Critical Minds, Compassionate Hearts

Jewish People in Spanish-Speaking Countries

Rashi's Class of 2018
Students in 8th grade worked for a month to research the history of Jewish people in Spanish speaking countries.
The project encouraged students to imagine living in their country of study and what contributions they would bring as a young Jewish man or woman living there.

Colombia - by Allie J.

Jews in Colombia immigrated from many countries in order to achieve religious freedom. The first recorded Jewish settlers in Colombia were Spaniards in the 16th century, practicing Sephardic traditions. In order to avoid anti-semitism, they appeared to be practicing Christianity although, in truth, they were "Marranos," or secret descendants of Jews who faked conversion. These Spanish Marranos entered Colombia in order to escape religious persecution from the autocratic monarchy in their home country. The term "Marrano" comes from the Hebrew term "marat ayin" -"appearance of the eye," and the Spanish word "verres" -"wild boar." This conveys their deception as well as the loathing that outsiders felt for the secret Jews. Unfortunately, many of the Colombian marranos were discovered and subsequently murdered. The Marranos were easy to identify, having chosen traditionally Jewish names, such as Isaac, Reuben, or Moises for males and Rebecca, Ruth, or Lia for females. They also generally followed the laws of Kashrut and modest attire. After that, the Jewish population in Colombia petered out and was extinct for two hundred years. In the 18th century, modern practicing Orthodox Jews again began to move to Colombia from Jamaica and Curacao, openly displaying their religion even though it was not legal to do so at the time. Jamaican and Curacaon Jews generally came from Spain in the 16th century, so they also practiced Sephardic Jewish traditions. However, some came through Portugal where most Jews were Ashkenazic. They had moved in order to obtain more religious freedom and to escape natural disasters such as the Great Kingston Fire, several hurricanes, and earthquakes. These new Jews managed to convince some members of local churches to complete the arduous process of conversion, claiming that they had only forgotten their ancestors' Jewish roots. These occurrences affected the community's Judaism because they brought in outside traditions that make Colombian Jews unique. Finally, about 350 Jews immigrated directly following World War II, bringing the country's Jewish population to around 6,000 people. Colombia was a popular destination for new settlers because laws about Judaism were becoming looser and Jews could freely express their religion without being oppressed. Jewish practices in Colombia melded traditions from the Marranos and traditions from other foreign settlers. However, due to the unstable economy and anti-semitic violence, many Jews have recently left Colombia. In the mid-1990s the population was 5,650 and, in the early 21st century, the Jewish population had decreased to 4,200. Most of the Jews that have left settled in Miami and other parts of the United States. Jeremy Albelda, a Sephardic conservative Jew currently studying in Buenos Aires, explains, "My grandparents fled from Germany during the Holocaust and lived in Colombia for a long time. When they had my mother, they moved to the states, where I've lived ever since. It's really wonderful to be able to return to where my family lived and see the elaborate Jewish community." Ultimately, Colombian Jews have persevered through dark times, and though their future is becoming brighter, they still have a long way to go.

