Puerto Rico

According to Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola’s “World Jewish Population, 2016,” Puerto Rico is home to between 1,500 and 2,500 Jews, making it the largest Jewish community in the Caribbean. Considered the wealthiest Jewish community in the Caribbean, Puerto Rican Jewry is active in all aspects of general Puerto Rican life, making huge contributions to business, commerce, education, and entertainment in the country. The Jewish community in Puerto Rico is represented by the Jewish Community of Puerto Rico – the Puerto Rican affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

Jewish Community of Puerto Rico

Telephone: +1(787)724-4157
Email: office@jccpr.org
Website: http://www.jccpr.org/home.html

President: Osvaldo Kratsman



History

The first Jews who settled in the island were Conversos, who arrived with Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the New World in 1493. They had hoped to escape persecution in the Spanish colonies but found the extent of the influence of the Inquisition to be far-reaching. Jews were officially prohibited from settling in Puerto Rico on pain of death. As a result, these early Jews practiced their faith in secret and many settled in the remote mountainous regions of the interior of the island, far removed from the center of colonial life in Puerto Rico, in what is now present-day San Juan.

This continued for hundreds of years, as Spanish rule in Puerto Rico generally discouraged immigration that was not loyal to the Catholic Church, which was seen as an extension of the Spanish crown. It was not until the 19th century that Spanish influence began to wane and Cuba and Puerto Rico, two of the last vestiges of the once powerful empire, began demanding autonomy. Many Jews were members of the pro-independence movements on both islands, and in Puerto Rico, they were part the “Grito de Lares” revolt that resulted in Spain granting freedom of religion to non-Catholics in 1870, if they were faithful to the crown.

When Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States following the Spanish-American War of 1898, Jews were allowed to live openly on the island. However, there were practically no Jews on the island at the conclusion of the war, and very few American Jews moved to Puerto Rico at the time. A small number of Jewish American soldiers who had served in the war remained on the island and later worked in the Puerto Rican governmental bureaucracy, contributing to the creation of its legal code and court system. 

Despite this change of power, there was no serious Jewish immigration to Puerto Rico until European Jews started arriving there during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1942, President Roosevelt appointed Aaron Cecil Synder, a Jewish lawyer, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. He later served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico (having been nominated by Governor Luis Muñoz Marín) from 1953 to 1957. After World War II, American Jews settled in Puerto Rico, encouraged to do so by federal incentives meant to draw investors to the island. Most of these Jews settled in San Juan and helped contribute to the economic growth of the capital city.

In 1952, Puerto Rico achieved US commonwealth status, and as a result, saw further governmental economic incentives bring more American businesses to the island. Many of these businesses were owned, run, or managed by American Jews. Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, a number of Cuban Jews arrived in Puerto Rico, fleeing the economic difficulties incurred by the change in regime and the general hostility displayed towards those who practiced a religion in Castro’s Cuba.

There was a brief influx of Israeli migration in Ponce in the 1970s. These immigrants came to work in agriculture and, overall, Jews played in former governor Luis Muñoz Marín’s “¡Manos a la Obra!” program. The arrival of Argentine Jews fleeing the military junta in 1976 further bolstered the Puerto Rican Jewish community and the Israeli “Gan Eden” initiative in Puerto Rico brought some 200 Israelis to the island to help bring advanced Israeli irrigation and agricultural techniques to Puerto Rico. This contributed significantly to Puerto Rican-Israeli relations and some Israelis remained in Puerto Rico.

Today, the Puerto Rican Jewish continues to enjoy almost no anti-Semitism and economic prosperity. In 2005, the Puerto Rican Senate approved a resolution that recognized the contributions of the Puerto Rican Jewish community to Puerto Rican society and reaffirmed the island’s cordial relationship with Israel. In recent years, political instability and repression in Venezuela have brought a number of Venezuelan Jews to the island. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017 has seen the Jewish community of Puerto Rico heavily involved in helping provide aid and shelter to those displaced by the hurricane.

The years of the Holocaust

A large number of Jews from Europe made their way to the Americas in the 1930s, hoping to find refuge from the rise of the Nazis and increasing levels of anti-Semitism in the Western hemisphere. However, strict immigration policies in the United States made immigration to the US mainland extremely difficult, if not impossible. Many Jews ended up coming to Puerto Rico, hoping to be able to emigrate to the mainland, but eventually staying on the island. More Jews arrived following the German-occupation of many European countries and a large number of American Jewish soldiers also arrived on the island during this time, stationed on its various military bases.

Demography

Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that there were between 1,500 and 2,500 Jews in Puerto Rico as of 2000. It is important to note that following the devastating hurricanes that hit the island in 2017, millions of people left the island, so that there are no exact numbers today concerning Puerto Rico’s Jewish population. The majority of Jews in Puerto Rico live in the capital of San Juan. Some Jewish families live in Ponce and Mayaguez.

Community Life

Jewish life in Puerto Rico is largely centered around San Juan, where there is a Jewish community center that offers Jewish religious and cultural events. The Jewish Community of Puerto Rico acts as the communal representation organization. Other Jewish organizations, such as Hadassah and B’nai Brith are active in Puerto Rico. Currently, the Puerto Rican Jewish community is heavily invested in aid and humanitarian relief for victims of Hurricane Maria.

Religious and Cultural life

The Jewish community of Puerto Rico is a diversified community, with Puerto Rico being the only Caribbean island where all three major streams of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform – are active. There are three active synagogues in San Juan, and in 2005, the first synagogue outside of the capital city was established in Mayaguez. There is also a Chabad in San Juan.

The Reform congregation uses English and Hebrew languages in its services, while the Conservative congregation uses English, Hebrew and Spanish.

Kosher food is available on the island.

Jewish Education

The Sha’are Tzedek synagogue runs a school attended by more than one hundred children, and Hebrew school classes are held in the Jewish community center in San Juan.

Youth

The Jewish Community of Puerto Rico works in conjunction with Young Judea to offer young Jewish Puerto Ricans the ability to attend Camp Crane Lake and other Jewish-related summer camps to strengthen their Jewish identity.

Information for visitors

There is a monument in memory of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust in San Juan.

Israel

Due to Puerto Rico’s status as an unincorporated territory of the United States, it does not currently have any official diplomatic or consular representation in Israel, though there is an honorary consulate in San Juan. Despite this, Israel and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico enjoy cordial relations, and recently, Israel has aided in the humanitarian effort to help those effected by Hurricane Maria. Israel sent emergency responders, supplies, and medical and psychological professionals to Puerto Rico in the wake of the hurricane.

Honorary Consulate of Israel in Puerto Rico
221 Ave Ponce de Leon
San Juan
Puerto Rico

Telephone: (+1 787) 765-0180
Email: israelconsul@davidefronlaw.com 

Updated

August 2018

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