Jewish, Latino leaders learn from each other at North Dallas gathering

 By Taylor Danser, Dallas Morning News

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People gather for the Hanukkah y Las Pasadas potluck dinner at the home of Karla and Larry Steinberg in Dallas.

As Rose Henke raises her 9-year-old son, who has autism, she has become an advocate for special education.

She worked the grassroots circuit trying to make a difference, but it wasn’t until she got involved with the Jewish-Latino Alliance that she learned there was another way.

The Dallas Regional Office of the American Jewish Committee formed the group six years ago when it decided to reach out to leaders in the Latino community to see how each group could help the other.

The group gathers to discuss shared priorities of immigration and education and how to combat bigotry and anti-Semitism. They have also held seminars on how to effectively advocate or lobby for any cause.

Edward Retta, who has been in the group since its founding, encouraged Henke to join so she could learn more about advocating.

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A Hanukkah menorah, or chanukiah, sits on an accent table during the Hanukkah y Las Posadas potluck dinner at the home of Karla and Larry Steinberg in Dallas.

“Being introduced to this group was very important to my development as an advocate,” she said to group members at a recent meeting at a home in North Dallas. “The power of a collaborative effort is so much more powerful than one person pounding the pavement, which is what I was doing.”

Henke’s introduction to the group opened her eyes about the benefits of shared advocacy.

“I like to deal with people,” she said. “But what I’m noticing now is that I was not reaching enough people.”

Working from the top down is one thing Henke said she has learned from the JLA. The goal is for the groups to learn about each other, then find ways to assist each other.

“Jews have been more successful in accessing our political system. [Latinos] want to learn that from us,” AJC Dallas President Ladd Hirsch said. “At the same time, there are many more Latinos than Jews. … We need to move toward collective issues of concern. We can magnify our effectiveness.”

The group has had training sessions on lobbying. Members have made visits to the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance and the Latino Cultural Center.

On Dec. 9, they gathered to learn about and celebrate Hanukkah and Las Posadas, a celebration Henke explained as a tradition in Mexico to re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born.

“The Jewish community and the Latino community share a lot of common values,” said JLA member Jorge Joison, who is originally from South America. “And sometimes you kind of think of [the values] like a cliché — like tradition, family, food — but they go much more than that: that home feeling, that understanding of the longing, of having come from another place.”

Retta explained that in his experience lobbying for immigration reform, it was his connections that helped him sit down face-to-face with national leaders in meetings.

“Jewish people know how to do this, and our people don’t know how to do this,” he said. “I saw in this an opportunity to learn how to do public policy advocacy. The benefit that we get for the Latino community is learning from our Jewish friends how to be more effective at changing public policy — not only leading locally, but leading when it comes to Washington.”

When about 40 people showed up at the recent social meeting, the dining room table was filled with plates of bagels, tamales, latkes, seven-layer dip, fried dough and tres leches cakes, among other holiday items from both cultures. Some groups spoke in English, some in Spanish.

“Here in our local community, we’ve made a lot of new relationships among leaders from both groups that were not possible before. We don’t normally intersect,” Retta said. “They are ahead of the curve. They recognize that the Hispanic community will, in a certain future, become the majority not only in Texas, but in the United States.”

Hirsch said it’s about getting everyone on the same side for a simple goal.

“One of our missions is to combat anti-Semitism,” he said. “The world will be better for Jews when the world treats everyone with a human-rights perspective.”

Karla Steinberg, who is co-vice president of JLA with her husband, Larry, agrees. She grew up in El Paso and has lived in Dallas for about 25 years.

“We have a lot of similar values. … I grew up speaking Spanish and I also have the Jewish culture,” she said. “The people that we feel like are prominent in the Hispanic community [whom] we want to build relations with, we can help each other in so many ways.”

Retta says it’s all an effort that should continue.

“When it comes to political power, we are many with very little power. The Jews are very few with very great power. … And I thought, ‘Oh, I can learn from them, and help my people,’” he said. “That’s the crux for me.”

Park Cities/North Dallas editor Taylor Danser can be reached at 214-977-8058.

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