The current population in Colombia is around 48,200,000 people, only about 6,000 of which are Jewish, meaning that the Jewish community makes up only <0.01 % of the whole country. These communities are spread out across six cities but mostly concentrate in Bogota, Colombia's capital. To put this into perspective, there are an estimated 5,425,000 Jews in America, spread out across all 50 states but mostly in the urban commercial centers especially on the coast. Further, there are about the same number of Jews in Alaska as there are in all of Colombia. However, the Colombian Jewish population is rising for two reasons. First, intermarriage rates are low. While Jewish intermarriage rates in America have reached 58%, only 10% of Colombian Jews marry outside of the Jewish religion. Second, the Jewish population is increasing as many Colombians learn that their ancestral roots trace back to the Kohanim, a priestly Jewish role or family. In fact, a study in the year 2000 from the University of Antioquia claims that about 14% of Colombian men share this genetic marker in their Y chromosome, relating them all the way back to Moses' brother Aaron. The Colombian Jewish community is more religious than the American Jewish community. Whereas in the US, 23% of American Jews follow Sabbath rules and about 22% keep kosher at home, in Colombia roughly 50% do so. The others put more emphasis on social gatherings and Jewish values; the Jewish community gathers frequently and is fairly insular. Colombian Jews also tend to send their children to Jewish day schools at a greater rate than in the US. Also, a Colombian Jew is 12% more likely to become a Bar Mitzvah than an American Jew. David Ganitsky, a Rashi parent who lived in Bogota when he was very young, noted, though, that becoming a Bar Mitzvah is the exclusive privilege of boys in Colombia. In fact, David describes the fact that women have a very limited role in the religious aspects of Judaism. They spend their time at home while the men participate at Temple, where prayers and services are casual but rigid and more difficult to follow because they are mostly in Hebrew, do not flow, and move quickly. In these ways, David says, Colombian Judaism is more traditionally orthodox than American Judaism in general. Finally, though very few make Aliyah (or move to the homeland), many Colombian Jews agree that Israel is their nation's home. In September of 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli bureaucrat to visit Latin America. While there, he and his wife met with Colombian officials about "Israel's potential contribution to Colombia's post-conflict efforts," according to The Times of Israel and the Israeli Government became involved in Colombia's future by clearing landmines. In conclusion, the Colombian Jewish community is largely descended from Marranos, is small but growing, is more religious than in the US, is becoming more accepted and is strengthening its bonds with Israel.

If I were to live in Colombia next school year, I would contribute to the Jewish kehillah by participating in community gatherings and socials. I would also help to prepare holiday meals for my community, as all women do. As a girl, I would not be able to attend services at a Temple or receive a Jewish education like I have here in America, at Rashi. While living there, I would try to break down some gender roles in the small Jewish community -but also in the outside world. In addition, in order to make a difference outside of the Jewish community, I would create or volunteer at a non-profit which fights for Colombia's future and encourages the country's partnership with the Israeli Government. The non-profit would either have to do with the country's current economic issues, drug problems, homelessness, or the hardships which come from terrorist attacks nationwide.

Panama - by Leah

Panama is a country rich with culture and history - from the Panama Canal to the small towns next to the beach. What one may not know is that this country is also full of Jewish history! Long ago, in the early 1800s, the first Jews settled in Panama. These first Jews were Portuguese and Spanish Conversos. Because they were Conversos, they were forced to practice their Judaism in secret, for fear of being hurt - or worse: killed. In the year 1821, after the Spanish Ruling's downfall, a great number of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to Panama. Because there wasn't a main area or a main community of Jews, many were adopted local culture and assimilated. Later in the 19th century, an astounding number of Jews came to live in Panama. Because of the increase of Jewish people, a need for a synagogue became apparent. In 1876, the first synagogue in Panama opened. Kol Shearith Israel was a reform synagogue in Panama City. 160 families prayed and participated in services there, as this temple was a safe haven for many Jews who formerly had to practice in secret. Kol Shearith Israel was a lively Jewish space where Jews were able to be themselves. Still, the Jewish population continued to grow. In 1911, there were 505 Jewish people. In 1936, there were 600.  In 1933, yet another temple was opened, this time an Orthodox one. Shevet Achim is still around today and is the country's largest synagogue. As the Jewish population grew at a steady pace, another temple was created. Beth El consisted of Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews.

Why did Jews immigrate to Panama? World War I was a huge reason - when people came home from the war, they realized that they didn't have much left. Panama was the perfect place: because it was attached to two other countries, it was the perfect geographical location. Besides, there was already a relatively large Jewish population. The only downside was that they'd have to assimilate and adopt local culture - which could sometimes be a good thing! Second of all, Panama was also a central stop when traveling - when people saw how convenient a place it was to live, they decided it would make a good home.

At that time, the Jewish population in Panama just wasn't big enough to keep thriving without intermarriage. Because of that, many interfaith families began attending synagogue. In 1836, it was safer for Jews to begin practicing in the open. This happened because Portuguese Jews, Guadeloupe Jews, Curacao Jews, and Jews from Europe and the Virgin Islands immigrated to Panama. They were used to practicing in the open, and eventually, they made a large enough impact on the Panama Jews to make them want to practice openly, too. When the next "wave" of Jews came, they started marrying more into Judaism; this was easier because there were more Jews, and there was a larger number of synagogues.

