According to the estimates of the local Jewish community, Honduras is home to approximately 40 Jews, making it one of the smallest Jewish populations in Central America. Though there have been some antisemitic incidents, Honduran Jews are generally able to practice Judaism freely and openly, and have benefited from international Jewish and Israeli assistance. The Jewish community in Honduras is represented by the Comunidad Hebrea de Tegucigalpa – the Honduran affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.
The first Jews in Honduras arrived during the colonial period, having been expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. Many of these arrivals were “Marranos,” or Crypto-Jews. Over time, they completely assimilated and identified fully as Christians. A descendant of these settlers of Jewish origin, Juan Nepomuceno Fernandéz Lindo served as President of El Salvador from 1841 to 1842, and later as President of Honduras from 1847 to 1852. At the end of the 19th century, a small number of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews arrived in Honduras. They were mainly immigrants from Eastern Europe (Russia, Poland, Germany, Romania and Hungary) and Greece, Turkey and North Africa.
In the early 20th century, after World War I, Jewish immigrants from countries in central Europe began to arrive in Honduras. This was largely a result of the Honduran government publicly encouraging Jewish educators and professionals from Europe to immigrate to Honduras. Most of the families that arrived during this time later formed the two distinctive Honduran Jewish communities in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
After World War II, there were less than 140 Jews throughout the country. In 1948, the community was bolstered by the arrival of nearly 60 Jews. Some of these new Jewish immigrants were pioneers in the development of the Honduran tourism industry. Overall, the new immigrants tried to maintain, within their means, a Jewish lifestyle. Although they came from religious homes, they were not successful in their attempt to pass on the traditions of Judaism to the second generation. There were very few young Jews in Honduras and mixed marriages and assimilation became an accepted lifestyle. In some (albeit very limited) cases, the non-Jewish spouse decided to become Jewish, and were converted by rabbis who came to Honduras for that purpose. The following decades saw the Honduran Jewish population slowly decline as intermarriage and emigration became commonplace.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, a large group of Israelis came to Honduras to work in engineering, agriculture and security. They brought with them both their families and a Jewish lifestyle and helped reinforce Jewish religious life in Honduras. In that same period, a group of Hondurans, who had spent some time in Israel and returned with a better understanding of the country and the Jewish heritage, created the Honduras Israel Cultural Institute, further strengthening the practice of Jewish culture and traditions.
In 1997 the Jewish community in Tegucigalpa finally got its first synagogue, but it was sadly destroyed the following year by Hurricane Mitch. However, thanks to international aid, the temple was rebuilt and consecrated in 2002. Such developments are indicative of the gradual growth of the Jewish community in Honduras; a trend of the last few decades. Today, Honduran Jews live generally peacefully and are included in Honduran political, social, and cultural life. Ricardo Maduro served as President from 2002 to 2006.
Fleeing the rise of Nazism, a small number of Jewish refugees from Germany were able to enter Honduras during the 1930s, but in 1939, the Honduran Government severely restricted the entry of Jews, Roma, and other foreigners. However, a considerable number of Jews still managed to reach the country with the help of Honduran consuls stationed in Europe.
Honduras also issued a number of visas and passports to European Jews who had escaped the Nazis and collaborationist regimes. Honduran President Tiburcio Carías Andino, after having heard appeals from some influential local Jews like Salvador Schacher in Tegucigalpa and José Brandel and Boris Goldstein in San Pedro Sula, ordered the country’s European consuls to issue Honduran "asylum" visas to mostly young people who had escaped the war via Switzerland or the Netherlands and who were related to some families already established in Honduras. Done with the knowledge that many of these visas would not be used to reach Honduras, these efforts saved the lives of many European Jews.
The Comunidad Hebrea de Tegucigalpa estimated that are approximately 40 Jews in Honduras. The majority of them live in the nation’s capital, Tegucigalpa. There is also a small Jewish community in San Pedro Sula.
The Comunidad Hebrea de Tegucigalpa acts as Jewish communal representative body, with Jewish life in Honduras largely centered around its operations. In the last 25 years, a number of international Jewish organizations, including WIZO, the Jewish Agency, and Maccabi, have begun to work out of Honduras. In addition, a number of Israeli organizations have become affiliated with the Honduran Jewish community and have helped to grow and enhance Jewish cultural life in Honduras.
Despite the small size of the Jewish community in Honduras, there are synagogues in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula: the Shevit Ajim Synagogue in Tegucigalpa and the Maguen David Synagogue in San Pedro Sula. The two communities hold Shabbat services and celebrate all Jewish religious holidays.
Some kosher food can be found in Honduras, but it is largely limited to the capital of Tegucigalpa.
There is no Jewish day school in Honduras, though the Communidad Hebrea de Tegucigalpa offers a number of educational activities for Honduran Jews, including a Jewish Sunday school and studies on Judaism for youth and adults. Talmud Torah classes are also available.
Honduran Jewry is associated with the Federation of Zionist Latin American Students. Other Jewish youth activities are organized by the Communidad Hebrea de Tegucigalpa.
Honduras was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Israel in 1948, and the two countries have maintained diplomatic relations ever since. Incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández has the distinction of being the first graduate of Israel's International Cooperation Development Program (MASHAV) to become a head of state. In 2018, Honduras announced that it would be moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, a decision welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.