew name.

After Guatemala became the first country to follow suit, the congregation invited the country’s vice consul in Lake Worth, Florida, Leslye Samanta Illescas, to attend Shabbat services.

Israel’s consul-general in New York, Dani Dayan, also spent that weekend at the Palm Beach Synagogue. In a speech he delivered there, he recalled that his late father, Moshe Dayan, was the Israeli ambassador to Guatemala in the early 1980s and had tried very hard to get the government to move its embassy back to Jerusalem.

“It was a very moving experience and inspired us to embark as a community to personally thank the people of Guatemala for their friendship and courage,” Scheiner said. “Gratitude is the most fundamental principle of Judaism and this is a wonderful opportunity to practice it. We are also excited to celebrate Shabbat with the local Jewish community to express our appreciation and strengthen our bonds.”

Despite belonging to different denominations, both congregations have gone on joint trips to Israel and organized a communal Chanukah lighting in Palm Beach together.

“We can disagree with each other, but we still love each other unconditionally,” Scheiner said about Beth El’s Rabbi Leonid Feldman. “We all want what’s good for the Jewish people and for the Land of Israel, and in that vein we respect each other and work together very well.”

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