Jews have been affected both positively and negatively by living in Panama. In the beginning (when Jews began living in Panama) Judaism seemed to be affected negatively. Because there wasn't a big Jewish population, many Jews were forced to practice in secret. Later, in 1836, when other Jews immigrated, Judaism was affected for the better. Jews were able to practice in the open now. Still, there is much anti-semitism in Panama: just recently, anti-semitic groups called names to Jews and the largest newspaper in Panama wrote a highly anti-semitic piece, calling Jews terrible names and reinforcing stereotypes.

Panama's Jewish population has increased greatly throughout the past few years. In all of Panama, there are four million people. Of all of those people, ten thousand of those are Jews. Although this may not seem like much, Panama's Jewish population has more than tripled in the past few years. This is mainly due to Israelis and other Jews immigrating. As an example of how much Judaism has flourished in Panama, there are three synagogues, there are five Kosher restaurants and two Jewish high schools. Along with that, fifty years ago, there was only one Jewish school. Today, there are four. In all of Central America, Panama has the largest number of Jews. Because of how many Jews there are, the population doesn't need to hide while praying and celebrating Jewish holidays.

Unlike some other countries, the connections between the state of Israel and Panama are very friendly. Panama openly supports Israel as a state, and the two are very similar in terms of leadership. Besides Israel, Panama is the only place which has ever had two Jewish leaders. In May of 1980, at the Hebrew University, the ambassador of Panama presented the school fifty volumes of its' country's history. This not only signifies that Panama and Israel's relations are friendly, but that the people of Panama are willing to share their culture with those different from them. This makes sense, as there is a large amount of Jews living in Panama (the number has tripled over the past few years) so they when the Israelis come, they bring their culture and ways with them, spreading it all through their community.

There are many similarities between the Jews of Panama and myself. First of all, just as 1,500 children and teenagers all over Panama go to a Jewish school, many kids and young adults attend one, too. Along with that, both Americans in my community and Jewish people from Panama have good relations with Israel. Third of all, Jews in Panama have a large community who they celebrate holidays, simchas, and sadnesses with, just as I -and as others in my community do. Finally, just as many synagogues and temples are open to people of all branches of Judaism in America and in my community, many are in Panama, too.

Although there are many similarities between Jews of America and Jews of Panama, there are also some differences. First of all, in Panama, if one visits a temple and doesn't belong, he or she will be required to show proof of identity (or show that you're Jewish) or else access will be denied. This is mainly for security purposes. Second of all, in Panama, 80-85 percent of Jews keep Kosher, whereas in America, 80-86 percent of Jews don't keep Kosher. Secondly, whereas 25 percent of Jewish people in Panama keep Shabbat, a slightly smaller amount of 24 percent keep Shabbat in the United States. Finally, in Panama, an estimated 95 percent of Jews attended their children to one of these two Jewish Day Schools: Hebrew Academy Yitzhak Rabin or Albert Einstein Academy. In America, that number is significantly less.

Concluding, Panama is a country full of Jewish history and continues to be a place where Jews thrive. The amount of Jewish schools, Kosher restaurants, and synagogues is at a steady increase, and Panama is quickly becoming home to many Jewish immigrants and Israelis.

