Fired Up by his Faith
Chile’s Andy Aguilera Guzman talks about finding religion at 17 and speaking up for Judaism
By Maayan Hoffman
Chile’s small but vibrant Jewish community is feeling increasingly unsafe,” said Andy Aguilera Guzman, 26.
Chile has the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East, and these Palestinians are advancing an anti-Israel agenda bordering on anti-Semitism. The most recent in a long series of incidents was a boycott by pro-Palestinian groups of a Jewish candidate elected to the student council at the University of Chile. There have been numerous anti-Semitic provocations at sporting events and constant online harassment.
“It’s a tough place to live,” said Guzman. “But I don’t think we should be afraid. We have nothing to lose.”
Guzman was speaking to eJewish Philanthropy from the ROI Summit in Jerusalem, where more than 150 young Jewish change makers from 28 countries are coming together from June 24 to 28 to explore the concepts of serving with intention, belonging and responsibility, and pursuing social change in the Jewish community and around the world.
The 2018 participants hail from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.
This is Guzman’s first ROI Summit and his third trip to Israel since he “came back to Judaism” nine years ago, he said.
Guzman was raised in an intermarried household. His mother is Jewish, and his father is Catholic. He was not aware of his Jewish roots until at 17, his aunt – his mother’s sister – gave him a kippah and told him he was Jewish.
“When she came to me with this kippah and told me, ‘Darling, you are Jewish,’ at first I said, ‘No thanks,’” Guzman recalled. “I said, ‘I am alright with my life.’”
But Guzman said he couldn’t get this idea that he might be Jewish out of his mind. He asked his mother about it, who said he was Jewish and explained she knew very little about her faith and had preferred to teach her son no Judaism than to teach him incorrectly.
“My world turned upside down,” said Guzman, who decided to attend a synagogue service with his aunt for the first time. “I went there, and I felt something that I never felt while going to church.”
Guzman consulted with a rabbi, went through a circumcision, and took back his lost faith in full force.
“If I decide to do something, I like to do it right,” he said.
Today, Guzman is a Jewish leader.
By day, Guzman serves as a political advisor to the Israeli ambassador to Chile. At night, he lives in the Jewish fire brigade’s fire station and volunteers with seven other Jewish firefighters to man the station.
“We have to be prepared all night,” Guzman explained. “Sometimes, we are called on to fight a fire. I will sleep three hours, fight the fire for four hours, then go back to the station, shower and go to work.”
Guzman became a firefighter while in college. He said a friend of his took him to the station and when he saw fire trucks with Jewish stars painted on their sides and an Israeli flag waving at the station entrance, he knew he would want to be a part of it.
In Chile, all fire brigades were started and are run by volunteers. Most of them were established in the mid-19th Century by immigrants from France, Germany, America, Spain and Italy, for example. The Jewish brigade was opened in 1954. Today, there are 80 active volunteers.
In addition to his work at the station, Guzman is a loud and active voice for the Jews of Chile. He encourages young Jews like himself to go out into the streets proudly displaying their kippot and to invite their non-Jewish friends into their lives and religion.
“All those people who are not Jewish – make them feel a part, feel the vibes of the Jewish community,” Guzman said.
Guzman runs inclusive Shabbat dinners to which he invites 12 to 15 his non-Jewish friends from different aspects of his life to come and enjoy Shabbat delicacies and a lecture by a Jewish academic who can talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“We cannot stay in our comfort zone,” said Guzman. “We need to take action.”