The first presence of Jewish immigrants in El Salvador dates back to the late 19th century, with the arrival of Alsatian Jews in San Salvador. Except for the occasional transit of Portuguese converts, there was no permanent Jewish community in the country until the early part of the 20th century when Sephardic Jews arrived via France and settled in the city of Chaluchuapa. In 1909 Alfredo Widawer, who organized religious and community life, conducted the first Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. German Jews also settled in El Salvador during this period.
The pre-World War II years in El Salvador saw the Jewish community develop a sense of community and slowly engrain itself into Salvadoran life. As Nazism rose in Europe, many members of the Salvadoran Jewish community attempted to help relatives escape from Europe. Some were successful in bringing their relatives to El Salvador, while others were forced to send them to neighboring countries, such as Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Panama.
After the war, the community built its first synagogue in San Salvador and experienced a relative sense of stability. However, the Jewish community of El Salvador found itself caught in the violence of the Salvadoran Civil War in the late 1970s. Though most Salvadoran Jews had no plays of leaving the country, the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Ernesto Liebes, the Jewish community leader and honorary Israeli Consul, saw many members of the community flee the country. Many emigrated to the United States, Israel, and neighboring Guatemala.
The signing of peace treaties in 1991 led some families to return to El Salvador. However, the impact of prolonged violence has reduced the already small Jewish population. Today, the Jewish community of El Salvador is small but dedicated, with great efforts devoted to maintaining Jewish religious and cultural life.