History of the Jews in El Salvador

Flag of El Salvador

Jews have been present in El Salvador since the early 19th century, starting with Spaniard Sephardic Jews and continuing with the arrival of World War II Ashkenazi refugees. Jews who escaped Spain during the inquisition were Jewish Sephardic , hence, a significant number of Jewish families in El Salvador have Hebrew hispanized sounding last names. Some of these Sephardic Jewish families include: Aboud, Acevedo, Acosta, Aguilar, Albuquerque, Almeida, Alonzo, Araujo, Campos, Cantoral, Cordova, Cattán, Díaz, Dreyfus, Escalante, Figuereido, Figueroa, Gabay, Salomón, Sangarrén, Sariles, Taer, Taher, Taheri. Among some of the most prominent Ashkenazi Salvadoran families are: Liebes, Guttfreund, Weill, Salomón, Freund, Lasally, Gabay, Bloch, Baum, Levy, Lewinsky, Haas, Dreyfus, Rothschild, Tesak, Bernhard, Bloom and Falkenstein.

History of the Jews in El Salvador

Business partnership with Catholic conservative landlords during the 1930s hampered Jewish security, but the situation improved after World War II. On Sept. 11, 1948, El Salvador recognized the State of Israel, and in 1956 the Instituto Cultural El Salvador-Israel was founded.

Jerusalén is a municipality in the La Paz department of El Salvador. It was named by the Cordova family, more specifically by Juan Cordova. They were Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain. Other Sephardic Jews are the Perla y Perla, Oman, Galeas, Galeanos, Gomar, Perez among others, some of them became members and founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church in the area of Morazan.

Right before the Salvadoran Civil War, the Jewish community was actively involved in organizing a Zionist Organization, of which Ernesto Liebes and Carlos Bernhard were its main leaders. Members of the community were also involved -according to American writer Jane Hunter in her book Israeli Foreign Policy: South Africa and Central America- in facilitating the sale of arms from Israel in El Salvador, particularly the sale of 18 Dassault Ouragan jetfighters aircraft in 1973, of which Liebes was perceived by guerrilla groups as the primary representative.

During the Civil War many Jews left the country after the kidnap and murder of a community leader and Israeli Honorary Consul for cultural relations Ernesto Liebes by the RN-FARN, the armed wing of the RN, one of the groups that formed the FMLN.

The Comunidad Israelita de El Salvador was established in 1944 with a Jewish community center opening in 1945 and a synagogue in 1950 . The country has now 1 synagogue.


The signing of peace treaties in 1991 led to the return of several Jewish couples with children who had moved elsewhere during the Salvadoran civil war. A new community center and synagogue were inaugurated in the past decade. The Comunidad Israelita de El Salvador holds services on Friday, Shabbat morning, and on holy days. For Pesach, Rosh Hashannah, Sukkot, Channukah, Purim and Yom Haatzmaut the women's committee organizes meals for the community to share and celebrate together.

University students have a Jewish students association, EJES (Estudiantes Judíos de El Salvador), and a Zionist group, FUSLA (Federación de Universitarios Sionistas de Latinoamérica), both of which are active throughout the year. For adults, the community offers different educational classes in Hebrew and other topics of interest. The "Chevra of Women" offers a course in Jewish cooking, and there is a monthly Jewish bulletin called el Kehilatón, which advertises synagogue events. The Noar Shelanu youth movement, to which about 30 children age 8–18 belong, meets weekly. The kindergarten for young children also meets weekly. Two emissaries teach Hebrew and Judaism.

Relations with Israel

Israel has an embassy in San Salvador. In 2006, El Salvador announced plans to move the embassy to Tel Aviv where the rest of the embassies are located. This has been met by controversy, with many believing this decision to be under the political influence of the Arab community and the President himself, Tony Saca, who is of Christian Arab descent.

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