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The Meriane Albagli Geni Cassorla Institute for
Sephardic Development in the 21st Century

Our Story

In 1972 the Israelite Sephardic Community of Santiago, Chile contacted the young rabbi Moshe Pitchon, who was in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The Jewish community of Chile was undergoing an unprecedented crisis due to the political disintegration of the country. Years later, journalist Maxine Lowy would describe the situation in these terms:

“The rise of the “Unidad Popular,” [coalition of leftist’s and communist parties to power] aroused in the Jewish community of Chile the anxieties that were born during the Nazi persecution and the Stalin regime in the USSR. … The Jews born here simply saw their heritage threatened, they thought they were going to take everything away from them: the house, the car,… ”

The Jewish answer was, described by Valeria Navarro Rosenblatt

“… there was a massive migration of Jews in the months following the election of Allende (September 4, 1970) and his assumption as president (November 4, 1970). … Between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews of the 32 thousand (approx.) residents in Chile, left the country for fear of the possible establishment of a Marxist government like those in Eastern Europe, including several rabbis, leaving only two of advanced age, … The departure of the Jews meant a noticeable difficulty in sustaining communal organizations,… ”

The Israelite Sephardic community of Santiago- formed mainly by descendants of the communities of Monastir, Salonika and Turkey- saw in a young rabbi whose mother was of Monastirli origin and his father Izmirli, a hopeful possibility to avoid the disappearance of the community. 

When Rabbi Pitchon assumed his duties barely there was  a minyan in the synagogue on “Shabbat,” no school or educational programs.

The rabbi quickly raised as a priority attracting young people.

As a board member in charge of youth Mrs. Meriane Albagli Geni Cassorla volunteered to be the engine and the “pusher” for all the programs to be realized, no matter what the stumblocks.

Thanks to its unwavering energy and dedication, the CIS created one of the most amazing revitalization programs experienced by a Jewish community in similar situation.

Mrs Meriane Albagli Geni Cassorla (Z"l) and her husband Mr. Isaac Cassorla (Z"L)

In a very short time Rabbi Pitchon had succeeded in attracting hundreds of children, teenagers and university students.

Their programs, which included bringing young volunteers from the United States, created some reluctance among the elders of the community.

Doña Meri, had then become, in addition of “minister of development and economy,” “minister of public relations.”

Tirelessly negotiating with community leaders to overcome the difficulties of the generational encounter.

Suggesting the idea of creating a summer camp for the education of Jewish children and adolescents, Doña Meri negotiated that the Israelite Stadium facilitate its unused ski chalets in the summer to carry out such a program, something that was never done before.

If the program’s novelty was in itself a challenge, the logistics were even more. The lack of supplies among the population made it difficult to have programs of this type. Not intimidated, Mrs. Meri arranged to get sacks of flour through non-regular channels and have them arrive at the mountain where the camp was located so that parents like Mrs. Sima Rzepka, Inés Kraus and others who volunteered in the operation’s tasks would knead daily bread.

Thanks to Doña Meri, a young generation of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews maintained their identity. Three of them are rabbis today, several have been community leaders. Not only a generation that ran the risk of getting lost has maintained its Jewish identity but they have educated their children according to the experience that Doña Meri made possible.

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