Community in Costa Rica - World Jewish Congress
Costa Rica

According to the estimates of, Costa Rica is home to 2,500 Jews (2020). Predominantly Ashkenazi, Costa Rican Jewry has a long and storied history in the country and continues to be very active. It is part of an open and accepting society, and Costa Rican Jews are a part of all aspects of Costa Rican society, including high offices of state. The Jewish community of Costa Rica is represented by the Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica – the Costa Rican affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Centro Israelita Sionista De Costa Rica (CIS)

Telephone: 506-2520-1013

President: Amin Majchel

The first Jewish settlers in Costa Rica may have been Sephardi “conversos” who arrived during the Spanish conquest of the territory and settled in Cartago, though this story has been somewhat “mythologized” by non-Jewish Costa Ricans. These early arrivals likely hid all semblance or acknowledgement of their Jewish past and eventually assimilated into Costa Rican colonial society and lost all Jewish identity and traditions. Later in the 19th century, a large group of Sephardic merchants of Jewish origin from various countries in the region – including Curaçao, Jamaica, Panama, and the Caribbean – arrived in Costa Rica. They too assimilated and eventually abandoned all traces of Jewish life.

The origins of today’s Costa Rican Jewish community can be traced back to the interwar period, when Eastern European Jewish immigrants came to Costa Rica fleeing 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. In fact, most Costa Rican Jews today can trace their history to the Polish village of Żelechów. Many of these Polish Jewish immigrants engaged in door-to-door commerce and the Costa Rican Spanish term for these people, “Polacos,” is reflected in the colloquial term for a salesman today: “Polaco.” They mainly settled in San José and founded the country’s first Orthodox synagogue.

After World War II and the Holocaust, some Holocaust survivors with relatives already in the country came to Costa Rica. The conclusion of the Costa Rican Civil War in 1948 saw antisemitism begin to 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. Things improved for Costa Rican Jewry under President José Figueres, who publicly reaffirmed the Costa Rican constitution’s guarantee of equal rights for all Costa Ricans.

Despite such troubles, Jews in Costa Rica in the latter portion of the 20th century were well integrated into, and involved in, Costa Rican society, with a number of politicians, as well as several 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.

In more recent years, Jewish immigrants largely comprised of expatriate American retirees and Israelis have helped bolster the 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, furthering adding to the community. Jews continue to be contributing members to Costa Rican society while also maintaining a vibrant community. Astrid Fischel served as Minister of Education from 2002 to 2003 and Luis Liberman served as Second Vice President from 2010 to 2014.

The years of the Holocaust

During the 1930s the nationalist government of León Cortés Castro (1936-1940) was hostile to Jewish immigration, restricting their entry into the country as well as implementing policies that limited their economic development. Things did not improve immediately 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.


Hebrew University demographer Sergio estimated that the Jewish community in Costa Rica numbered between 2,500 and 3,100 people as of 1993. 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. In that regard, besides acting as a communal body for Costa Rican Jewry, the Centro Israelita Sionista also operates a number of diverse Jewish organizations such as a community library, WIZO, B’nai Brith, Hanoar Hatzioni, Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod, Gold Crown (day care for elderly people), Liaison Forum Costa Rica-Israel (hasbara and combating anti-Semitism), Israelite Ladies, the Yad Vashem Committee, and B’nai Brith sports and a social club (Deportivo Israelita). Cost Rican Jewry also maintains and currently operates a Jewish cemetery.

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 three mikvehs – one each for men, women, and keilim (food vessels).

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

Jewish Education

There is a Jewish day school, the Instituto Dr. Jaim Weizman, that is run by the Costa Rican Jewish community that provides a Jewish-oriented education within curriculum guidelines maintained by the Ministry of Education. It stresses the importance of Jewish history and Hebrew and runs from kindergarten through secondary school. Additionally, the Chabad Lubavitch in San José operates 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, 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 an organization for Jewish university students in Costa Rica. Beit Scopus is another youth group in Costa Rica, though it is geared towards young Jews aged 18 and up.

Jewish Media

The Centro Israelita Sionista publishes the "La Huella" newsletter monthly.

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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