Why Mex­ico’s Jews have a new cri­sis hot­line

(And it’s not to do with Don­ald Trump)

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - Emilio Betech Ro­phie is a writer, lec­turer and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment spe­cial­ist BY EMILIO BETECH RO­PHIE

AS 2016 drew to a close, Mex­ico’s Jewish com­mu­nity in­con­spic­u­ously rolled out a new cri­sis preven­tion hot­line for its mem­bers.

The news was an­nounced only on com­mu­nity news­let­ters and so­cial me­dia, al­though there are plans for an of­fi­cial re­lease to the wider Jewish me­dia some time in the next cou­ple of months. The rea­sons be­hind the pro­ject were kept po­litely vague, cit­ing “the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple who claim to feel lonely and/or de­pressed, and who feel they have no one to turn to”.

Mex­ico’s Jewish com­mu­nity has been thought of as in­su­lar by many ob­servers, both within and with­out. But 105 years af­ter Mex­ico’s main Jew-

ish or­gan­i­sa­tions were founded, the com­mu­nity here is now widely con­sid­ered a global suc­cess story.

Most of the ap­prox­i­mately 50,000 Jews that live in the Latin Amer­i­can coun­try — mainly in the greater Mex­ico City area — are af­fil­i­ated with at least one Jewish con­gre­ga­tion or or­gan­i­sa­tion; the in­ter­mar­riage rate is thought to be one of the low­est in the world; and most fam­i­lies send their chil­dren to one of the 14 com­mu­nity-based Jewish day schools.

Jewish so­cial life here is burst­ing with cul­tural, re­li­gious and sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. An­tisemitism is kept in check and the BDS move­ment is weak in the coun­try’s main aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions.

For decades, Mex­ico was a land of op­por­tu­nity for im­mi­grants will­ing to work. But the trends to­ward glob­al­i­sa­tion, spe­cial­i­sa­tion and high-stakes com­pe­ti­tion that be­gan dur­ing the 1980s have hit fam­ily busi­nesses and un­der­mined the fi­nan­cial prospects of count­less oth­ers.

The times have caught up with many tra­di­tional Mex­i­can Jewish fam­i­lies in other ar­eas as well, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion, gam­bling ad­dic­tion, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and child abuse. While the op­tion of seek­ing out pro­fes­sional help has be­come more so­cially ac­cept­able for many house­holds, oth­ers have pre­ferred to look the other way. Some have cho­sen to work out th­ese mat­ters with a trusted rabbi, or even with lay com­mu­nity lead­ers. But in other cases, the crises have been over­whelm­ing, even for ex­tended fam­i­lies. This cre­ated a grow­ing need for an ex­ter­nal, pro­fes­sional en­tity that could help peo­ple in their time of dis­tress.

The new cri­sis hot­line — dubbed 1118 — is the brain­child of the Maguen David Com­mu­nity (which in­cor­po­rates Syrian Jews from Aleppo) and the Ashke­nazi Ke­hila. The two Ortho­dox groups have teamed up to launch the ser­vice for the en­tire Mex­i­can Jewish Com­mu­nity, re­gard­less of af­fil­i­a­tion or re­li­gious de­nom­i­na­tion.

“The hot­line 1118 is avail­able 24 hours a day, ev­ery day of the year,” said Ta­nia Chon­tkowsky, a mem­ber of the over­sight com­mit­tee for the new ser­vice, “and we have spe­cial­ists who are trained to as­sist a per­son in cri­sis, with ab­so­lute dis­cre­tion”.

The con­ver­sa­tion will be anony­mous and con­fi­den­tial, al­though the caller can choose to give his or her name in or­der to ask for more di­rect care. In fact, the hot­line serves as a link to sev­eral Jewish sup­port or­gan­i­sa­tions. “De­pend­ing on the type of cri­sis, we can as­sist the per­son to get them the help they need, whether it is drug or al­co­hol ad­dic­tion, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, el­derly ne­glect, or just plain old lone­li­ness,” said Ms Chon­tkowsky.

The hot­line also em­ploys rab­bis and re­li­gious coun­sel­lors to help the caller, if he or she ex­presses a need for spir­i­tual guid­ance. In fact, the num­ber cho­sen for the hot­line is a play on the ge­ma­tria for 18, which cor­re­sponds to the He­brew “chai”, mean­ing “life”; and the motto on the logo reads “one to one, in your life”. Ul­ti­mately, the pro­ject aims to save lives.

Ms Chon­tkowsky stressed that the hot­line op­er­a­tors spent 20 months be­ing trained for their role, with the help of Mex­i­can and Is­raeli men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als.

For the Jewish com­mu­nity, the hot­line will also be a tool to gauge the on­go­ing emo­tional well­be­ing of its mem­bers. The con­stant con­nec­tiv­ity of so­cial me­dia does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that peo­ple feel con­nected or cared for. Mex­i­can Jews can now find a com­fort­ing, fa­mil­iar voice on their phone at all times.

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