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Yiddish, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), and Claudia Sheinbaum 

Recently, we received the news about Mexico’s new president being elected, Claudia Sheinbaum. With this Yiddish-sounding name, many are wondering about her family background. Let us bring to your attention a bit about her heritage and the linguistic aspects of her family background.

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, born in 1962, is a Mexican politician, scientist, and academic who is currently the president-elect of Mexico, the first woman to be elected to the position. She is a member of the left-wing political party Morena.

Claudia Sheinbaum has mentioned her Jewish heritage in various interviews, and she has also stated that she is not religious. There are no public records or statements indicating that she regularly attends a synagogue. Her connection to Judaism appears to be more cultural and historical rather than religious. “I grew up without religion. That’s how my parents raised me,” Sheinbaum, 61, said in 2018 at a gathering hosted by a Jewish organization in Mexico City. She was exposed to celebrating some of the Jewish holidays in her grandparents’ house.

Claudia Sheinbaum’s family has roots in different parts of the world. Her maternal grandparents were from Bulgaria and came to Mexico in the early 1940s to escape the Holocaust. They spoke Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, which is a Romance language derived from Old Spanish and traditionally spoken by Sephardic Jews.

Her paternal grandparents were Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Lithuania and escaped Europe before the Holocaust. They emigrated from Lithuania to Mexico in the 1920s, thus avoiding the atrocities of the Holocaust. They left due to the growing antisemitism and difficult economic conditions in Europe. During that time, many Jewish families sought to escape the increasing persecution and seek better opportunities in other countries. Mexico, like many other countries in the Americas, became a destination for Jewish immigrants seeking safety and a chance to rebuild their lives.

We do not know much about the role of Ladino and Yiddish in Claudia Sheinbaum’s family history. While some immigrants to Mexico attended Yiddish schools created by the Bundists, others chose to assimilate as quickly as possible.

It is known that Claudia Sheinbaum’s grandfather was a fluent Yiddish speaker as part of his Jewish-Lithuanian roots, nevertheless, he put an emphasis on the importance of receiving and transmitting a secular education, based on universal values, as an essential way to be a mensch, tradition that passed to her father, Carlos Sheinbaum Yoselevitz and then to Claudia herself.

Claudia Sheinbaum’s parents grew up in Mexico to become esteemed scientists. Her brother, Julius, is a physicist as well. Sheinbaum’s father, Carlos Sheinbaum Yoselevitz, was a chemical engineer. Her mother, Annie Pardo Cemo, is a biologist and professor emeritus at the Faculty of Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). They were both actively involved in leftist political activities in Mexico during the 1960s. They participated in protests in defense of Cuba, were involved in labor movements, and joined the famous student revolts of 1968, which ultimately resulted in police violence. They shared their political beliefs with their daughter.

Claudia Sheinbaum’s election as president represents a significant moment in Mexico’s history, not just for her political achievements but also for her rich cultural heritage. Her family’s journey from Europe to Mexico, carrying with them the languages of Yiddish and Ladino, reflects the diverse tapestry of Jewish life. Let’s hope that, as she steps into her new role, she brings with her a deep connection to her roots and a commitment to a future that honors her heritage.

Jana Mazurkiewicz Meisarosh

Additional references about Claudia Sheinbaum can be found below: