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The Jewish Community of Ecuador

Ecuador

República del Ecuador - Republic of Ecuador
A country in South America.

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 600 out of 17,000,000. Main Jewish organization:

Comunidad Judía del Ecuador
Roberto Andrade OE3-580 y Jaime Roldós
Phone: 593-2 248-3800
Email: [email protected]

 

HISTORY

It is generally believed that Jews were among the settlers of Ecuador in colonial times. Certain family names among established Ecuadorian families attest to their Sephardi ancestry. Prior to World War II there was very little Jewish immigration to Ecuador. In 1904 there were only four Jewish families in the country, and a survey in 1917 indicated the presence of 14 Jews. After 1924, when the United States established its immigration quota system, a handful more arrived in Ecuador. It was only in the wake of the rise of Nazism and the ensuing holocaust in Europe that Jewish mass immigration to Ecuador began. During the years 1933-1943 about 2,700 Jews arrived, and by 1945 there were already 3,000 new Jewish immigrants, 85% of whom were refugees from Europe. At its peak (in 1950), the Jewish population of Ecuador was estimated at 4,000 persons; the majority lived in Quito, several hundred in Guayaquil and several scores in Ambato, Riobamba, and Cuenca. Although Ecuador was characterized by a strong Roman Catholic tradition and was previously governed by constitutions that established Roman Catholicism as the state church, by the time the large-scale Jewish immigration started, a liberal constitution (1936) guaranteed freedom of worship to all and also stipulated that education was to be essentially secular and lay.

Liberal legislation has remained dominant ever since. In the early years of World War II, Ecuador still admitted a certain amount of immigrants. In 1939, when several South American countries refused to accept the 165 Jewish refugees from Germany aboard the ship "Koenigstein," Ecuador granted them entry permits. Nevertheless, the country's basic humanitarian criterion gradually gave way to a policy of selectivity. Although Jewish immigration to Ecuador was based on agricultural opportunities and needs, it later developed that all the immigrants were actually merchants, industrialists, and businessmen. As a result, in 1938 legislation was enacted compelling any Jew not engaged in agriculture or industry to leave the country. In addition, entry rights were limited to those Jews who possessed a minimum of 400 dollars, which they would have to invest in an industrial project. The Jewish community was able to defeat this law, but in 1952 another was passed requiring every foreigner to supply proof that he was engaged in the occupation stipulated in his entry visa. This legislation was counteracted by the intervention of the World Jewish Congress. Unsuccessful attempts at agricultural settlement were made. In 1935 the "Comite pour l'etude de l'industrie de l'immigration dans la republique de l'equateur" was established in Paris by the territorialist organization, the "Freeland League of Jewish Colonization", with the purpose of creating a settlement program in Ecuador. An agreement was reached with the Ecuadorian government to transfer 500,000 acres of land to the committee's jurisdiction for a period of 30 years to be settled by immigrants regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Several concessions were also promised, such as tax exemption for three years, citizenship after one year, customs exemption, and free transportation by train from the port to the interior of the country. The president signed the agreement several months later on the condition that a detailed program be presented by May 1937 and that if the committee could not manage to invest 8,000 dollars and settle at least 100 families, the agreement would be abrogated. In the following year, two experts visited Ecuador to investigate the possibilities of settlement. Their findings were that such settlement was feasible and would not exceed an output of 360-465 dollars on each family. These findings, however, proved unacceptable to Jewish organizations such as "Hicem", which claimed that the land under consideration was too far from population centers and that the climate was too severe. The result of these objections was the total abandonment of the project. The "American Jewish Joint" distribution committee and "Hicem" also attempted to establish chicken farms for the immigrants, and 60 families were settled. But conditions precluded any success in the venture, which ultimately failed. Most of the immigrants were businessmen and professionals who preferred to carry on their professions. They discovered that balsa wood is excellent for furniture, and later introduced iron and steel furniture, previously unknown in the country. In addition, retail stores were opened and the hotel trade was also developed, the latter leading to anti-Jewish pressure by Syrian and Cuban nationals who had been active in that field. This pressure led to the act of 1938, which might have resulted in expulsion of the Jews.

