History of the Jews in Peru
|Peruvian Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish|
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Some Jewish conversos arrived at the time of the Spanish Conquest in Peru. Then, only Christians were allowed to take part in expeditions to the New World. At first, they had lived without restrictions because the Inquisition was not active in Peru (at the beginning of the Viceroyalty). Then, with the advent of the Inquisition, 'New Christians' began to be persecuted, and, in some cases, executed. In this period, these people were sometimes called "marranos" ("pigs"), converts ("conversos"), and "cristianos nuevos" (New Christians) even if they had been reared as Catholics from birth.
To escape persecution, these colonial Sephardi Jews conversos settled mainly in the northern highlands and northern high jungle. They intermarried with natives and non-Jewish Europeans (mainly Spanish and Portuguese people) in some areas, assimilating to the local people: in Cajamarca, the northern highlands of Piura (Ayabaca and Huancabamba), among others, due to cultural and ethnic contact with people of the southern highlands of Ecuador. Their mixed-race descendants were reared with syncretic Catholic, Jewish, European and Andean rituals and beliefs.
In the first decades of the 19th century, many Sephardi Jews from Morocco emigrated to Peru as traders and trappers, working with the natives of the interior. By the end of the century, the rubber boom in the Amazon Basin attracted even greater numbers of Sephardi Jews from North Africa, as well as Europeans. Many settled in Iquitos, which was the Peruvian center for the export of rubber along the Amazon River. They created the second organized Jewish community in Peru after Lima, founding a Jewish cemetery and synagogue. After the boom fizzled due to competition from Southeast Asia, many European and North African Jews left Iquitos. Those who remained over generations have eventually married native women; their mixed-race or mestizo descendants grew up in the local culture, a mixture of Jewish and Amazonian influences and faiths.
In modern times, before and after the Second World War, some Ashkenazi Jews, chiefly from Western and Eastern Slavic areas and from Hungary, migrated to Peru, chiefly to the capital Lima. The Ashkenazis ignored the Peruvian Jews of the Amazon, excluding them from consideration as fellow Jews under their Orthodox law because their maternal lines were not Jewish.
In the late 20th century, some descendants in Iquitos began to study Judaism, eventually making formal conversions in 2002 and 2004 with the aid of a sympathetic American rabbi from Brooklyn, New York. A few hundred were given permission to make aliyah to Israel. In 2014, nearly 150 more emigrated to Israel.
Today, there are about 3,000 Jews in Peru, with only two organized communities: Lima and Iquitos. They have made strong contributions to the economics and politics of Peru; the majority in Lima (and the country) are Ashkenazi Jews.
Some have held notable posts:
- Salomón Lerner Ghitis served as Prime Minister of Peru in 2011, during Ollanta Humala's presidency.
- Efraín Goldenberg served as Prime Minister (1994-1995), Foreign Minister (1993-1995), and Finance Minister (1999-2000) in the government of Alberto Fujimori.
- French-born anthropologist Eliane Karp was First Lady of Peru.
- Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, former President of Peru.
- Salomon Libman, footballer.
- Yehude Simon served as Prime Minister of Peru from 2008 till 2009, during Alan García's second presidency.
- David Waisman was Second Vice President of Peru in Alejandro Toledo's government, from 2001 until 2006.
Representation in other media
The Fire Within: Jews in the Amazonian Rainforest (2008) is about the Jewish descendants in Iquitos and their efforts to revive Judaism and emigrate to Israel in the late 20th century. It is written, directed and produced by Lorry Salcedo Mitrani.
- Amazonian Jews
- B'nai Moshe
- Immigration to Peru
- Religion in Peru
- History of the Jews in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Congreso Judío Latinoamericano. "Comunidades judías: Perú". Retrieved 13 December 2015.
- Asociación Judía del Perú
- Ariel Segal Freilich, Jews of the Amazon: Self-exile in Earthly Paradise, Jewish Publication Society, 1999, pp. 1-5
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