The Philippines - by Teddy S

The first Jewish settlers to arrive in the Philippines arrived during the period of the Spanish Inquisition to avoid the turmoil in Spain. In the year 1580, the first auto-da-fe (search and trial for suspected Jews) in the Philippines was held in Manila. But out of the seven people accused it was not certain that any of them were Jewish. Over the course of the 17th century, at least 8 Jews were tried as a direct result of the Spanish Inquisition in the Philippines. Immigration of Jews to the Philippines was not very common until the late 19th century. Many French Jews moved to the Philippines in search of business opportunities. The wave of French Jews was soon followed by a wave of Turkish, Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian Jews. Three Jews that moved to the Philippines were the three Levy brothers. The brothers were running away from being enlisted in the French army in the Franco-Prussian war. They later went on to found a jewelry shop in Manila. In 1898 the first American Jews came to the islands after the Spanish-American war where the Americans took the Philippines and ended the 300-year Spanish reign there. In the coming years more and more American Jews moved to the Philippines. After the Russian Civil war, many Jews from Russia decided to move to the Philippines in order to continue to practice their religion instead of being religiously persecuted under the new Soviet Union. By this time the Jewish community of Manilla was about 500 Jews. In 1924 the first synagogue of the Philippines was founded, it was called Temple Emil after its benefactor, Emil Bachrach. In the late 1930's when Germany started the holocaust, the United States was not accepting Jews. But, the Philippines stepped up where the United States had failed to. President Manuel Quezon helped accept Jewish refugees into the Philippines and even donated some of his own personal land so they would have a place to stay. This act of unparalleled kindness helped save thousands of Jewish lives (10,000). However, in 1937 Japan declared war on China starting the second Sino-Japanese war. By 1939 they had conquered the great city of Shanghai. Many Jews who had fled Europe to China found themselves fleeing again except this time from the Japanese. A lot of Jews in China decided to move to the Philippines to get away from the Japanese. But on December 7th, 1941 Japan attacked America and its allies. The Americans defended the Philippines until it became under Japanese control in 1942. During the occupation, the Jews were mostly left alone because of the swastikas on their identification papers. The occupation lasted a long 3 years ending in the battle of Manila (February 3rd 1945-March 3rd 1945) where an upwards of 250,000 civilians lost their lives. By the end of the occupation 1 in every 10 Jews in the country had been killed and a majority of them were in labor camps. The synagogue in Manila had been reduced to cinders. By the end of the war, many Jews moved to the United States. Two years after the war the decision of whether to make Israel a country or not was up in the air. In this situation at the UN, the Philippines was the tiebreaker. So President Manuel Roxas (my great grand uncle) made an executive decision that would shape the world forever. He had the Philippines vote yes for the partition of Palestine which lead to the new state of Israel -the only country to do so in Asia and the final tiebreaker. After that many Jews living in the Philippines moved to Israel. Israel and the Philippines still have a very strong and unbreakable relationship. After the Philippines had a tsunami in 2013 Israel sent aid to the Philippines showing how committed they are to each other. The current amount of Jews in the Philippines is only 100 Jews.

What is Jewish life like in the Philippines?
"The Jewish community in the Philippines is small but growing. Even though there is only one synagogue in the whole country there is still a melting pot of different Jewish nationalities and beliefs. The Filipino Jews are mostly Syrian, Israeli, and American Jews. There is also a small amount of Jews that are actually Filipino, but these are mostly converts and most of the American Jews in the Philippines don't permanently live there. A lot of the Jews there have not really assimilated into Filipino culture. The Rabbi of the Filipino shul is also a kosher butcher and sell kosher meat to a lot of different Asian countries. The way the services are conducted there are different than here because there they read with the Torah standing up, the also do this with the Haftorah. The only temple there is an Orthodox Sephardic temple so the temple is split between men and women. Even though the temple is Sephardic the Ashkenazi Jews there try to make the temple a mix between the two. The shul there sort of serves as a Jewish community center and it also has a nursery/preschool with 30 kids. I don't believe the estimates made of 100 Jews in the Philippines, I believe there are more, but that might just be the number of Jews in the Philippines."

What connection do the Jews in the Philippines have with Israel?
"The Philippines was the only country to vote yes for Israel in Asia during the 1947 U.N. decision. The Philippines was actually the deciding vote and my great uncle (President Manuel Roxas) helped made the final decision. Some of the Jews that go to the temple in the Philippines are Israeli so they travel to Israel a lot to try to build better connections between Filipino and Israeli Jews. There aren't very many Filipino Jews to they don't have very many connections with Israel."

What similarities do Jews in the Philippines have with Jews in America and/or our family?
"Well, of course we are all Jewish. Also, our family celebrates shabbat which is what a lot of Jews in the Philippines do because a lot of them are Orthodox Jews. A lot of the Jews keep kosher there as our family does not. Kosher meat is very expensive there because there is only one kosher butcher in the entire country. During the high holidays the shul in the Philippines is very packed because of all the people who don't usually go to temple but decided to show up for the high holidays as well as non-residents showing up. This is also very similar in America and at our shul. Lastly, our shul Kehillath Israel in Boston and the shul in Manilla both conduct very similar services and both use a very similar prayer books."

