COLOMBIA

COLOMBIA, South American republic; population 43,800,000 (2003); Jewish population estimated at approximately 3,400. -History Jewish settlement in the country dates back to the arrival of the crypto-jews during the Colonial Period. The first to reach the area came with the Spanish conquerors during the 16th century. From the beginning of the 17th century, in the wake of the establishment of the Inquisition in Cartagena, the dangers increased for those who practiced Judaism in secret. The Inquisition authorities also specialized in persecuting Jews captured in their ships off Spanish-held coasts, mainly in the Caribbean Sea. Merchandise was confiscated, and if the captives were new christians reconverted to Judaism, they were tried, and in many cases executed. It is said, however, that a secret synagogue functioned in Cartagena at the beginning of the 17th century in the house of Blas de Paz Pinto. The church was traditionally very powerful in Colombia, even after the country achieved independence, and its status was one of the main issues of political struggle. Until 1853 Roman Catholicism was the only religion permitted. Between 1861 and 1886 the influence of the liberals brought about freedom of religion and the restriction of the church's power, but from then until 1936 Roman Catholicism was the national religion protected by the state. The constitution of 1886, reformed in 1936 and 1945, guarantees freedom of religion as long as its practice is "not contrary to Christian morals or to the laws." It was only at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, however, that the first Jews openly began to settle in Colombia. (See the map "Jews in Colombia.") They came from the Antilles islands of Jamaica and Curaçao and by the middle of the century had settled in Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Ríohacha, and Cartagena, as well as in other port cities. In 1844 a cemetery was established in Santa Maria. In 1853 the Jews of Barranquilla were granted a plot of ground by the government to be set aside as a cemetery; in 1874 the Jews, together with the Protestants and the Catholics, set up a new communal cemetery divided into sections. On March 6, 1874, the Caribbean Jews in Barranquilla organized themselves as the "Colombian Jewish Community." Barranquilla developed into the main Colombian port, and the important Jewish houses of the Senior, Solas, Alvarez Correa, Rorg Mendes, Cortizos, and Curiel families were founded. The originator of transport on the Magdalena River, the main artery between Bogotá and the Map of Colombia showing 19th-century and contemporary Jewish settlement. Map of Colombia showing 19th-century and contemporary Jewish settlement.     sea, was David Lopez Penha. The major banks were managed by Moises de Sola, and the "Company of Water Resources" was headed by Augustin Senior, in whose home the Jewish prayer services were conducted. In 1919 Colombian air transport was established by Ernesto Cortissoz. Smaller Jewish communities existed on the Caribbean coast, Riohacha and Santa Marta. Among their members were the generals Efrain and Abraham Juliao. In the cultural field, in the 19th century the Barranquilla Jew Abraham Zacarias Lopez Penha became one of the main Colombian poets. Raised in the valley of the Cauca was one of the most famous Latin American writers, Jorge Ricardo Isaacs (1837–1895), author of the classic novel Maria, who was of Jewish origin, stemming from a family that came from Jamaica. The descendants of those settlers from the Caribbean have almost completely assimilated into the local population. The contemporary Jewish community was established at the beginning of the 20th century. Sephardi Jews from Greece and Turkey and Jews from Syria came during the post-World War I period and constituted the first group of practicing Jews in the country. They engaged in commerce in manufactured articles and founded two silk factories in Barranquilla. At about the same time, Jewish immigrants began to arrive from Eastern Europe, mainly from Poland, as well as from Palestine. At first they engaged in peddling and then gradually entered manufacturing and business, considering Colombia only a temporary haven. The rise of Nazism in Germany changed the transient character of the community and also brought the last major wave of Jewish immigrants, who came from Germany and Central Europe. Of the 3,595 Jews who arrived between 1933 and 1942, 2,347 were German. According to official population statistics, in 1935 there were 2,045 Jews in Colombia. Of those, 1,100 were in Bogotá, 400 in Cali, 150 in Medellín and Barranquilla, and the rest in other places. (See the map "Jews in Colombia.") Two years later the number was estimated at over 3,000, and by 1943 the Jewish population reached 6,625. In 1934 active anti-immigration propaganda was instigated by the Chambers of Commerce. The press voiced its unanimous opposition to aliens, and in October 1938 the government passed new laws directed especially against Jews. In 1939 immigration ceased completely, and between 1945 and 1950 only 350 Jews entered the country. Most of the immigrants entered the fields of minor industry and crafts and have played an important role in the economic and industrial development of the country. Attempts at agricultural settlement failed for the most part; of the 200 settlers in 1938 and 1939, only 46 were left by the end of 1942. The chief causes for this failure were the difficult and unknown climatic and agricultural conditions and especially the low standard of living of the farmers in Colombia. On