JEWISH LIFE IN PERU:
|GP 23,944,000 ~ JP 3,000
Almost the entire Jewish population, the vast majority of
whom are Ashkenazim, is located in the capital city of Lima. The population has
been shrinking since the 1940s.
Communal and Religious Life
The central communal body is the Asociacion Judia del
Peru, which both represents the Jewish community to the public and coordinates
the activities of the community's three synagogues. The community also maintains
a B'nai B'rith lodge, a Hebraica Club, Zionist youth movements and many social
assistance institutions. A majority of the school-age children attends the
Colegio Leon Pinelo. The community publishes two Jewish newspapers.
Peru maintains full diplomatic relations with Israel.
Aliya: Since 1948, 1,150 Peruvian Jews have emigrated to Israel
In the Peruvian Jewish community
there are fewer than 3,000 Jews, almost all of them in the capital city of Lima.
There are traces of remains of other communities in other areas, but most of
these consist of intermarried descendants and are not counted in the official
community calculation. Stories also surface occasionally of Converso communities
in remote jungle areas. These rumors remain unsubstantiated, members of
such groups are not considered part of the contemporary community.
The Converso core of
the early stages of the community is real. This dates back to the sixteenth
century arrival of the Spanish in South America, which included the area known
today as Peru. Today, historians recognize that many
of those who arrived in the early colonial days were secret Jews or people from
Jewish families who were trying to leave the horrors of the Inquisition behind
them. Networks of secret Judaisers were active in the area and in the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, many were uncovered by the local
Inquisition, losing their lives or languishing in prisons for years. Most of
those who survived are believed to have assimilated and lost any contact with
Judaism; but the rumors persist that secret communities remain until the present
Israel Organization and information about the Jewish community of Trujillo
The roots of the modern community
date back to the mid-nineteenth century with the arrival of Ashkenazi
Jews from Western and Central Europe, including England, the German lands and
Alsace. Settling in Lima, they mainly worked as agents of commercial firms.
Later in that century, Jews who arrived from North Africa were mainly
attracted by the development of a rubber industry, settling in the lands around
the Amazon and in the town of Iquitos.
In the pre World War I
and inter-war periods, more Jews arrived from Eastern Europe, and from the lands
of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. In the 1930s, a substantial group of
German Jews arrived, the second group of immigrants from that region. The
population reached a maximum number of around 6,000, but has declined over the
last generation due to a mixture of political and economic problems. Recently,
as the economy has picked up again and stabilized, some additional Jews have
been attracted from Argentina and from other lands.
Over the last thirty years
or so, several hundreds Catholic indigenous Peruvians converted to Judaism.
These modern converts appear to have no pre-modern Jewish roots. The initiative
for their contact with Judaism came from a certain charismatic Catholic who
started to study Judaism in the late 1960s, and persuaded several hundred
Peruvian natives that this was the right direction. A number of years ago, they
were formally converted to Judaism by a Beit Din that came especially from
Israel. Subsequently, several hundred made aliyah to Israel and another
community developed in Peru. The Jews in Lima rejected them and refused contact
with them. This group is called Bnei Moshe.
Thirty years ago, most
of the Jews in the Peru were involved in business and trade. Today many are in
salaried jobs in industry or the professions. In recent years, more Jews have
entered the world of politics: there has even been a Jewish Prime Minister. The
community can generally be called middle-class; In most countries in Latin
America, this class is increasingly vulnerable and has tended to suffer from
recent economic and financial instability.
The strongest and most
established, accounting for some 75% of the community, is an Eastern
European Ashkenazi stream of the Peruvian Jews. In addition, there is a more
modern Ashkenazi-German stream, which accounts for about 15% of the community.
The third, Sephardi-Mizrachi stream accounts for the remaining 10%. These three
streams co-operate in the running of the community, rotating the leadership
between them. There are currently three synagogues in the community. Two follow
the Orthodox tradition (one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi), while the third is
defined as Conservative.