Have Jews been affected positively in the Philippines?
"Philosemitism rates in the Philippines are second only to Laos which barely has a Jewish population. Both these countries have such low Jewish populations it makes sense that these countries have such high rankings on the Philosemitism scale. Also ever since the 1947 vote, the state of Israel and the Jewish people have been thought of very highly in the Philippines and are regularly talked about in the Philippines. The newly elected president Rodrigo Duterte even spent the entire day of Rosh Hashana in the Philippines shul. He is also a very big fan of the state of lsrael. The previous president celebrated Filipino presidents day with only the Israeli ambassador to the Philippines.

How do we ensure a strong Jewish community in the Philippines in the future?
"We support their activities financially and physically when possible. We also share whatever Jewish resources we have in Boston so that they do not feel alone. One resource we have shared for instance is educating the Gann teachers through the Hebrew college online portal.

Spain - by Danielle F.

Jews have lived in Spain for over 2,000 years through exile and poverty. Jews were first introduced in Europe when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE and brought many Jews back to Europe with them. However, the real history begins in the years 305-306, when Spain was controlled by the Holy Roman Empire. The Council of Elvira (the Catholic Church) produced eighty laws, many of which were meant to ostracize the Jews. Shortly after, under Toledo III, children of mixed marriages were baptized, and Jews became forbidden to hold public office. This lead to the Jews being caught in a paradox in the year 613. They had two choices: to convert to Christianity or to be expelled from Spain. Neither of these were appealing, which resulted in a mixture of reactions. Some left Spain because they would rather leave all they knew then become Christian, while others stayed put, "converted" and practiced Judaism secretly. In 633 CE, Toledo IV decided that if a "Christian" was discovered to be practicing Judaism, he or she would be taken to a monastery or a trusted Christian household. This unjust lasted until the 700's, when Berber Muslims, who had conquered the land, granted Jews and Christians each some rights. Although Jews didn't have equal rights to Muslims, they rose in prominence in society, business, and government. This time period was very successful for the Jews and became known as the Golden Age of Spain. The Jews were flourishing so much, that Jews from all over Europe came to Spain in a Jewish renaissance. They were doing well in all fields and produced some of the most well known Jewish figures today. Yehudah HaLevi was one of the first great Jewish poets, and Menahem ben Saruq compiled one of the first Hebrew dictionaries. The Jews played huge, important roles in society, and many of the skills of Sephardic scientists, doctors, traders, poets, and scholars were utilized by Christian and Muslim rulers. The success wouldn't last for long, however. In 722, the Muslims once again began to fight the Christians for the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish kingdoms which led to unrest, and obviously led to anti-semitism (the Jews have always been used as scapegoats in situations like this). This became so devastating, that 4,000 Jews were murdered in the Granada Massacre in one day. Conditions for the Jews became even worse and was a very difficult time and place for them to be living in. Fast forward, a little bit less than 200 years, and the Cordova, which was the center of Muslim power in Spain, became a pleasant place for Jews. Jews could express their ideas, attend school with Christians and Muslims at the University of Cordova, and choose from over twenty synagogues. They continued to flourish under Afonso, the conqueror of Toledo. In fact, by 1098, 15,000 Jews out of 50,000 people were living in Spain. At one point 40,000 Jews were in Alfonso's army. The Jews became equal to Christians, and at some point they were even higher than the Muslims. This became known as the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. This situation was just too good to be true, and in 1108, the Christians lost the Battle of Ucles which brought anti-semitism, and Jews were again, in a bad position. By 1111, Alfonso VII had restricted the rights of Jews, but soon after became friendlier. This was around the time when one of the most prominent Jewish scholars known, was born in Cordova; Moses Maimonides was born there in 1135.

