History of the Jews in Ecuador

Ecuadorian Jews
Judíos de Ecuador
יהדות אקוודור
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Quito and Guayaquil
Spanish, Yiddish, Ladino and Hebrew

Ecuadorian Jews are a small Jewish community in the territory of today's Ecuador.[1] They form one of the smallest Jewish communities in South America.


Early years

In 1580 occurs in the Iberian peninsula union of the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, and King Philip II of Spain is the only heir to the throne of that kingdom. Many Portuguese "suspicious of their faith" begin to enter the Viceroyalty of Peru by the newly founded city in which surveillance Inquisition was weaker. The first Jews start arriving in Ecuador in the 16th and 17th centuries. Then union of the kingdoms lasts until 1640, when the Portuguese revolt against the Spanish monarchy and the Duke of Braganza, under the name of John IV, took the throne of the kingdom of Portugal. But they were sixty years during which Spanish America was under one crown, and for them, a large number of Christians grew from new Portuguese to the Spanish dominions domains. So to say that someone was "Portuguese" was synonymous with "converted Jew".

The inquisitorial actions achieved the effect of terrorizing the families of new Christians and encourage them to migrate to other regions of the Peruvian viceroyalty and preferably to those where there were no courts of the Inquisition. Luckily, the Viceroyalty of Peru was extremely large and there were still large territorial areas in which the Inquisition was not present, so persecuted fugitives or symbol (heretics, Judaizing, dogmatists, bigamous and etc.) could relatively easily be hidden away from the major urban centers and especially camouflaging to hide his true personal and group identity.

It was so "new Christians" settled in the Viceroyalty of Peru migrated from its center to the less populated and controlled outdoor areas, particularly towards the southern and northern Chile Audience of Quito . Regarding those who marched to Quito, the new diaspora took first to the Interior Juan Salinas and Loyola (later transformed into the township of Loja), which, according to studies by Ricardo Ordoñez Chiriboga,[2][3] was an important center of filing Sephardim. Subsequently, many of these families migrated further north to the next judges of Cuenca, and then to the northernmost township of Chimborazo (Alausí, Pallatanga and Chimborazo), always looking away from the powerful and cruel inquisitorial arm. Early Sephardic Jews probably arrived in Cuenca and its nearby settlements between the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth, but seem to have been new waves of Jewish migration to the area in later times. But we can not deny the possibility that other Sephardim, had been established in the colonial territory since the early days of the Spanish conquest, as they seem to show the names of conquerors arrived with Benalcázar Sebastian and Pedro de Alvarado . In the seventeenth century appear new landowners of these are uncertain origin with surnames Saavedra, Hadaad and Iglesias that encamped in the council of Cuenca. They also reached the northern Peruvian Andes, due to cultural and ethnic influences of the place was not defined by colonial boundaries, much less what it is today; this cultural-historical unit comes even from pre-Columbian times.

All aforementioned largely explains the Sephardic presence in gold and commercial areas of Quito and Calacalí such as Loja,[4] Zaruma, Cuenca, Santa Isabel, Yungilla, Tarquí, Chordeleg and Sígsig, and mountain passes or centers of trade routes between Guayaquil and Quito, as Alausí Chapacoto, Chimborazo St. Joseph, San Miguel de Chimborazo and Guaranda and in the northern highlands of Peru, due to its proximity. This presence of Western Sephardim Jews remained hidden for years in Ecuador and also settled in villages so remote sites as the Judaism practiced only in secret at home. Most of these Crypto-Jews still speak Ladino.[5][6] Some say that Antonio José de Sucre, a leader in the struggle for independence in South America, and the hero of Ecuador, who served both as president of Peru (short term) and as president of Bolivia, is a descendant of those Jews.[7] Certain family names among established Ecuadorian families attest to their Sephardi ancestry and Crypto-Jews; however, prior to World War II there was very little active Jewish immigration to Ecuador.

20th Century

In 1904 there were only four Jewish families in the country, and a survey in 1917 indicated the presence of 14 Jews. After 1924, when the United States established its immigration quota system, a handful more arrived in Ecuador. Yet, only in the wake of the rise of Nazism and the ensuing Holocaust in Europe did the Jewish mass immigration to Ecuador began. During the years 1933-43 about 2,700 Jews arrived, and by 1945 there were 3,000 new Jewish immigrants, 85% of whom were refugees from Europe.

In the early years of World War II, Ecuador still admitted a certain amount of immigrants, and in 1939, when several South American countries refused to accept the 165 Jewish refugees from Germany aboard the ship "Koenigstein," Ecuador granted them entry permits. Nevertheless, the country eventually gave way to a policy of selectivity. Jewish immigration to Ecuador were supposed to be employed in the agricultural realm, but the authorities soon surmised that the immigrants were actually merchants, industrialists, and businessmen, and were not farming. As a result, in 1938 legislation was passed compelling any Jew not engaged in agriculture or industry to leave the country. In addition, entry rights were limited to those Jews who possessed a minimum of $400, which they would have to invest in an industrial project.