The community school,
named after Leon Pinelo gives a full school education to some 90% of the
Jewish children in the community. It only accepts children from families that
are officially defined as Jewish. Enrollment having fallen from over a thousand
at the beginning of the 1970s to around some 400 today.
The community has a sports and
country club, the Hebraica. Many of the current community
leaders have come out of the ranks of the one flourishing youth movement, HaNoar
HaTzioni, established more than fifty years ago. There are a number of Jewish
organizations in Lima, many of whom have connections with Israel. One of the
stronger bodies is Bnei Berith. The community produces two regular publications.
The Peruvian community
has seen a lot of assimilation. Apart from the original Spanish settlers, both
the European settlers of the mid-nineteenth century and the North African
settlers of thirty or forty years later faded away, leaving very few heirs.
Since the early to mid-twentieth century, however, the Jews of Peru have tended
to lead a fairly insular life within their own community and around their own
Peru is a strongly Catholic
country. This has unquestionably been one of the factors that has led
to cohesiveness within the Jewish community, sandwiched as the Jews are between
the poor, native, indigenous population and the white, strongly Catholic,
governing group. In recent years, however, as community numbers have dropped,
the difficulties in maintaining Jewish cultural and social life have become
apparent and have translated into a variety of different phenomena. Many young
people have gone abroad and remained there. Among those who have stayed,
assimilation and intermarriage have taken their toll. The percentage of
intermarried couples stands at well over 20%. It should be noted that many of
these families raise their children as Jews.
Since the end of Spanish
immigration to the community, which connected Jewish settlers in the
region with very specific historical circumstances, the reason that has mainly
influenced the inflow of Jews to Peru seems to have been the possibility of
improving their economic status, rather than dramatic persecution.
On the other hand,
four elements have sometimes caused Jews to leave. Firstly, some Jews left when
the economic situation in Peru worsened. This was the case with many of the
early Ashkenazi immigrants, who left in the last years of the nineteenth
century. A similar situation developed in the early 1970s, when a radical
government started a program of nationalization that frightened many Jewish
traders and business people. The last decades of the twentieth century were
generally marked by tremendous economic instability and very high inflation,
which also effected Jewish emigration.
There is political instability in
Peru. This resulted from the actions of left wing underground and
terrorist groups that declared war on the government. The eighties and early
nineties were particularly uncertain and fearful - especially among the middle
and upper classes - due to the actions of such groups as the Tupac Amaru
(foremost) and the Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path). As kidnappings,
robberies and car bombs became commonplace, many decided that this was not a
good place in which to stay. The underground groups have almost disintegrated
since the early 1990s, and now pose little threat to the regime or the middle
class residents of the country.
Another reason for leaving Peru
is the desire of young Jews to look for fresh horizons and romantic
prospects. A thousand Jews have left Peru over the years to make aliyah.
In recent years, the
Jewish Community in Peru focused more attention on the plight of the poor in the
community. The community also supports two old age homes for its members. The
general economic instability that has characterized the Peruvian economy, like
many of the other economies in Latin America, continually places new demands on
the welfare mechanism of the Jewish community.
The problems of physical security
that have affected the community are generally less connected with their
Jewishness than with their image as symbols of capitalism in the eyes of the
leftist underground movements. As a result of abductions and threats by the
leftists, many Jews - along with many others in the middle and upper-middle
classes.- have taken precautions to guard their families and their property.
The economic climate of Peru stabilized in the early
1990s. At that time, it seemed that the community’s main problem was simply
surviving in such small numbers. There has been less economic stability in the
past few years. Nevertheless, it still seems that survival within a small
community remains the main problem. Many other small communities face identical
problems. Such communities usually ask the young two key, related questions. The
first relates to their willingness to remain in the country; the second relates
to their willingness or ability to stay in the community if they decide to
remain in the country. Both questions are relevant to the Jews of Peru.