When Monica Unikel-Fasja, author of Sinagogas de Mexico (Synagogues of Mexico) presented her talk, three museums and the AJC Chicago (American Jewish Committee) were involved. The program was presented in conjunction with Shalom Chicago, an exhibit at the Chicago History Museum about the city's Jewish community in collaboration with Spertus. In addition, it is hoped that this talk would heighten awareness of an amazing collaboration that will bring a special exhibition of pre-Colombian art from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to the National Museum of Mexican Art in 2014.
Monica Unikel-Fasja has given Jewish historical tours in Mexico City’s oldest neighborhood, a dilapidated area that is now under construction as part of Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s plan to revitalize what has been the city’s nucleus for centuries. For nine years Unikel-Fasja has guided groups through streets where Jewish immigrants found their first homes in converted convents and established their first clothing and jewelry stores, the places where they began their lives in Mexico.
This lecture came to Chicago because of Fanny Sampson-Cohen. She is Chair of the Latin American Task Force AJC-Chicago, a group newly formed in Chicago following the model of the divisions in Miami and Houston and she is also part of the AJC-Chicago / National Museum of Mexican Art Planning Committee for the 2014 Exhibit. It was her idea to have Unikel-Fasja present this lecture. She is a Sephardic Jew who was born and raised in the Jewish Community of Mexico City. She has many contacts there and has been very instrumental in assisting both AJC-Chicago and partner, National Museum of Mexican Art. Fanny is very active in both the Jewish and Latino communities here in Chicago and a personal friend of Unikel-Fasja. When Sampson-Cohen learned about the recently published book she thought it would be wonderful to bring Monica Unikel-Fasja to Chicago. It became a reality when Carlos Tortolero, President of National Museum of Mexican Art agreed.
Her talk was fascinating. She pointed out that Jewish prayer required only 10 men (a minion), a prayer book and a space to gather. The first Jews came to Mexico in about 1912 from the “Arabic” countries, Sephardic Jews, many from Aleppo, Syria and surrounding countries. They were able to build their first synagogue in 1923. In 1941 the first Ashkenazi Synagogue was built in neo-classical style.
The World Bank reports that Mexico’s population is 114,793,341 (2011). Unikel-Fasja said the Jewish population is 45,000 of which 40,000 are in Mexico City. Two synagogues are Conservative while all the rest are Orthodox and none are Reform, all are the in the middle of a very Catholic city. Eighty five percent of the Jewish children receive a Jewish education.
As the beautiful power point photos filled the screen, Unikel-Fasja described changes in the community’s demographics and life style, the stories of the synagogues. The most recent synagogue was built in 2009 and reflects trends in combining places of worship with community centers.
Learning about the significant Jewish population in Mexico and the thriving, active Mexican Jewish population in Chicago made this evening during which Mónica Unikel-Fasja, author of Sinagogas de México, told about the incredible architecture and history of synagogues in Mexico a unique and memorable experience.
To order a copy of Sinagogas de México, contact Mónica Unikel-Fasja directly at: [email protected]
Chicago History Museum:
Shalom Chicago is an exhibit at the Chicago History Museum Chicago History Museum about the city's Jewish community. It illustrates the community's rich history and contributions to Chicago's growth and development through personal stories, rare artifacts (many on loan from Spertus), and engaging multimedia presentations. Over 30 objects from the Spertus collections are on display in this exhibit.
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Founded in 1924 as Chicago’s College of Jewish Studies, Spertus today offers an innovative, non-denominational array of specialized and public programming, grounded in Jewish thought, inspired by Jewish values, and resolutely relevant to people’s lives.
Spertus offers accredited graduate-level degree programs in areas that are critical to the Jewish and wider communities — including Jewish studies, leadership training, and nonprofit management. Recognizing that learning is sparked by many points of entry, programming at Spertus also includes cultural and continuing education offerings, such as lectures, seminars, exhibits, concerts, and films.
Spertus is located at 610 S. Michigan Avenue, directly across the street from Chicago’s Grant Park.
National Museum of Mexican Art:
The National Museum of Mexican Art is the only Latino museum accredited by the American Association of Museums. The Museum presents visual arts exhibitions, performance arts, and education programs to more than 180,000 annually including 70,000 K-12 students. The Museum is a first voice institution for the Mexican community.
The National Museum of Mexican Art is located on Chicago’s South Side in the Pilsen neighborhood. Pilsen’s ethnic heritage and diversity exemplify Chicago’s cultural richness. Bring your friends and family and make a day of it. After visiting the museum, enjoy a great meal at one of the many restaurants within walking distance.
Free Admission Every Day
1852 West 19th Street
Chicago, IL 60608
Tuesday through Sunday
10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed on Mondays
Closed: New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day
For information call 312-738-1503 or visit the Museum's website www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org.
Photos: B. Keer and Courtesy of Chicago History Museum