In first for Latin America, ultra-Orthodox city planned for Mexico

‘City of Torah’ planners hope cheaper housing and amenities will attract Haredi Jews from Argentina, Venezuela, Panama, Chile to community, 75 miles from capital

A digital rendering of what the 'Ciudad de la Tora' (City of Torah) will look like in Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico. (Screenshot from YouTube via JTA)
A digital rendering of what the 'Ciudad de la Tora' (City of Torah) will look like in Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico. (Screenshot from YouTube via JTA)

The foundation stone has been laid for a “City of Torah” in Mexico, the first village in Latin America to be composed almost exclusively of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The village, under construction near Ixtapan de la Sal, a small town about 75 miles southwest of Mexico City, will begin with 40 houses and hopes to attract 120 families by 2024, its developers said at a ceremony last week marking the project launch.

It will span about a square mile at first and feature a yeshiva; synagogues and schools for both its Ashkenazi and Sephardic populations; a kosher supermarket; and a gym complex with a pool, spa, and sports venue. The funding is primarily from a businessman, Abraham Mizrahi, who is not ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredi. Mexican Rabbi Yosef Tawil was appointed chief of the town’s rabbinical council.

The project’s lead developer, Moises Shemaria, who also is not Haredi, mentioned the town of Lakewood, New Jersey — a municipality with a high proportion of ultra-Orthodox Jews — in his speech at the groundbreaking event.

“We are open to receive Haredim from México and Latin America,” he said. “Our brothers from Argentina, Venezuela, Panama, Chile, and others deserve to live in a first-class place with Torah. They can’t buy a $1 million apartment in Lakewood. They will be welcomed here with nice houses from $120,000.”

But the town may bear more similarities to the village of Palm Tree — formerly called Kiryas Joel — in New York state, an enclave mostly made up of 20,000 Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jews that seceded from a larger town in 2017.

Shemaria referred several times in his speech to the regional scope of the project, saying the first 40 houses have been sold to buyers from Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela. He added that house prices will range from $120,000 to $218,000.

Mexico is home to approximately 40,000 Jews, according to Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola. He estimates that Latin America as a whole has a Jewish population of 379,200 to 707,000: The lower number is its “core” Jewish population, those who strongly identify as Jewish, and the higher figure counts those with enough Jewish ancestry to have the option of applying for Israeli citizenship.

In Argentina, the country with the largest Jewish population in the region, a project similar to Ciudad de la Tora had been planned but was never carried out.

“Some people want to build a place for Orthodox Jews also here in Argentina, but no one started the project,” said Rabbi Eliahu Hamra, secretary-general of BUR, the Orthodox bloc that ruled the country’s AMIA Jewish group.

“For sure there will be students from Argentina interested in going there, to study in the Mexican City of Torah.”

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