Around 4,500-5500 Jews live in Colombia, according to a recent census carried out by the CCJC and the JOINT most of them concentrated in the capital, Bogota. Smaller communities exist in Cali, Barranquilla and Medellin. There have been Jews present in the territory of modern-day Colombia since the Spanish period but it took until the end of the 18th century before Jews began to practice their religion openly. It is a primarily secular community but there is little intermarriage. The community is represented by the Confederación de Comunidades Judías de Colombia (CCJC), the Colombian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.
President: George Levy
General Director and CEO: Prof. Marcos Peckel, Member of the WJC Executive
Director of Human Relations: Jean Claude Bessudo
The first Jews arrived in Colombia during the period of Spanish colonization in the 16th and 17th centuries. Primarily “New Christians,” Jews forced to convert to Catholicism who practiced Judaism in secret, they sought a new life free of religious persecution. Most, if not all, of the Jews who arrived during this period assimilated into Colombian society, although there are descendants of some of these early Jews who continue to practice certain Jewish traditions which have morphed into family rituals. During the 18th century, Spanish and Portuguese Jews began to arrive from Jamaica and Curacao, where they had flourished under English and Dutch rule. By the end of the century these Jews had begun to practice their religion openly even though this was still technically illegal. After Colombia gained its independence in 1810, Judaism was recognized as a legal religion.
By 1929 there were less than 200 Jews in Bogotá when a group of Polish and Romanian Jews founded the Israelite Center of Bogotá. The small size of the community did not deter them, however, and the following year they established a burial society, a school and other communal institutions. By the beginning of the 1940s, German-Jewish immigrants to Colombia founded their own communal organization, the Israelite Montefiore Association, and in 1950 Jews mostly from Aleppo, Syria but also from Egypt, Turkey and Greece founded the Sephardic Hebrew Community of Bogota.
During the early 1990s the Jewish population of Colombia stood at over 6000-6500. Over the course of the next decade a deteriorating economy and personal safety and a wave of kidnappings across the country led to a significant Jewish exodus. Most of those who left settled in Miami, Costa Rica and Israel. However, improvements in domestic security and a good economic situation have helped to stabilize the community and the situation has improved to the extent that many Jews from Venezuela are now seeking refuge in Colombia.
Between 4,500 and 5,500 Jews live in Colombia, according to a recent census carried out by the CCJC and the JOINT, three quarters of them in the capital, Bogota. There are also smaller communities in Cali, Barranquilla and Medellin.
The Umbrela organization of the community is the Confederación de Comunidades Judías de Colombia, in charge of the political representation of the community to the Colombian government, Religious organizations, Security Services, diplomatic corps, Media, the State of Israel and international Jewish organizations.
The East Europeans, Sephardim and German Jews each have their own organizations. The Jewish community runs community centers, youth Zionist organizations -Hanoar Hatzioni- and branches of organizations such as WIZO and KKL. There are ten synagogues, four of which are located in Bogota. Kosher food is readily available.
The community has a strong TZEDAKA Tradition and Jews who are in need have an adddress to ask for whatever help is needed. Also projects for the benfit of the society at large are carried out by doifferent Jewish Organziation.
Most of the communities are nominally orthodox, although the great majority of Colombian Jews are not religiously observant. Two of the communities previously of German Jews, one in Bogota and one in Cali, are affiliated with the conservative movement. Intermarriage is low, less than 5%. The community performs orthodox conversions through rabbinic tribunals recognized by the Israel Rabanut, Masorti conversions are also performed.
Bogota, Barranquilla, and Medellin each has its own Jewish day school, Cali has an after school. In Bogota there is also a kolel-talmudic school.
There are a handful of Jewish publications, both in print and online.
The Museum of Alfredo de la Espriella in the city of Barranquilla has a photo gallery focused on Jewish themes. Any visitor wishing to get in touch with any thing Jewish can contact de CCJC at firstname.lastname@example.org
Colombia abstained from the UN vote for partition in 1947 and did not recognize the new state of Israel when it was declared the following year. However during the last two decades Colombia became the strongest ally of Israel in Latin America. President Santos went to Israel on a State in 2013 and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Colombia in September 2017 in the very first visit of a seating Israel prime minister to the region. The two countries signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2013 and hold extensive cultural, artistic and military exchanges. Colombia has been a member of the MFO in the SINAI since the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement.
Av. Calle 26 No. 57-83 Piso 7
Telephone: 57 1 3277500
Fax: 57 1 327755
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