Fast forward 77 years and the Crusaders are now in power and are extremely anti-semitic. During the 1200's, all Spanish Jews had to wear a yellow badge on their clothing to distinguish the Jews from the non-Jews, they were forbidden to appear on Good Friday, lived in Jewish ghettos, and had to pay additional taxes too. From 1369 to the late 1390's, Jews were humiliated, killed, and poverty-stricken under Henry II. Henry kept them in his government because of their skill and intellect, but treated them terribly. It got so bad that in 1391, many Jews converted, but thousands still practiced Judaism in secret, and these people were called Marranos. This lead to the well known Spanish Inquisition in 1492. Isabella de Castilla and Fernando de Aragon (who was actually the grandson of a Jew) wanted every single person in Spain to be Christian. Anti-semitism was at its very peak in Spain, and Jews were executed and burned alive. Jews that were thought to be Marranos were interrogated and later killed if found guilty. The Alhambra Decree had officially demanded all Jews to leave the kingdom by the last day of July 1492. Spanish Jewry was completely banned in Spain, and by the end of July 1492, more than I 00,000 Jews had left Spain. Others were baptized but still practiced Judaism secretly. These converts (Conversos) were called swine by the non-Jewish population. The ones that had made it out moved west to Portugal, Morocco, England, Holland, Egypt, and France seemed to be luckier.

In 1834, Jews were permitted to return to Spain after the abolition of the Inquisition. In 1859-60, Jews this time fled Morocco to Spain because of the Spanish-Moroccan War. Many more came in 1869 because of Spain's promise of a ban on religious tolerance. By 1917 there were 1,000 people living in Madrid from Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey who came to Spain at the beginning of WWI. Miguel Primo de Rivera even granted the right of Spanish citizenship to Sephardic who applied before December 31, 1931. Spanish neutrality in WWII then led to be many Jews protected by Spain. For example, Spain protected Jews in France and the Balkans and rescued Hungarian Jews by accepting 2,750 refugees. Many of them were only in transit, so they didn't stay in Spain for long. The agreement had been that they could pass through Spain as long as they left without any trace of them being there. Spain attracted many Jews after WWII, and shuls and schools were established there especially for Jews. In 1978, the Catholic Church was disestablished as the state religion. This meant that Jews were given complete equalities with all the other religious denominations.

Currently, there are about 12,000 Jews living in Spain, which represents 0.03% of the total population. Most of these Jews are of North African (Sephardic) descent, some of whom received special measures in 2015 from the Spanish Parliament, which made it so that relatives of Sephardic individuals during the Spanish Inquisition who were expelled, could become citizens relatively easily. The main Jewish communities are located in Barcelona and Madrid, although there are Jews throughout Spain. Spain is proud to hold one some of the few Jewish communities in Western Europe with a growing population. There is even an organization, Federacion de Comunidades Israelitas de Espafia, which unites Orthodox Spanish communities throughout the country, and also ensures places of worship, teaching, marriages, holidays, tax benefits, and heritage conservation.

Spain did not have a relationship with Israel until 1986, which was when Spain recognized the State of Israel. Israel had opposed Spanish entrance into the United Nations because Spain had been a "friend" of Nazi-Germany. Despite this, Spain maintained a general consulate in Jerusalem and continued to trade freely with Israel. Currently, the relationship between the two is quite steady. Spain hosted the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 to try to strengthen Israeli-Arab connections and is trying to continue the same work. Thousand of Spanish tourists travel to Israel every year, and since 1948, 1,412 Spanish Jews have emigrated to Israel. In addition, Spain grows kosher olives which are exported to countries around the world! Even though this connection is definitely not as strong as the one between the USA and Israel, it is relatively healthy and new.  

There are numerous differences and similarities between life as a Jew in the USA and being a Jew in Spain. One contrast between the two, concerns neo-Nazis and anti-semites. Spain holds many of the two because of the lacking of laws restricting hate and Holocaust denial. Spain offers refuge to many convicted of this elsewhere, which majorly contributes to this statistic. Imprisonment for Holocaust denial was declared unconstitutional because it violates freedom of speech. This has resulted in about 70 neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic movements. In a recent poll, Spain held the highest percentage of anti-Semitic views of five European countries participating in the poll: Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland. Lately, the Spanish government has put effort into decreasing the amount of anti-Semitism there, but this is still one of the many flaws in the government. Spanish-Jewish leaders are saying the opposite about this issue, by stating that the presence of modern anti-Semitism is growing. In the USA, there are neo-Nazis, but it seems like the government is doing more compared to in Spain. Next, a similarity between the two countries is that there are Jewish day schools around the country. In Spain, they are in Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, and Melilla. Finally, a similarity between the two countries is that there are multi-denominations. In Spain, there are Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox communities, like in the USA.