In 1935 the Comite pour l'Etude de l'Industrie de l'Immigration dans la Republique de l'Equateur was established in Paris by the organization, the Freeland League of Jewish Colonization, with the purpose of creating a settlement program in Ecuador. An agreement was reached with the Ecuadorian government to transfer 500,000 acres of land to the Committee's jurisdiction for a period of 30 years to be settled by immigrants regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Several concessions were also promised, such as tax exemption for three years, citizenship after one year, customs exemption, and free transportation by train from the port to the interior of the country. The president signed the agreement several months later on the condition that a detailed program be presented by May 1937 and that the Committee invest $8,000 and settle at least 100 families. Some Jewish organizations, however, found the land proposed for the plan unacceptable, claiming that it was too far from population centers and that the climate was too severe. The result of these objections was the total abandonment of the project.

Following this attempt, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and HICEM attempted to establish chicken farms for the immigrants in other areas of Ecuador, and 60 families were settled, but conditions precluded any success in the venture, which ultimately failed. Most of the immigrants were businessmen and professionals who preferred to carry on their professions. Interestingly, many discovered that the native balsa wood was excellent for furniture craft and began production. Later, these immigrants introduced iron and steel furniture to the Ecuadorian market, previously unknown to the country. They also developed retail stores and opened hotels. The success of the immigrants, however, caused tension among the Syrian and Cuban community who had previously controlled those fields of business. This pressure led to an anti-Jewish sentiment for a while, but nothing more substantial.

In 1940 there were 3,000 Jews in Ecuador, the vast majority refugees from Germany. Jews in Ecuador entered the press, medicine industry and commerce. They established textile factories, pharmaceutical factories and important furniture factories.

At its peak, in 1950, the Jewish population of Ecuador was estimated at 4,000 persons, the majority living in Quito, several hundred in Guayaquil, and several scores in Ambato, Riobamba, and Cuenca. In 1952, a law was passed requiring every foreigner to supply proof that he was engaged in the occupation stipulated in his entry visa. The World Jewish Congress tried to help those Jews who were practicing business, but were only supposed to be in the agricultural sector; however, attempts at agricultural settlement were unsuccessful.

Ecuador's government policies regarding Jewish emigration were historically tentative and volatile: in 1935, for example, it gave the Jews permission to settle in an area of about 20,000 square kilometers, and on the other hand, in 1938, the government issued an order that all the Jewish residents that are not working in agriculture or are not capable to develop the industry would need to leave the country.

Jewish community today

The Jewish community today lives in two major cities: Quito and Guayaquil. The community is about active 290 people. The Jewish community of Ecuador is predominantly of German origin, but the younger generation is Spanish-speaking. The Ecuadorian Jewish community is a homogeneous group, a fact which has facilitated great communal organization. The Asociacion de Beneficencia Israelita, founded in 1938, is the central body for religious and cultural affairs. Other organizations in the country are the Zionist Federation, B'nai B'rith, Wizo, and Maccabi. A bilingual Spanish-German bulletin, Informaciones, is published by the community. Interestingly, intermarriage is not as great of a problem in Ecuador as elsewhere since Jews form a separate middle-stratum between the upper, traditionally Catholic classes, and the lower classes of the indigenous population.

There is a Jewish school in Quito, the Colegio Experimental Alberto Einstein, established in 1973, which serves both Jewish and non-Jewish students from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. All Jewish holidays are celebrated by the school, and Hebrew and other Jewish studies are taught there. The school has an excellent reputation and superb pre-college preparatory program. The Jewish community of Quito has its own building, a home for the aged, and a synagogue that holds services on the Sabbath and holidays.

Ecuador has traditionally maintained friendly relations with Israel, and has frequently supported Israel in the United Nations. The Ecuadorian Embassy is in Tel Aviv . In the late 1960s, a network of technical cooperation and assistance was developed between the two countries, especially in the fields of agriculture, and water development. Since 1948, 137 Ecuadorian Jews have emigrated to Israel.

Since 2004, there has also been a Chabad house in Quito.[8]

Prominent Ecuadorian Jews

Ecuadorian Jews have achieved prominence in various fields including academics, industry, and science. Benno Weiser (Benjamin Varon), who was an active Ecuadorian journalism, later entered the Israel diplomatic service and served in various Latin American countries. His brother, Max Weiser, was the first Israel consul in Ecuador.

In the industrial field, where Jews played an especially important role, the names Rothschild and Seligmann stand out in the area of the development of metal industries, and the pharmaceutical industry is indebted to Carlos Alberti Ottolenghi and Alberto Di Capua. Paul Engel, an endocrinologist and pathologist, was a co-founder of the Endocrine Society of Ecuador.


External links

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