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Cultural Fusion: Exploring the Jewtino Experience at Duke

Home Cultural Fusion: Exploring the Jewtino Experience at Duke

“Jewtinos at Duke” Student Group Celebrates Jewish and Latino Heritage

Group of students posting at Jewtinos Shabbat

When Duke University juniors and cousins Neve Greenwald and Danya Belkin describe their typical family Shabbat dinner, the image is of multiple generations of family members speaking Spanish over a meal. The dinner table is filled with empanadas, arroz con frijoles negro (black beans and rice), tortilla soup, and plátanitos.

These foods are staple dishes in Latin American households and are regularly served at Neve and Danya’s family dinners. Their grandparents are Jewish immigrants from Mexico and Cuba. Although Neve and Danya grew up being proud of both their Jewish and Latino heritage, they reflect that many people do not realize these backgrounds can exist together. A common experience for Jewish Latinos is often been told: “But how can you be both Jewish and Hispanic?” and Neve and Danya explain the diversity of Latin America when they get this question.

Jewish communities are deeply rooted in the history of Latin America. In fact, the first synagogue in the Americas was actually in Brazil, founded by Sephardic Jews in 1636. Jews can be traced back centuries across Latin America, with the earliest communities being Sephardic Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition. Ashkenazi Jews also immigrated in the early twentieth century to escape antisemitism in Europe. Today, according to the World Jewish Congress, Mexico has a vibrant Jewish community of about 40,000, consisting of both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews. Per ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, Cuba once had a Jewish community of about 20,000 people, but it has since declined as many left due to Communism; many settled in Miami, which has a large Cuban-American Jewish community.

When they started at Duke, Neve and Danya met a significant number of Latino Jewish peers but noticed this community did not yet have a space on campus. “Being Jewtino is a niche experience, and we felt like Duke lacked a community for people who were both Jewish and Latino,” Danya said.

In early 2022, they turned to Jewish Life at Duke to present the idea of forming Jewtinos at Duke, a portmanteau of the words “Jewish” and “Latino,” an affinity group Neve says is “for everyone Jewish, Latino, or both, or anyone who wants to come and learn!” Jewish Life at Duke, a department within Duke’s Division of Student Affairs as well as an accredited Hillel, enthusiastically supported the group’s creation, sponsoring and funding events and creating awareness about this new community.

Founding co-presidents of Jewtinos at Duke hold serving dish of empanadas
Neve Greenwald and Danya Belkin, the founding co-presidents of Jewtinos at Duke.

Two years later, the group has now expanded to approximately 50 members who have attended various events, from the inaugural Jewtinos Shabbat in March 2023, which featured Latin American food and a D’var Torah (a lesson or sermon interpreting the week’s Torah portion) delivered by a Jewtinos member, to salsa dancing study breaks and social events. Neve and Danya serve as co-presidents of the group and have involved several other students who hold leadership positions.

This year’s annual Jewtinos Shabbat is scheduled to take place on Friday, March 1st at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life. Kabbalat Shabbat services begin at 6:00pm, with a communal, kosher Shabbat dinner following at 7:00pm. Sami Jinich ‘25, a Jewish student with family from Mexico, shared: “I love connecting with all Jews and Latinos and sharing our experiences. There is something special about having an intersection of both identities. The fusion of these cultures has made this community create something unique.”

Moreover, Sami emphasizes that Jewtinos builds bridges between students who are Jewish or Latino who would not have met otherwise: “A lot of students are not aware this identity of being Latino and Jewish exists. Jewtinos has brought awareness to this community and fostered connections among different student groups who normally would not have met.”

The leaders of Jewtinos educate the Duke community about the shared Jewish and Latino identity. They have invited Jordan Salama, the author of “Stranger in the Desert,” to visit Duke on March 26 to speak about the history of Jews in Argentina and bring awareness to the existence and history of the community.

Maia Wenger ‘25, a Jewish student with family from Argentina and vice president of Jewtinos at Duke, says the group has become a platform for her to share the unique history of the Jewish Latino community. Maia says discovering shared roots with other students has created a novel community at Duke: “Jewtinos has been an amazing outlet to meet other students with similar backgrounds or ones who had never met a Jewish and Latino students before. I look forward to growing the community.”

Co-Presidents Neve and Danya are proud to have established this affinity group and hope it remains strong in the future: “We hope to leave this as a sustainable community even after we graduate and create long-lasting connections and friendships between students.”

To get involved, follow the Jewtinos at Duke Instagram @dukejewtinos and request to join the student-led GroupMe thread for updates about news and events.


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About Jewish Life at Duke

Jewish Life at Duke (JLD) is the hub for all things Jewish on Duke’s campus. An accredited Hillel as well as a department within Duke University’s Division of Student Affairs, Jewish Life at Duke is guided by a mission to empower Jewish students to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually; to inspire and nurture personal paths to Jewish identity; and to cultivate community and friendship. Comprising the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and the Rubenstein-Silvers Hillel, JLD takes a pluralistic approach to Judaism to ensure that all Jewish students, regardless of affiliation, are welcome and included.

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