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The Jewish Community of Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic

A Caribbean state that occupies the eastern five-eighths of the island of Hispaniola.

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 100 out of 10,000,000 inhabitants. (0.001%). 

The Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 granted the western part of Hispaniola (Haiti) to France, and the eastern part (Santo Domingo, later known as the Dominican Republic) to Spain. In 1795 Spain ceded its part of the island to France, only to retake it in 1808. Santo Domingo was occupied by Haiti between 1822 and 1844; in 1844 Santo Domingo declared its independence and became the Dominican Republic (the Dominican Republic's independence was not recognized by Haiti until 1874). Both Spain and the United States subsequently occupied the Dominican Republic; the country has been fully independent since 1924.

Since 2008 there has been a Chabad in Santo Domingo offering visitors kosher food options and Shabbat services.

Weekly services are held on Friday night in Sousa's synagogue, though there is rarely a minyan. Rabbi Ancel Solomon, a rabbi from Toronto, spends half the year in Sousa to serve the local Jewish community.

Many Jews from the Dominican Republic have left for Florida, seeking a higher standard of living.

HISTORY

During the 16th century a Spanish policy developed of sending Conversos (Jewish converts to Christianity as a result of the Inquisition) to Santo Domingo; indeed, some historians believe that during the colonial period the majority of people living in Santo Domingo were Conversos.

Between 1781 and 1785 a number of Jews came to Santo Domingo from the Dutch island of St. Eustatius. Others arrived from Curacao, St. Thomas, and Jamaica during the French occupation. More Jews came from Haiti after the slave rebellion. The vast majority of these immigrants maintained their foreign citizenship as Dutch, British, or Danish nationals.

Though no organized community was established during the period of Haitian occupation (1822-1844), the Jews of Santo Dominto nonetheless thrived. They lived in the capital, Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata, Monte Christi, La Vega, and San Pedro de Macoris. Most worked as exporters of tobacco, timber, and jewelry. Marriages were performed by Rafael Namias Curiel, who was also a cantor. The Jews were also warmly received by the local population, and seen as patriotic and productive. The children of most of these immigrants ultimately assimilated almost completely with the local population. Their descendants were among the most prominent figures in the history of the Dominican Republic, including President Francisco Henriquez y Carvajal (1859-1935).

The Dominican Republic was one of the few countries prepared to accept large-scale Jewish immigration before and during World War II. At the Evian Conference on refugees, which was organized by US President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938, the Dominican Republic offered to accept up to 100,000 Jewish refugees. The Dominican Republic Settlement Association Inc. (DORSA) acquired 22,230 acres of land in Sousa (on the northern coast) from President Rafael Trujillo and the American Jewish Joint agricultural Corp. (Agro-Joint) heavily subsidized the project. The eventual agreement signed by DORSA and the Dominican Republic assured the immigrants freedom of religion and eased immigration by offering tax and customs exemptions.

It is estimated that approximately 5,000 visas were actually issued. While these visas allowed their recipients to escape the Holocaust, most of those who received the visas ultimately never reached the Dominican Republic; travel proved to be extremely difficult, especially for Jews from occupied countries. On the eve of World War II there were 40 Jews in the Dominican Republic. The first immigrants arrived in the middle of 1940 and by 1942 the Jewish population was 472. By 1947 a total of 705 Jews had made their way to the Dominican Republic. Though the project was intended to promote agricultural development, few of the Jewish immigrants were inclined towards agriculture. Indeed, of the 373 Jews living in Sousa in July 1947, only 166 were engaged in agriculture. The rest worked as businessmen and artisans.

The census of 1950 indicates that the Jewish population was 463. In 1968 there were approximately 150 Jews remaining in Sosua the surrounding area, about 100 in Santo Domingo, with another 30 in Santiago and other areas. Santo Domingo and Sousa each had one synagogue. Jewish communal life centered around the Comite Central de los Judios de la Republica Dominicana.

An Israeli embassy was established in the Dominican Republic in 1964, six months after the Dominicans inaugurated their embassy in Jerusalem.The Dominican ambassador to the United Nations, Max Henriquez Urena, who himself was the descendent of a marriage between a Jewish father and a Converso mother, gave the welcoming speech when Israel was admitted to the United Nations in 1949.

In 1997 there were approximately 250 Jews living in the Dominican Republic, most of whom lived in Santo Domingo. There was also a smaller community in Sosua. The population did not change between 1997 and 2004.

Place Type:
Country
ID Number:
250705
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:
Original barrack of the first Jewish settlers in
Sosua, The Dominic Republic, 1984
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of the Sosua Diaspora Project)
JEWISH CEMETERY IN SOSUA,
THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, 1984.
(BETH HATEFUTSOTH PHOTO ARCHIVE)
Jewish young woman, refugee from Germany,
Sosua, the Dominican Republic, 1941
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot)
VIEWS AND LANDSCAPES IN SOSUA.
DONMINICAN REPUBLIC, 1984.
(BETH HATEFUTSOTH PHOTO ARCHIVE)
One of the first Jewish settlers in Sosua,
The Dominican Republic, 1984
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Sosua Diaspora Project)
Joseph Eichen, one of the first Jewish settlers in Sosua, Dominican Republic, 1984
He is the author of the book "Sosua, Una Colonia hebrea
en la Republica Dominicana"
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot)
Felix Koch one of the first settlers in
Sosua, Dominican Republic, 1984
Today, Koch is the proprietor of a farm and a hotel resort
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Sosua Diaspora Project)
Jewish settlers in Jewish agricultural settlement
Sosua, The Dominican republic, 1984
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of the Sosua Diaspora Project)

Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), cartoonist and graphic designer, born in Ramnicu Sarat, Romania, but later grew up in Bucharest. He studied philosophy at the University of Bucharest, after which he enrolled at the Politehnica in Milan, Italy, where he studied architecture, graduating in 1940. During his stay in Milan he actively contributed to the satirical publication Bertoldo.

Following the introduction of anti-Semitic laws in Italy, Steinberg managed to move to the Dominican Republic hoping to obtain the American visa, during which time he contributed with drawings to numerous foreign publications. In 1942 The New Yorker magazine sponsored his entry into the United States, thus starting a fruitful connection between Steinberg and this publication. For the rest of his life, Steinberg contributed nearly 90 cover drawings and over 1,200 other designs for The New Yorker.  During World War II, Steinberg worked for US military intelligence services, posted in China, North Africa and Italy. At the end of the war he began to work for various American periodicals. A retrospective of his work was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1978 and another retrospective, this time after his death, was exhibited at the Institute of Modern Art in Valencia, Spain, in 2002.

Caribbean

A region of the Americas that consists of a number of islands surrounded by the Caribbean Sea.