30 Oct The determination of a small Jewish community in Guatemala
The Shaar Hashamaim community of Guatemala, created as a result of a local initiative, united people of different ages and backgrounds who were dedicated to keeping Jewish traditions but didn’t belong to the larger groups or communities represented in the country.
Today it consists of some 15 families and offers its members a wide range of classes and activities, such as Jewish studies, community events and outdoor meetings, prayers and holiday services. It also provides locals with kosher food, Jewish books and basic religious service. But there was one main problem: the community members all live too far to come for Shabbat and holiday services without breaking the restriction against driving on the Sabbath.
In order to improve the quality of Jewish life, and ensure the level of observance desired by the community, it was decided to build a complex that will include a synagogue, a center for Jewish studies, a restaurant, sleeping rooms, an apartment for the Rabbi and, of course, a mikvah.
“A lot of time and resources are invested to enable families to arrive to the center on Friday and keep Shabbat with the community,’ explains Fernando Flores Castañeda, Shavei Israel’s representative in Guatemala. ‘For me, for my wife, for my children and for every member of this community, Shaar Hashamaim, has been, is and will be the door that has allowed us to gather together as the people of Israel and to live Judaism in every facet of our lives. It is the door that has allowed us to connect with the Torah and G-d Himself.’
Other community members also share Fernando’s enthusiasm. “Shaar Hashamaim is the fulfillment of a dream, which years ago was impossible to imagine,’ says Juan Alfredo Gutierrez. ‘The desire to return to the tribe, to the people from which our ancestors moved away for compelled reasons, due to circumstances, has been fulfilled today. The community is our family, we study Torah and Halacha together, we prepare to celebrate every Shabbat and holidays. It is a great joy to meet other families in situations similar to ours, where we seek the same goal: to live a Jewish life in all its fullness”.
As the pictures below demonstrate, the construction process is in full swing, and much remains to be done. If you’d like to make a difference, join us in our support of the Shaar Hashamaim community and donate to this project.