Community in Costa Rica - World Jewish Congress
Costa Rica

A 2020 census report by estimated that Costa Rica had 2,500 Jews. Costa Rican Jewry, which is predominantly Ashkenazi, has a long and rich history in the nation and is still quite active. It is part of an open and welcoming culture, and Costa Rican Jews are represented in all parts of Costa Rican life, including high-level positions of government.

The Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica represents Costa Rica's Jewish community and is the country's affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Centro Israelita Sionista De Costa Rica (CIS)

Telephone: 506-2520-1013

Social Media:
Facebook: Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica
X: @CostaRica_CIS
YouTube: Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica CIS

President: Amin Majchel

In the 19th century, a large group of Sephardic Jewish merchants, from various countries including Curaçao, Jamaica, Panama, and the Caribbean, arrived in Costa Rica. They may have been Sephardi “Conversos” (Jewish converts to Catholicism) who arrived during the Spanish conquest of the territory and settled in Cartago, although this story has been somewhat mythologized by non-Jewish Costa Ricans. These early arrivals likely hid all semblance or acknowledgment of their Jewish past to eventually assimilate into Costa Rican colonial society, ultimately losing their Jewish identity and traditions.

The origins of today’s Costa Rican Jewish community can be traced back to the interwar period when Eastern European Jewish immigrants arrived in the region, fleeing from poverty and discrimination. More Jewish immigrants, mainly from Poland, came to Costa Rica in the early 1930s due to the rise of Nazism in Europe; most Costa Rican Jews today can trace their history to the Polish village of Żelechów. As many of these Polish Jewish immigrants engaged in door-to-door commerce, the Costa Rican Spanish derogatory slang "Polacos", became a colloquial term for salesmen. The immigrants mainly settled in San José and eventually founded the country’s first Orthodox synagogue.

After World War II and the Holocaust, some survivors with relatives already in the country came to Costa Rica. The conclusion of the Costa Rican Civil War in 1948 saw antisemitism become disturbingly prominent in governmental practices. There was a federal investigation of the legal status and immigration practices of the country’s Jews and in 1952, national activists attempted to pass a law restricting commercial activities to only native Costa Ricans. Jewish homes and institutions were subsequently attacked. Eventually, under President José Figueres, things improved for Costa Rican Jewry after he publicly reaffirmed the Costa Rican constitution’s guarantee of equal rights for all Costa Ricans.

Despite such troubles, leading into the latter portion of the 20th century, Jews were well integrated into and involved in Costa Rican society. Some went on to become politicians, deputies, and ministers: Doris Yankelewitz Berger was the First Lady from 1982 to 1986, Rebecca Grynspan served as Second Vice President from 1994 to 1998, and Jamie Daremblum served as the Ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004. Astrid Fischel served as Minister of Education from 2002 to 2003, and Luis Liberman served as Second Vice President from 2010 to 2014.

In more recent years, the Jewish immigrant population largely comprised expatriate American retirees and Israelis, which has helped bolster the overall Costa Rican Jewish population and diversify the expression of Jewish religious and cultural life in the country. Economic and political instability in Argentina and Venezuela have also contributed to Jews settling in Costa Rica. 

The Years of the Holocaust

During the 1930s, the nationalist government era of León Cortés Castro (1936-1940) was hostile to Jewish immigration, restricting its entry into the country and implementing policies that limited Jewish economic development. Things did not immediately improve under the administration of Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia (1940-1944), who was influenced by Catholic nationalism. After the declaration of war against the Axis powers in 1941, however, his government became more focused on German, Italian, and Japanese immigrants, rather than the newly arrived Jewish settlers. Conditions for Jews in Costa Rica improved during the subsequent administration of Teodoro Picado Michalski (1944-1948), with some 190 Holocaust survivors immigrating to Costa Rica after the end of World War II.


The Hebrew University demographer Sergio estimates that as of 1993, the Jewish community in Costa Rica ranged from 2,500 to 3,100 people. The majority of Costa Rican Jews live in the capital, San José, and the Central Valley around San José.

Community Life

Jewish life in Costa Rica is centered around the Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica in San José. A community center in San José serves as the base of operations for Jewish representational activities, as well as Jewish activities in Costa Rica. The local Jewish population also maintains and operates a Jewish cemetery.

In that regard, besides acting as a communal body for Costa Rican Jewry, the Centro Israelita Sionista also operates a community library and several diverse Jewish organizations such as WIZO, B’nai Brith, Hanoar Hatzioni, Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod, Gold Crown (a daycare for elderly people), Liaison Forum Costa Rica-Israel (Hasbara and combating antisemitism), Israelite Ladies, the Yad Vashem Committee, B’nai Brith Sports, and Deportivo Israelita.

Religious and Cultural life

Most Costa Rican Jews are Orthodox, and the synagogue is housed in the community center in San José. There is also a reform synagogue, B’nei Israel Congregation, and a Chabad. The Jewish community also has three mikvehs, each for men, women, and keilim (food vessels).

Jewish Education

There is a Jewish day school, the Instituto Dr. Jaim Weizman, that is run by the Costa Rican Jewish community. The school provides a Jewish-oriented education within curriculum guidelines that are maintained by the Ministry of Education; it stresses the importance of Jewish history and Hebrew language and runs from kindergarten through secondary school. Additionally, the Chabad Lubavitch in San José operates both an American Jewish day school and a Hebrew school. Other Jewish educational activities are also operated by the Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica. This includes Jewish education for adults.

El Museo de Historia de la Comunidad Judía de Costa Rica offers special lectures on a variety of Jewish topics, such as the Shoah, the history of Israel, and Jewish-Arab relations.


Costa Rican Jewish youth groups are mainly run through the Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica, such as Hanoar Hatzioni and Beit Scopus, which are geared towards young Jews aged 18 and up.

Jewish Media

The Centro Israelita Sionista publishes the La Huella newsletter monthly.

Kosher Food

Kosher meat and overall food are available in San José, with a kosher butcher shop and a local store carrying kosher products.

Information for visitors

In San Jose, the Israelite Zionist Center of Costa Rica and the Bnei Israel Congregation, constitute notable Jewish sites. There is also a Jewish museum in San José, El Museo de Historia de la Comunidad Judía de Costa Rica, that contains numerous exhibits, collections, and research references. There is also a Jewish cemetery in San José.

Relations with Israel

Israel and Costa Rica enjoy have enjoyed full diplomatic relations since. Costa Rica voted in favor of the UN Partition Plan in 1947, and has historically supported Israel's issues and matters at the UN (although those positions have not been consistent in recent years).

Costa Rica’s decision to move its Israeli embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in 2006, and its recognition of the "State of Palestine" and increased relations with Arab countries somewhat affected relations between the countries. However, the countries continue to cooperate in educational and economic initiatives.

Embassy of Israel in San José
Paseo Colón, Calle 38 avenida 2
Oficentro Colón, Piso 11
San José
Costa Rica

Telephone: +506 2221 6444
Fax: +506 2257 0867

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