The Ecuadorian Jewish community is a homogeneous group, a fact which has facilitated communal organization. "The Asociacion de Beneficencia Israelita", founded in 1938, is the central body for religious and cultural affairs that in turn established a court of arbitration and a "hevrah kaddisha". Other organizations in the country are "The Zionist Federation", "B'nai B'rith", "Wizo", "Maccabi", and a cooperative bank. A bilingual Spanish-German bulletin, "Informaciones", is the only publication of the community. The Jewish community of Ecuador is predominantly of German origin, but the young generation is Spanish-speaking. There is no complete assimilation by intermarriage, since the Jews form a separate middle-stratum between the upper, traditionally catholic classes and the lower classes consisting of the indigenous population. There is no Jewish school in Ecuador, but the general atmosphere is one of Jewish cohesion and solidarity, and the children are receiving some Jewish education from a teacher hired by the community. The Jewish community of Quito owns a building, a home for the aged, and a synagogue that holds services on Sabbaths and holidays.

Ecuadorian Jews have achieved prominence in various fields of endeavor, including the academic fields, industry, and science. Benno Weiser (Benjamin Varon), who was active in Ecuadorian journalism, later entered the Israel diplomatic service and served in various Latin American countries. His brother, Max Weiser, was the first Israel consul in Ecuador. In the industrial field, where Jews played an especially important role, the names Rothschild and Seligmann stand out in the area of the development of metal industries, and the pharmaceutical industry is indebted to Carlos Alberti Ottolenghi and alberto di Capua. Paul Engel, endocrinologist and pathologist, was a co-founder of the endocrine society of Ecuador. From 1946, when the Ecuadorian representative at the UN suggested that the Jewish agency be recognized as the Jewish government in exile, Ecuador has traditionally maintained friendly relations with Israel, and has frequently supported Israel in the United Nations. Diplomatic
Relations have been established on ambassadorial level, the Ecuadorian embassy being located in Jerusalem. In the later 1960s a network of technical cooperation was developed between the two countries, especially in the fields of agriculture, water development, and youth training.

As the majority of the immigrants had regarded their stay in Ecuador as a temporary episode, emigration after the war was considerable. By 1948 about half the Jews in Quito had emigrated, mainly to the U.S. on the other hand, a considerable number of survivors of the Holocaust arrived in the early postwar years. Because of continuous emigration, mortality and partial assimilation of the following generation, which considered Spanish its mother tongue, the immigrant organizations lost their pivotal role as preservers of social and cultural identity. However, the Jews continued to form a small middle-class group largely cut off from the strong Catholic upper class and the masses of mestizons and the indigenous population.

In 1972 the "Informaciones" ceased publication. Different attempts to revive tradition did not preserve. The small communities of Ambato and Cuenca disbanded. At the beginning of the 1970s, in the course of the oil boom and thanks to easier-to-obtain entry permits, Jewish families from other Latin American countries arrived. Towards the end of the 20th century many Jews from Argentina settled in Quito.

The 2005 Jewish community of the city of Quito with its 2 million people numbers 200 families (about 550-600 members). The community has modern facilities for its social, recreational, and administrative needs. There is a synagogue and a rabbi for religious services. The community is in contact with other Jewish organizations in Latin America and worldwide.

