Residents of small Guatemalan town want Jews to leave

There are 10 Jewish families in San Juan La Laguna. Indigenous Mayans want to ‘defend their rights’ against the ‘ill will’ they’re purportedly causing

A building displaying indigenous Mayan art in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala (Chixoy, CC-BY-SA, via wikipedia)
A building displaying indigenous Mayan art in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala (Chixoy, CC-BY-SA, via wikipedia)

BUENOS AIRES — Indigenous residents of San Juan La Laguna, a small town of under 10,000 in the Guatemalan state of Sololá, have asked members of the Jewish community — comprising 10 ultra-Orthodox families, most of whom arrived only recently — to identify themselves in a municipal registry and leave within the next few months.

The registry was established to verify whether immigrants from the Jewish community are legally in the country and where they are from, information which has not been asked of other foreigners granted temporary visas.

“We, as a local authority, have nothing against the Jewish community,” city mayor Rodolfo López told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “But every community, and especially ours, as indigenous Mayans, has very special customs and traditions and we have to defend our rights.”

Residents have filed complaints with the municipality that the community of ultra-religious Jews have used a public body of water as a mikveh (ritual bath), practiced unhygienic rituals like kaparot (where a chicken is swung around a rabbi’s head before being slaughtered), and made disparaging comments about immodesty to tourists.

According to the mayor, the indigenous population has also been suspicious since a Canadian couple accused of child abuse reportedly moved to San Juan La Laguna with their six children.

“There is almost every other religion here, and there have never been any problems. When they came, there started to be ill will,” the mayor said of the Jewish families.

Members of the Orthodox community said that they do not bathe in front of others, and have been the target of verbal and physical attacks.

“I put myself in their place and perhaps they are right to feel scared because before we were two families and now there are 10. And seeing us with our traditional dress, which is black, out of devotion and humility, in the streets, may cause fear,” said Misael Santos, in an interview with the newspaper Prensa LIbre.

Santos, a Guatemalan Christian who is converting to Judaism, said that residents uploaded photos of Hitler and said they would put members of the Jewish community in cremation ovens.

“They asked us to get out of town because they said that we kidnap children, and then added to the fire by saying the town would be invaded by Jews,” he said.

After rocks hurled at his house broke windows and a firework bomb exploded nearby, Santos requested an urgent meeting with the city to discuss the attack and ask for security.

“At the meeting, a lady presented 300 alleged signatures, asking us to leave the village,” he said to Prensa Libre. According to the mayor, the Jewish community was also told that other entities, not the local municipality, were the ones who provide security.

In a telephone interview with The Times of Israel, Santos was reluctant to speak and said there was tranquility in San Juan La Laguna.

“Some of us are foreigners, so they asked for ID,” he said, “but we are living very peacefully.”

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