the other hand, Jews played a prominent role in business. -Contemporary Period Until World War II Colombian Jewry was rather loosely organized. The responsibility for this lay to a great extent with the authorities, who in 1940 still refused to approve the establishment of a central organization of the Jews of Bogotá and Cali, claiming that such a body would prevent the community's assimilation. The Holocaust, however, spurred communal organization, and today the Jewish community is united under the umbrella organization Confederación de Asociaciones Judías de Colombia, which is based in Bogotá. The Jewish community of Bogotá (946 Jewish families in 2005) includes three main groups: the Ashkenazim, the Sephardim, and the Germans. Each has its own communal institutions: the Centro Israelita de Bogotá (founded 1928), the Comunidad Hebrea Sefaradí (reorganized 1943), and the Asociación Israelita Montefiore. In addition, other cultural and Zionist organizations such as B'nai B'rith , wizo , general zionists and maccabi serve the community. The Colombo Hebrew School in Bogotá educated about 280 students from kindergarten through high school, and religious life centers around the four synagogues in the city: two Ashkenazi, one Sephardi, and one German. The Jewish communities in the other principal cities were also well organized. A total of 344 Jewish families lived in Cali in 2005. All the organizations within the city, as well as those in the small towns in the region, have united to form the Unión Federal Hebrea, which offers religious and social services. The community has two synagogues, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi, and a school, the Colegio Jorge Isaacs, with 120 students (2005). It also sponsors a summer camp for children, the only one of its kind in the country. In Barranquilla, which is the third largest Jewish community in the country, 203 Jewish families were counted in 2005, of whom approximately half were East Europeans, one-third Sephardim, and the rest Germans. Economically, the Jews are in a favorable position, but they are not involved in general public life. Their organizations include the Club Unión, a social organization which encompassed the community as a whole; religious institutions maintained individually by each sector; general organizations such as B'nai B'rith, etc.; and an umbrella organization that includes all the organizations. The day school has a student enrollment of 300; the number of mixed marriages is small. The cultural life of the Jewish community in Colombia is not exceptionally active. A good part of the social life centers on institutions of entertainment and leisure. At the same time, great affinity was evinced for the Zionist Movement, whose Colombia branch was founded in 1927, and for the State of Israel. Between 1962 and 1964, 146 Colombian Jews migrated to Israel, and there were 62 youths from Colombia among the volunteers who went to Israel after the six-day war (1967). Jewish participation in political life in Colombia is minimal. There are no Jewish members of parliament or Jewish statesmen. The relations between the Jews and the Roman Catholic Church are cordial and were strengthened during Pope Paul VI's visit to the country in 1969, when a delegation of leaders of the Jewish community was received by him. Throughout the years, a variety of Jewish publications   have appeared in the country. By 1970 only two remained, both in Bogotá: Menora, established in 1950, had a Zionist-Revisionist orientation, stressed political problems, and presented community news; Ideal, Zionist and nonpartisan, published cultural and general news, both local and international. Colombia did not vote for the partition of Palestine in 1947, nor did it recognize the State of Israel immediately upon its establishment. Later, however, it maintained an embassy in Jerusalem and Israel has established an embassy in Bogotá. Cordial relations exist between the two countries. A large number of Colombians participated in technical courses offered in Israel and even established an organization called Shalom. The very unstable security situation initiated a wave of Jewish emigration from Colombia. The number of Colombian Jews in Israel has reached almost 2,000, with others settling in the United States and Spain or in other Latin American countries. In Bogotá Jewish activity has dwindled and the Jewish day school has fewer and fewer Jewish children. The number of members in the Jewish communities in Cali, Medellín, and Barranquilla are in steady decline. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: C.S. Rosenthal, in: JSOS, 18 (1956), 262–74; Jewish Central Information Office, Amsterdam, Position of Jews in Columbia (1937); J. Beller, Jews in Latin America (1969), 58–67; J. Shatzky, Yidishe Yishuvim in Latayn Amerike (1959), 195–205; A. Monk and J. Isaacson (eds.), Comunidades Judéas de Latinoamérica (1968), 57–63; Asociación Filantrópica Israelita, Buenos Aires, Zehn Jahre Aufbauarbeit in Suedamerika (Ger. and Sp. 1943), 250–75. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. Croitoru Rotbaum, De Sefarad al Neosefardismo (1967); D.M. Bermudez and J. Watnik Baron, Nuestra Gentes (1994); D. Mesa Bernal, "Los Judios en la epoca colonial," in: Boletin de Historia y Antiguedades, 73 (1986): 381–99; A. Beker (ed.), Ha-Kehillot ha-Yehudiyyot ba-Olam (1997); M. Arbell, The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean (2002). (Moshe Nes El / Mordechai Arbell (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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