The rich history of Spain's Jews is evident in the culture of Sephardic Jews all over the world. Hopefully, the future history of Spanish Jewry will only consist of positive advancements and will be without anti-semitic eras. Spain is on the right track towards becoming completely Jew-friendly, but she still has a long road ahead.

It would be very exciting for me if I was told that I was to live in Spain next school year. I would definitely want to explore the various Jewish communities all over the country and experience different traditions. I think that because I am not Sephardic I could learn about the differences between these two sects of Judaism. I would definitely attempt to interview multiple known Jewish leaders in Spain and find their input on the current anti-Semitism there and how the Jewish population is doing as a whole currently. I would also try to do as much anti-Semitism awareness work during my time in Spain. I know that the ADL Global organization has been very involved in this issue, and I could probably connect with them because of their strong foundations in Boston. Maybe I would go to non-Jewish schools and teach kids about the current anti-Semitism in their country because I do believe that it would be important to educate the next generation because they will soon be the leaders of the country. I would, of course, spend a lot of time with Jewish families there, and would try to get to know them as well as possible. I'd be interested to hear different families' stories regarding how they have ended up in Spain. As well as education non-Jewish children, I would also love to spend time with Jewish children. I would like to teach them how to refute anti-Semitic remarks addressed to them, and how to preserve their Jewish background as they grow up.

Going to Spain to experience Spanish Jewry would be a wonderful experience, and there would be so much that I could participate in to improve the current condition of Jews there in my small way.

Venezuela - by Emma G.

The first Jews to settle in Venezuela was in the 17th century. During these times it was mostly Marranos who lived there (Marranos were Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity). These Marranos came and left Venezuela very frequently. It wasn't until the middle of the 19th century that the Jews were permanently living in Venezuela. In most cases, the Jewish people migrated from nearby islands like Curacao to mainland cities like Coro. In other cases like in 1910 when many Jews came from eastern Europe because of the big oil boom in Venezuela. They came on a boat in very bad conditions. It was very hard to immigrate as a Jew to Venezuela because of the strict immigration laws, and because there was no separation of Church and state in Venezuela.

There were many reasons why the Jews came to Venezuela. In the earlier years, they came to Venezuela for trading purposes. But post WWII almost 600 Jews came to Venezuela to seek refuge. Venezuela opened their ports to ships with Jews on them who were trying to escape. And after Venezuela strengthened their Jewish community, more than 1900 Jews came from middle eastern countries to escape political oppression. Another reason that Jews came to Venezuela was to move to bigger cities.

For example, in 1855 almost the whole Jewish population left. This was the first time Jews had been driven out as an independent nation. When the Jews from Curacao first arrived in the Coro, business was booming! The Jewish people were doing really well. The people of Coro didn't like this and they had a corrupt government, so they made it so that a tax would be put on all the Jews who owned businesses. When the Jewish population found out about this they protested and made it so that every foreigner would have to pay a tax, not just the Jews. Despite this, the Jews were still doing so well that the city used them as a safety net. Whenever the city needed money, they would ask the Jewish people and they would hand over a loan. When Venezuela found out about this they didn't like this, so they asked the Jews to stop giving money to the city. But after the city asked the Jews to borrow money again and the Jews said no, the whole city started discriminating against them. The anti-semitism was getting out of hand, neighborhoods were getting attacked and people were getting shot. The city of Curacao (where the Jews were originally from) sent help and all the Jews left. This is one of many negative things that happened to the Jewish community in Venezuela.

There are many negative and positive things that affected Judaism in Venezuela. A few positive things that have happened include, in the Venezuelan and Colombian war. During this war, the Jews helped the Venezuelan army fight and gave them a place to stay in their homes. This gave them better relationships with the Venezuelan leaders. Because of this, the Venezuelan leaders fought for ore religious freedom under the Spanish Crown. Another negative thing that happened in Venezuela that affected Judaism was that there was a big anti-semitic community which made restrictions on Jewish immigration and it also made it hard for Jews to get jobs.

