Community in Guatemala - World Jewish Congress

In Guatemala, there are about 900 Jews. Jews have had a peaceful coexistence with Guatemalans of all religions and the freedom to fully participate in Jewish religious and cultural life since their arrival.

The Jewish community of Guatemala is represented by the Comunidad Judía de Guatemala – the Guatemalan affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Comunidad Judía de Guatemala

Executive Director:
Ilan Lopez

(502) 2360-1509
(502) 2360-1589

Social Media:
Facebook: Comunidad Judía de Guatemala
Instagram: @cadenacjg_guatemala
X: @cjggt
: Comunidad Judía de Guatemala

President: Stephan Nathusius

Historical records from the Mexican Inquisition indicate that the first Jews arrived in Guatemala during the colonial period and were “Marranos,” or Crypto-Jews. However, the present Guatemalan Jewish community can be traced back to the arrival of German Jewish immigrants in the mid-19th century. These immigrants found Guatemala to be commercially fruitful and became involved in several industries, including banking, coffee, and textile.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of Guatemalan Jews moved from Quetzaltenango, where most Jews originally settled, to the capital of Guatemala City. Mainly from Germany, Middle Eastern countries, and eastern European countries, these Jewish immigrants mainly came to Guatemala via Cuba and considered the country a temporary stop until they could obtain visas to the United States. However, many of them stayed in Guatemala following the adoption of draconian immigration quotas in the U.S. during the 1920s.

Despite such proceedings, Guatemala attempted to limit Jewish immigration in the 1930s. The government outlawed 'peddling', a common enterprise among Jewish immigrants in Guatemala, forcing many Guatemalan Jews to either emigrate or face ruin. After World War II, laws regarding peddling were relaxed and rarely enforced. Jewish immigration to Guatemala continued to be largely Sephardic, and in 1948, Guatemala voted in favor of partitioning Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state in the United Nations vote that established the State of Israel.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, various Jewish organizations and institutions sprouted, merged, or ceased to exist. This flux of activity was indicative of numerous attempts at organization, which culminated in the formation of the Comunidad Judía de Guatemala in 1981. Around this time, the Guatemalan Jewry reached its peak population size at about 1,000 people. The small decline that led to the Guatemalan Jewish population was largely a result of the country’s economic situation and safety issues. Many young Guatemalan Jews have since emigrated to the United States and Israel, or neighboring countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, etc.

Today, the Guatemalan Jewish community, mainly comprised of Sephardim and Ashkenazim (of German origin), enjoys a sense of stability. Judaism is protected by the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala and Jews take part in all aspects of Guatemalan society.

The years of the Holocaust

With the rise of Nazism in Germany, many members of the Israelite Society of Guatemala, then one of the more prominent Jewish organizations in the country, attempted to get family members still in Germany to Guatemala. Then, Guatemala's president, General Jorge Ubico, established laws that made living conditions for Jewish immigrants harsh. Laws were created that forbade the admission of any individuals of "Asian origin," including Polish Jews and many others. Nevertheless, with the help of Guatemalan Jews who were already citizens in the 1930s, some European Jews were able to build a life in Guatemala during that time.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Guatemala saw an influx of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe.


Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that there were between 900 and 1,500 Jews in Guatemala as of 1999. Almost all Guatemalan Jews live in Guatemala City, the nation’s capital, and the Jewish community is roughly 60% Ashkenazi and 40% Sephardic.

Community Life

The main organization that unites all of Guatemala's Jewish organizations is the Comunidad Judía de Guatemala. Guatemala City is home to the majority of Jewish organizations in the area, including B'nai Brith, KKL, WIZO, Keren Hayesod, and the Organizacion Sionistam, and a tzedakah committee; there is also a supermarket carrying kosher goods and a small sports social club.

Regarding communal care, the Tzedaká Committee offers financial and professional support, as well as community support, to those in need within the community, while the Bikur Jolim Committee handles supporting persons with health issues.

Religious and Cultural life

Most Guatemalan Jews are Orthodox, though other streams of Judaism can be found in Guatemala as well. There are three synagogues in Guatemala City: Maguén David, the oldest in the country, which was founded by the first Sephardic immigrants, Shaarei Biniamín of the Hebrew Center Association of Ashkenazi Extraction, and a Chabad.

Kosher Food

There are options for kosher food in Guatemala, but it is largely limited to Guatemala City. Additionally, the community runs a non-profit kosher kitchen.

Jewish Education

The Gan Hillel runs a kindergarten program that is considered to be one of the most prestigious at the national level; the Hebrew Tarbut School is for children of primary age, and the Emshej program is for post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah youths. For adults, there are varied options provided by the Comunidad Judía de Guatemala, including classes and conferences on Judaism. Moreover, the community also runs a complimentary afternoon school.


Young Guatemalan Jews have the opportunity to participate in Maccabi Hatzair, a youth movement that children and young people attend until they graduate from high school. After that, they can become active in Guatemalan University Jews (GUJ). Guafty, a Reform youth movement, is also active in the country.

Information for visitors

The Museo del Holocausto, the country’s first Holocaust museum, opened in Guatemala City in 2017.

Relations with Israel

Israel and Guatemala have maintained full diplomatic ties since 1948, with Guatemala playing an important role in the United Nations vote that provided the basis for the creation of a Jewish state. . In 2018, President Jimmy Morales announced that Guatemala would be moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, making it the first Latin American country to do so.

The Guatemalan National Congress has stated May 14th as an annual day of friendship with Israel. This law establishes that the Ministry of Education and other government entities must "promote at the national level the development of cultural activities that recall friendship, cooperation and aid between peoples" on both sides.

Embassy of Israel in Guatemala
13 Avenida 14-07
Zona 10, Oakland
Guatemala, Guatemala

Telephone: (502) 2363-5665, (502) 2363-5674, (502) 2333-6951
Fax: (502) 2333-6950

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