Place Type:
Country
ID Number:
178856
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:
The synagogue in "18th September 1954" street
Quito, Ecuador, 1982
Photo: Theodore Cohen, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Theodore Cohen, USA)
Ark of the Law in "18th September 1954 Street" synagogue
Quito, Ecuador, 1984.
Photo: Theodore Cohen, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Theodore Cohen, USA)
PRAYER HALL IN THE SYNAGOGUE
AT THE "18TH SEPTEMBER, 1954"
STREET, QUITO, ECUADOR, 1984.
PHOTO: THEODORE COHEN, U.S.A.
(BETH HATEFUTSOTH PHOTO ARCHIVE,
COURTESY OF DR. TEHODORE COHEN, U.S.A.)
Memorial plaque at the synagogue on "18th September 1954" street,
Quito, Ecuador, 1984.
Photo: Theodore Cohen, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Theodore Cohen, USA)

Solomon Isacovici (1924-1998), writer and Holocaust survivor, born in Sighet, Romania, one of eight children of a family of Jewish farmers. In his childhood he attended the local heder and yeshiva. In 1944 he was deported, along with his family, to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Despite being shot, he survived and later was transferred to the Gross-Rosen Nazi concentration camp from where he was liberated by the US Army.

Returning to Sighet, he found his house occupied and his entire property stolen. He joined the Zionist movement with the intention of immigrating to Eretz Israel, but he changed his plans and in 1948 he immigrated to Ecuador.

In Ecuador he worked as a tractor dealer and then manager of a farm in Pasochoa, about 20 km from Quito, becoming a successful businessman. Here he devoted much of his time to the fight for the civil rights of Ecuadorian native people who in his opinion were treated in a similar way to the treatment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. Isacovici's positions were strongly opposed, particularly by members of the local Roman Catholic clergy. As a result of this opposition, his novel A7393: Hombre de Cenizas ("A7393: The Ash Man") could only be published in 1990 in Mexico. The book, co-authored with Juan Manuel Rodriguez, was described as a truthful testimony of the Nazi concentration camps. It was awarded the Fernando Jeno literary prize by the Jewish community of Mexico. An English translation was published in 1998.

Latin America

A term referring to a group of countries in North America, Caribbean and South America where the main spoken languages belong to the Romance or Latin Languages: Spanish, Portuguese and French. 

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The Jewish Community of Ecuador

Ecuador

República del Ecuador - Republic of Ecuador
A country in South America.

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 600 out of 17,000,000. Main Jewish organization:

Comunidad Judía del Ecuador
Roberto Andrade OE3-580 y Jaime Roldós
Phone: 593-2 248-3800
Email: [email protected]

 

HISTORY

It is generally believed that Jews were among the settlers of Ecuador in colonial times. Certain family names among established Ecuadorian families attest to their Sephardi ancestry. Prior to World War II there was very little Jewish immigration to Ecuador. In 1904 there were only four Jewish families in the country, and a survey in 1917 indicated the presence of 14 Jews. After 1924, when the United States established its immigration quota system, a handful more arrived in Ecuador. It was only in the wake of the rise of Nazism and the ensuing holocaust in Europe that Jewish mass immigration to Ecuador began. During the years 1933-1943 about 2,700 Jews arrived, and by 1945 there were already 3,000 new Jewish immigrants, 85% of whom were refugees from Europe. At its peak (in 1950), the Jewish population of Ecuador was estimated at 4,000 persons; the majority lived in Quito, several hundred in Guayaquil and several scores in Ambato, Riobamba, and Cuenca. Although Ecuador was characterized by a strong Roman Catholic tradition and was previously governed by constitutions that established Roman Catholicism as the state church, by the time the large-scale Jewish immigration started, a liberal constitution (1936) guaranteed freedom of worship to all and also stipulated that education was to be essentially secular and lay.