In the duration of the Jewish community in Venezuela, the community differed. For example in the mid-1800's the Jewish community got stronger, but in the late 19th century there was not a good Jewish community or Jewish acceptance. This caused a lot of the Jews to disappear. In the I900's the Jews became more religious and started having services and a formal Temple. Some of the earlier Jews even started a Jewish cemetery which is still in existence today. The Jewish community got even better in 1910 when Jews struggled for jobs they lived in small one-room apartments with little to no resources. But in 1919 the Jewish Israelite society of Venezuela was founded this helped bring scattered Jews together this tightened the Jewish community. There were many different types of Jewish communities over time in Venezuela.

Venezuela has changed a lot throughout the years. There are many differences in life now in Venezuela. Over the years the population has varied. In 1907 there were about 230 Jews living in Venezuela, but almost 20 years later in 1926, the national census counted about 882 Jewish Venezuelans. Since then the population increased dramatically to 17,000 in the mid-1970's and then kept increasing until the I990's. In 2005 Venezuelan Jews started making aliyah to Israel and since then there has been a steady increase in aliyah. Currently in Venezuela, there are 7,000 Jews living there. That is about .03% of the total Venezuelan population.

Venezuela definitely has strong ties with Israel. The Venezuelan embassy in Israel is located in Tel Aviv. Venezuela has consistently traded with Israel since the 1970's. And Venezuela was one of the first countries to support the founding of the state. In May of 2016, Venezuela was hit by major economic hardship. There were food shortages and the Venezuelan Jews were struggling. Israeli Venezuelans sent food, help, and medication to Venezuela. This help made a huge difference in the lives of Venezuelans and helps strengthen the Venezuelan Jewish community.

Life in Venezuela is similar and different from my life. First, one similarity would be the Jewish school system. Similar to the system in America there are private day schools. Founded in 1943 with 43 students enrolled named Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl- Bialik is the main private school. The students were 95% Jewish, but in 2005 when people started making aliyah to Israel the students decreased to 1381 and most people needed financial aid to attend the school.

Another similarity between America and Venezuela is the youth groups and synagogues. Jewish youth in Venezuela were inspired by the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. The youth came together to make youth groups. In America, there are youth groups for the Jewish youth. In Venezuela, there are also synagogues that have close communities. They come together in times of hardship, and they are very aware of all the Jews in Venezuela. For example, in 1966, they founded the Confederacion Decoraciones Israelita de Venezuela, this created even better community and helped all the Jews come together. In Americ, this is also the case. There are many programs in the U.S. that help bring Jews together. Another similarity between Venezuela and America is the connection with Israel. As mentioned before Venezuela has a very secure relationship with Israel. This is also a big part of the culture in America. For example America has a very strong relationship with Israel. Temples and schools generally take trips and partner with other schools and temples in Israel. Lastly, a difference between America and Venezuela is the Anti-semitic political leaders. Current Vice president Tareck El Aissami is linked to anti-semitism, and wants to make it state policy. The government in Venezuela does not do anything to stop the anti-semites. In Venezuela the anti-semitism mainly started after the six day war. Now the anti-semitism has poisoned the press and most companies. The government is not interfering with this at all. This is different in America. In America the political leaders are not anti-semitic at all and the government is very proactive when it comes to anti-semitism. Venezuela has changed over the years relating to the Jewish population.

As an American Jew in Venezuela I would do many things in my Temple and school to help strengthen the Jewish community. First, I would raise awareness about current issues in my school and in my town to advocate and bring people together. The issues would be based on Jewish and non Jewish problems like anti semitism, or helping people recover from the hurricane in Puerto Rico. Next, I would be a part of many different Jewish youth groups in Venezuela. By doing this I would contribute to the Jewish community and help bring all of the Jews in Venezuela together. Lastly, I would advocate for field trips around Venezuela that would allow me to meet and connect with other Venezuelan Jews to build friendships. By living in Venezuela I would do many things to strengthen the Jewish and non-Jewish kehillah.