History of the Jews of Nicaragua
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The first Jewish immigrants were said to have arrived in Nicaragua, they came from France in the 1920s, so it was thought. But they actually arrived much earlier, the exact date may be somewhere early 1800s. One of the first families were the Oppenheimers who did, in fact, come from France. Nestor Oppenheimer was married to Camila (Camille) Winston Lazard. They registered the birth of son, named Rene Salomon Oppenheimer. He was born in Managua, Nicaragua on July 22, 1911. One of the few registered Jewish births. Nestor and his brother Filiberto (Paul) lived in Granada, and Rivas, Nicaragua. Nestor's son Rene Oppenheimer subsequently moved to France from Nicaragua where he was arrested by the Nazi and held at Drancy internment camp in France. Other families included the Dreyfus, Levy, Raskosky, and the Salomons. Another Notable family who appear to be of Sephardi Jew descent is the Rios-Montiel family of Juigalpa. Another wave came from Eastern Europe after 1929. The Jews in Nicaragua were a relatively small community, the majority lived in Managua. The Jews made significant contributions to Nicaragua's economic development while dedicating themselves to farming, manufacturing, and retail sales. The Salomon and Dreyfus families both operated well known department stores in Managua during the first half of the 20th century.
The Congregacion Israelita de Nicaragua was the central Jewish organization until 1979. The community maintained a synagogue and social center, as well as a B'nai B'rith lodge and a Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) chapter. Also, prior to 1979, the small Jewish community had a synagogue but it was later bombed during a street warfare between Somozistas and Sandinistas, and turned into a school. Sometime after, the land where the synagogue and school once stood was turned into a funeral home.
The Jewish community encountered anti-semitism by individuals, the majority who claimed that Nicaraguan Jews were responsible for Israeli arms sales to the Somoza regime. Many of these individuals were part of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). There was much hostility between the Sandinista government, which came into power in 1979, and the Jews. This was mostly due to the Sandinista government's close relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
It has been estimated that the highest number of Jews in Nicaragua reached a peak of 250 in 1972. However, that same year a devastating earthquake hit Managua and destroyed 90% of the city, it prompted many Jews to emigrate.
After 1979 the Sandinista government confiscated all Jewish property and imprisoned the community leader, Abraham Gorn, who later managed to escape and flee the country. The Sandinistas also sequestered the only synagogue in the nation, they had it bombed and turned into a school. In fear of persecution and imprisonment by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, all the remaining Jews fled Nicaragua, they went into exile mainly in the United States, Israel, and other countries in Central America.
The Jewish community today
After Daniel Ortega ran and lost the presidential elections in 1990 a small number of Jews returned to Nicaragua. The current Jewish population is estimated at around 50 persons. After 1979 the Jewish community had no rabbi or bris. The Jewish community had its first bris in over 25 years when twins Jacob and Jonathan Gould, sons of Dr. Keith and Kathy Gould had their bris performed by Rabbi Trager who flew in from Philadelphia in December 2006. After that there was another bris for the Najman family and then some Bar Mitzvahs. The Jewish community has finally started to recover., however, as of 2005, the community does not have an ordained rabbi or a synagogue.
The Jewish community, although small, has had a couple of Jewish Nicaraguans in high ranks, most notably in politics. Herty Lewites was the former mayor of the capital city, Managua, and presidential candidate; and his brother, Israel Lewites was a Sandinista leader, they both joined and supported the FSLN. Lewites's son, Israel Lewites is involved with the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) political party. The Lewites brothers were the sons of Jewish immigrant from Poland; their mother was Ana María Rodríguez, a Nicaraguan who raised them in Catholicism. Herty Lewites while being a mayor was also named the Stewardship (some sort of an honorary clerical priest) for the catholic yearly celebration of Santo Domingo de Guzmán. Nicaraguan Jews, although few in numbers, are diverse in practice, ranging from the observant Najman to secular Jews with little knowledge of Jewish prayers
- William Abdalah, Medical doctor and politician.
- Keith Gould, Physician.
- Herty Lewites, Nicaraguan politician
- Israel Lewites Rodríguez, Sandinista leader and martyr of the revolution.
- Israel Lewites, son of Israel Lewites Rodríguez and member of the Sandinista Renovation Movement.
- Michèle Najlis, poet
- Laszlo Pataky, writer
- Luis "Lou" Ramirez, Celebrity Chef
- Gustavo Montiel, Police Chief of Managua, Chief of Military Intelligence, Chief of the National Guard under Somoza and Minister of Public Credit and Finance upon military retirement
- Arturo Vaughan, Honorary Consul of Israel
- "International Religious Freedom Report 2005". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- "World Jewish Communities - Latin America - Nicaragua". World Jewish Congress. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- "Persecution and restrictions of religion in Nicaragua - transcript". US Department of State Bulletin,. 1984. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- "Persecution and restrictions of religion in Nicaragua - transcript". US Department of State Bulletin,. 1984. p. 3. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- "Deadly history of earthquakes: 23 December 1972". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-08-19.
- "2001 International Religious Freedom Report". U.S. State Department. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- Gould, Keith. "The Jews of Nicaragua: Three brises mark a growing and vibrant community.". Jewish Independent. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- Kinzer, Stephen (2006-07-04). "Herty Lewites, 66, Ex-Sandinista, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- Harris, Brian. "Nicaraguan Jews celebrate first Torah in 28 years". JewishReview. Retrieved 2008-01-14.
- World Jewry In Nicaragua, a Community That Fled Sandinistas Makes a Return.