Liberal legislation has remained dominant ever since. In the early years of World War II, Ecuador still admitted a certain amount of immigrants. In 1939, when several South American countries refused to accept the 165 Jewish refugees from Germany aboard the ship "Koenigstein," Ecuador granted them entry permits. Nevertheless, the country's basic humanitarian criterion gradually gave way to a policy of selectivity. Although Jewish immigration to Ecuador was based on agricultural opportunities and needs, it later developed that all the immigrants were actually merchants, industrialists, and businessmen. As a result, in 1938 legislation was enacted compelling any Jew not engaged in agriculture or industry to leave the country. In addition, entry rights were limited to those Jews who possessed a minimum of 400 dollars, which they would have to invest in an industrial project. The Jewish community was able to defeat this law, but in 1952 another was passed requiring every foreigner to supply proof that he was engaged in the occupation stipulated in his entry visa. This legislation was counteracted by the intervention of the World Jewish Congress. Unsuccessful attempts at agricultural settlement were made. In 1935 the "Comite pour l'etude de l'industrie de l'immigration dans la republique de l'equateur" was established in Paris by the territorialist organization, the "Freeland League of Jewish Colonization", with the purpose of creating a settlement program in Ecuador. An agreement was reached with the Ecuadorian government to transfer 500,000 acres of land to the committee's jurisdiction for a period of 30 years to be settled by immigrants regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Several concessions were also promised, such as tax exemption for three years, citizenship after one year, customs exemption, and free transportation by train from the port to the interior of the country. The president signed the agreement several months later on the condition that a detailed program be presented by May 1937 and that if the committee could not manage to invest 8,000 dollars and settle at least 100 families, the agreement would be abrogated. In the following year, two experts visited Ecuador to investigate the possibilities of settlement. Their findings were that such settlement was feasible and would not exceed an output of 360-465 dollars on each family. These findings, however, proved unacceptable to Jewish organizations such as "Hicem", which claimed that the land under consideration was too far from population centers and that the climate was too severe. The result of these objections was the total abandonment of the project. The "American Jewish Joint" distribution committee and "Hicem" also attempted to establish chicken farms for the immigrants, and 60 families were settled. But conditions precluded any success in the venture, which ultimately failed. Most of the immigrants were businessmen and professionals who preferred to carry on their professions. They discovered that balsa wood is excellent for furniture, and later introduced iron and steel furniture, previously unknown in the country. In addition, retail stores were opened and the hotel trade was also developed, the latter leading to anti-Jewish pressure by Syrian and Cuban nationals who had been active in that field. This pressure led to the act of 1938, which might have resulted in expulsion of the Jews.

The Ecuadorian Jewish community is a homogeneous group, a fact which has facilitated communal organization. "The Asociacion de Beneficencia Israelita", founded in 1938, is the central body for religious and cultural affairs that in turn established a court of arbitration and a "hevrah kaddisha". Other organizations in the country are "The Zionist Federation", "B'nai B'rith", "Wizo", "Maccabi", and a cooperative bank. A bilingual Spanish-German bulletin, "Informaciones", is the only publication of the community. The Jewish community of Ecuador is predominantly of German origin, but the young generation is Spanish-speaking. There is no complete assimilation by intermarriage, since the Jews form a separate middle-stratum between the upper, traditionally catholic classes and the lower classes consisting of the indigenous population. There is no Jewish school in Ecuador, but the general atmosphere is one of Jewish cohesion and solidarity, and the children are receiving some Jewish education from a teacher hired by the community. The Jewish community of Quito owns a building, a home for the aged, and a synagogue that holds services on Sabbaths and holidays.

Ecuadorian Jews have achieved prominence in various fields of endeavor, including the academic fields, industry, and science. Benno Weiser (Benjamin Varon), who was active in Ecuadorian journalism, later entered the Israel diplomatic service and served in various Latin American countries. His brother, Max Weiser, was the first Israel consul in Ecuador. In the industrial field, where Jews played an especially important role, the names Rothschild and Seligmann stand out in the area of the development of metal industries, and the pharmaceutical industry is indebted to Carlos Alberti Ottolenghi and alberto di Capua. Paul Engel, endocrinologist and pathologist, was a co-founder of the endocrine society of Ecuador. From 1946, when the Ecuadorian representative at the UN suggested that the Jewish agency be recognized as the Jewish government in exile, Ecuador has traditionally maintained friendly relations with Israel, and has frequently supported Israel in the United Nations. Diplomatic
Relations have been established on ambassadorial level, the Ecuadorian embassy being located in Jerusalem. In the later 1960s a network of technical cooperation was developed between the two countries, especially in the fields of agriculture, water development, and youth training.

