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The Latin American Jewish population goes largely ignored in most conversations. Though their numbers are small, they have been an important force in history. Though the Jewish population of the Dominican Republic is estimated to be just about 300 individuals, they’ve contributed 2 of the nation’s 52 presidents: Francisco Henriquez y Carvajal and his son, Pedro Henriquez Ureña. There is a long history of Sephardic immigration to the island, ever since one of Columbus’ Jewish crewmen was the first to set foot on Hispaniola. Things ramped up again for Jewish immigration, as it did in much of Latin America, after World War II. From Wikipedia:
About 700 European Jews of Ashkenazi Jewish descent reached the settlement where they were assigned land and cattle. Other refugees settled in the capital, Santo Domingo. In 1943 the number of known Jews in the Dominican Republic peaked at 1000. Since that time it has been in constant decline due to emigration and assimilation. The oldest Jewish grave is dated to 1826.
Now, the community has turned to the well intentioned people of the internet for some rather impressive projects. From their IndieGoGo page:
In May 2009, Haham Yehonatan Elazar-DeMota moved to the Dominican Republic with the hope of “resurrecting the phoenix” by restoring the beautiful Sephardic heritage of Hispaniola. One of the main aspects that he noticed missing from the community was the accessibility of kasher food, a school to educate children, a Jewish cemetery, and a mikveh. Upon his arrival on the island, he began to provide kasher meat by shehting for Jewish families in the northern coast and Santo Domingo. Months later, he managed to organize a minyan for the high holidays. As time passed, he realized that there was an urgent need to educate them in the basic tenets of Jewish law and culture. As a result, he founded the Sephardic Beth Midrash Nidhe Israel in Santo Domingo. Currently, there are 5 Jews from our families that are buried in Catholic cemeteries. We want to buy a plot of land near the city and a mikveh [a ritual bath] so that we can lay the necessary foundation for our posterity.
Help make a real difference for a small but very important community in the Dominican Republic this Hanukkah season. Plus, check out their awesome rabbi busting out some Middle-Eastern/Latin Jazz fusion in Florida!