Community in Dominican Republic - World Jewish Congress
Dominican Republic

According to 2020 estimates, the Dominican Republic is home to roughly 100 Jews. Consisting of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Dominican Jewry is a small, yet active community.

The Jewish community in the Dominican Republic is represented by the Centro Israelita de la Republica Dominicana – the Dominican affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Centro Israelita de la Republica Dominicana

Telephone:
809-535-6042
Fax:
809-542-1908
Email:
chicole@ghitis.ws
rudman125@aol.com

President: Isaac Rudman
History

The first Jews in the Dominican Republic arrived as a result of a 16th-century Spanish policy of sending conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity as a result of the Inquisition) to Santo Domingo. Some historians believe that during the colonial period, the majority of people living in Santo Domingo were conversos.

When Hispaniola, the island the Dominican Republic is now located on, became divided between Spain in the east and France in the west, most Jews settled on the Spanish side – the future site of the Dominican Republic. Between 1781 and 1785, many Jews came to Santo Domingo from the Dutch island of St. Eustatius. Others arrived from Curaçao, St. Thomas, and Jamaica during the French occupation. Most of these immigrants maintained their foreign citizenship as Dutch, British, or Danish nationals.

Though no organized community was established during the Haitian occupation period (1822 to 1844), the Jews of Santo Domingo thrived nonetheless; they lived in the capital, Santo Domingo, as well as Puerto Plata, Monte Christi, La Vega, and San Pedro de Macoris. Most worked as exporters of tobacco, timber, and jewelry. The Jews were also warmly received by the local population, and seen as patriotic and productive. Marriages were performed by a cantor named Rafael Namias Curiel, and the children of these immigrants ultimately assimilated almost completely with the local population. Their descendants were among the most prominent figures in the history of the Dominican Republic, including President Francisco Henriquez y Carvajal.

The Dominican Republic’s open immigration policy regarding Jews saw its Jewish population steadily rise throughout the years before and during World War II. On the eve of World War II, there were 40 Jews in the Dominican Republic, and by 1947, a total of 705 Jews had made their way to the region. Though the project was intended to promote agricultural development, by July 1947, only 166 out of the 373 Jews living in Sosúa were engaged in agriculture. The rest were mostly businessmen and artisans. The number of known Jews in the Dominican Republic peaked at 1,000 but began a downward trend in the postwar years due to emigration. It has declined ever since.

The Dominican ambassador to the United Nations, Max Henriquez Urena, who himself was the descendent of a marriage between a Jewish father and a converso mother, gave the welcoming speech when Israel was admitted to the United Nations in 1949. An Israeli embassy was established in the Dominican Republic in 1964, six months after the Dominicans inaugurated their embassy in Israel.

Today’s Dominican Jewish community is quite small and concentrated, the result of decades of emigration and assimilation. Despite these trends, Jews in the Dominican Republic can practice their religion freely and openly.

The Years of the Holocaust

The Dominican Republic was one of the few countries prepared to accept large-scale Jewish immigration before and during the Holocaust. At the Evian Conference on refugees, which was organized at the behest of the Roosevelt Administration, in 1938, the Dominican Republic offered to accept up to 100,000 Jewish refugees. President Rafael Trujillo, the country’s dictator, hoped that these refugees could contribute to the country’s agriculture and consequently donated land in Sosúa in anticipation of a Jewish agricultural settlement. It is also believed that he supported letting Jewish refugees into the country as part of a strategy to encourage European immigration rather than Haitians.

The first immigrants arrived in the middle of 1940, and by 1942 the Jewish population was 472; it is estimated that approximately 5,000 visas were issued. While these visas allowed their recipients to escape the Holocaust, most European Jews who received the visas never actually reached the Dominican Republic, since transatlantic travel proved to be extremely difficult, especially for Jews from occupied countries. However, these documents were instrumental in allowing some of these Jewish refugees to flee Nazi-occupied Europe, or to be sent to labor and transit camps rather than death camps.

Demography

Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that the Dominican Jewish population numbered between 100 and 300 people as of 2000.

Dominican Jews live in Santo Domingo, the country’s capital. A few Jews also live in Sousa.

Community Life

Although Sephardic in its origins, the Jewish Community of the Dominican Republic is diverse and open. Jewish life is organized by the Centro Israelita de la Republica Dominicana. A chapter of the International Council of Jewish Women is also active in the Dominican Republic.

For over 60 years there has been a Jewish cemetery; the community also assists the supervised repatriation services for the remains of Jews who need to be interred in other countries. There is also tzedaka (charity) care for the indigent striving to respect their dignity, as well as also cooperation programs for the education of Jewish children in need, based in Santo Domingo.

Religious and Cultural life

Despite the small size of Dominican Jewry, the community has two synagogues: one in Santo Domingo and the other in Sosúa. A rabbi divides his time between the two communities. The Dominican Jewish community also has a mikveh.

Chuppah services are offered to foreign couples in coordination with the event planners at their resort of choice. The community offers preparational services for Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, communal Shabbat dinners, and Judaic/Hebrew lessons. 

Religious services are conducted in Hebrew with few Spanish insertions. Separate seating is maintained (albeit with no Mechitza) and no microphone is used as part of the Shomer Shabbat observance.

Kosher Food

Since Kosher meat and poultry needs to be imported, only dairy or parve food is served on the premises. Kashrut certifications to exporters are offered in coordination with one of the world’s most respected supervision establishments. The synagogue represents one of the leading international kosher certification institutions and serves the Dominican food export industrial sector. Kosher meats and other products are regularly imported from Florida, thus satisfying the needs of interested families.

Jewish Education

The Community does not have a full-time Hebrew day school. However, there is an after-school program at the synagogue for various age groups, and there is a Sunday school in Santo Domingo that is attended by 15 to 20 children.

There is a children’s after-school for three different age groups and a weekly Torah lesson for adults.

Jewish Media

The community publishes Shalom, a bimonthly magazine.

Information for visitors

Despite the small size of Dominican Jewry, there are some notable Jewish sites. Besides the two synagogues, there is a Museum of Jewish Heritage and the old living quarters of Jewish settlers in Sosúa. Additionally, the Jewish cemetery in Santo Domingo is also an area of Jewish interest.

Relations with Israel

An Israeli embassy was established in the Dominican Republic in 1964, six months after the Dominicans inaugurated their embassy in Israel. The Dominican ambassador to the United Nations, Max Henriquez Urena, who himself was the descendent of a marriage between a Jewish father and a converso mother, gave the welcoming speech when Israel was admitted to the United Nations in 1949.

Embassy of Israel in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Pedro Henriquez Urena 80
Apartado Postal 1404, Santo Domingo

Telephone: (+1 809) 920 1500
Fax: (+1 809) 472 1785

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