As the majority of the immigrants had regarded their stay in Ecuador as a temporary episode, emigration after the war was considerable. By 1948 about half the Jews in Quito had emigrated, mainly to the U.S. on the other hand, a considerable number of survivors of the Holocaust arrived in the early postwar years. Because of continuous emigration, mortality and partial assimilation of the following generation, which considered Spanish its mother tongue, the immigrant organizations lost their pivotal role as preservers of social and cultural identity. However, the Jews continued to form a small middle-class group largely cut off from the strong Catholic upper class and the masses of mestizons and the indigenous population.

In 1972 the "Informaciones" ceased publication. Different attempts to revive tradition did not preserve. The small communities of Ambato and Cuenca disbanded. At the beginning of the 1970s, in the course of the oil boom and thanks to easier-to-obtain entry permits, Jewish families from other Latin American countries arrived. Towards the end of the 20th century many Jews from Argentina settled in Quito.

The 2005 Jewish community of the city of Quito with its 2 million people numbers 200 families (about 550-600 members). The community has modern facilities for its social, recreational, and administrative needs. There is a synagogue and a rabbi for religious services. The community is in contact with other Jewish organizations in Latin America and worldwide.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Latin America

Latin America

A term referring to a group of countries in North America, Caribbean and South America where the main spoken languages belong to the Romance or Latin Languages: Spanish, Portuguese and French. 

Solomon Isacovici

Solomon Isacovici (1924-1998), writer and Holocaust survivor, born in Sighet, Romania, one of eight children of a family of Jewish farmers. In his childhood he attended the local heder and yeshiva. In 1944 he was deported, along with his family, to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Despite being shot, he survived and later was transferred to the Gross-Rosen Nazi concentration camp from where he was liberated by the US Army.

Returning to Sighet, he found his house occupied and his entire property stolen. He joined the Zionist movement with the intention of immigrating to Eretz Israel, but he changed his plans and in 1948 he immigrated to Ecuador.

In Ecuador he worked as a tractor dealer and then manager of a farm in Pasochoa, about 20 km from Quito, becoming a successful businessman. Here he devoted much of his time to the fight for the civil rights of Ecuadorian native people who in his opinion were treated in a similar way to the treatment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. Isacovici's positions were strongly opposed, particularly by members of the local Roman Catholic clergy. As a result of this opposition, his novel A7393: Hombre de Cenizas ("A7393: The Ash Man") could only be published in 1990 in Mexico. The book, co-authored with Juan Manuel Rodriguez, was described as a truthful testimony of the Nazi concentration camps. It was awarded the Fernando Jeno literary prize by the Jewish community of Mexico. An English translation was published in 1998.

Memorial Plaque at the Syangogue in Quito, Ecuador, 1984
Prayer Hall at the Syangogue in Quito, Ecuador, 1984
Ark of the Law at the Syanagogue in Quito, Ecuador, 1984
The Syangogue in Quito, Ecuador, 1984
Memorial plaque at the synagogue on "18th September 1954" street,
Quito, Ecuador, 1984.
Photo: Theodore Cohen, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Theodore Cohen, USA)
PRAYER HALL IN THE SYNAGOGUE
AT THE "18TH SEPTEMBER, 1954"
STREET, QUITO, ECUADOR, 1984.
PHOTO: THEODORE COHEN, U.S.A.
(BETH HATEFUTSOTH PHOTO ARCHIVE,
COURTESY OF DR. TEHODORE COHEN, U.S.A.)
Ark of the Law in "18th September 1954 Street" synagogue
Quito, Ecuador, 1984.
Photo: Theodore Cohen, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Theodore Cohen, USA)
The synagogue in "18th September 1954" street
Quito, Ecuador, 1982
Photo: Theodore Cohen, USA
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Theodore Cohen, USA)