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  JEWISH AND KOSHER DOMINICAN REPUBLIC      הקהילה היהודית בדומיניקן ריפבליק    
 
 
  DOMINICAN REPUBLIC  
 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC  
Prepared by:
OISIKI GHITIS

COLONIAL-POST EXPULSION TIMES: During the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, several waves of Jews and Crypto-Jews (aka Marranos) settled all over the many insular possessions or the different colonial powers in the Caribbean region. They came mostly with each of the colonizing waves, to whichever island or tract of terra firma the powers that be happened to possess. Thus, they came with the Spaniards to their domains, with the Portuguese who first owned what later became British Guyana and the Amazonia , with the Dutch, the French, the British, etc. By the end of the 18th Century over 35.000 Jews lived in more than three dozen locations stretching from Providence to the Amazon Delta. The further away they were from the Spanish Inquisition the freer they felt to practice their faith. The three main sources were of course Spain (in the earlier part of the period) Portugal and Holland . The Jews prospered and brought prosperity to their adopted lands; they were linked to one another by their common original Sepharadic extraction. They rapidly ascended through the social and political elites; many became close to the centers of power, from George Washington down to scores of rulers all over the Western Atlantic . Unfortunately that ascension loosened their hold to Judaism, and today, although many of the most prominent aristocratic last names in the area are old Sepharadic, and although many of them are proud of that fact, few of the descendants of that ´Jewish Nation of the Caribbean´* are Jews. What we now know as the Dominican Republic (then known as Hispaniola) was a Spanish Colony, so no open practice of Judaism was possible on it. Nevertheless, anecdote has it that many of those first arrivals were Jewish, including good old Christopher Columbus himself. Initially the Inquisition operated in full force, but it loosened its grip over time, and certainly was quite weak in the heartland. Several Jews settled here in the mid nineteenth century, of which there are vestigial families, few of which still cling to our faith. The cemeteries of several villages are populated with Star of David marked tombs, with names like Cohen, Levi, Attias, Marchena, Henriquez, engraved on them.        

EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY: Several Jewish families, from different central and east European origins, with no common links between them, settled in various locations across the country. Most of their second generation offspring assimilated, but some still remain committed Jews.  

PRE-WORLD WAR II: The delegate of the Dominican Republic was the only one, among 32 countries who took part at the Conference D`Evian in 1939, that accepted the immediate settlement in his country of Jews persecuted and expelled from Germany and Austria .  Eventually less than 700 came over. They settled in Sosúa, a piece of wild land off the North coast. Most of them emigrated after the war, but the few families that remained prospered, some are still practicing Jews, and these devotedly maintain the old wooden Synagogue, a small historical gem, that is open for services every fourth Saturday. Sosua also boasts a Jewish Musem that preserves this special legacy and a Cemetery.  

Nowadays Sosúa is a tranquil beach resort of exotic beauty.  Jewish tourists visiting the Dominican Northern Coast are pleasantly surprised by this rare find.  

POST WORLD WAR II: Several Jewish refugees arrived in Santo Domingo , some with families. Their numbers grew as some from the Sosúa population joined them and  later  several  Cuban families fleeing Castro. They established a small House of Worship in the  old  downtown  area,  close  to  where -at the time- they  lived  and worked. It was soon replaced by the current Synagogue on 21 Sarasota Street , which was inaugurated circa 1960.   

PRESENT TIMES: Over the last quarter Century about two dozen Israelis have come to live here as well as a few Argentinians and a handful Americans. We have about 60 dues paying families; we hold Services every Friday evening (some Saturday mornings), and every Thursday morning. We commemorate each and every Jewish Holiday, and have an attendance of well over 160 adults for New Year and Yom Kippur Services. We operate a children`s After-School for three different age groups. We have a weekly Talmud lesson (Mondays, 8.00pm). We meticulously prepare our boys and girls for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. We carry out several cultural activities such as Communal Shabbat Dinners, movie screenings, Judaism/Hebrew lessons, etc. We have a well kept Jewish Cemetery. We provide supervised repatriation services for the remains of Jews who need to be interred in other countries. We consider ourselves as a Traditional congregation, and we try to the best of our ability to make Jews of all denominations feel comfortable in our Synagogue; head covering is mandatory, service is conducted in Hebrew with few Spanish insertions, we maintain separate seating, (no Mehitza, though) no microphone; because Kosher meat or poultry need to be imported, only Dairy or Parve food is served on our premises. We offer Huppah services to foreign couples, in coordination with the event planners at their resort of choice. We issue Kosher Certifications to exporters, in coordination with one of the world`s most respected supervision establishments. We regularly import Kosher meats and other products, thus satisfying the needs of interested families; some Kosher food is occasionally found in the better supemarkets.    

ABOUT THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC : This country occupies about two thirds of the Hispaniola Island , twice and a half the size of Israel , (the rest is Haiti ). The population is about eight and a half million. Well over thirty thousand Arabs live here, most of them of Christian-Lebanese, early twentieth Century descent.     

JEWISH TOURISM: Several attempts to establish Kosher vacations programs have not persevered past their initial difficulties. A leading international hotel chain, however, has recently teamed up with a prestigious local resort chain, and are in the process of launching a year round Kosher facility. Others in the hotel business are also contemplating the project. Our Community has recently successfully organized a steady supply, serving the needs of our families, form which eventually a commercial  venture may emerge.    

ECONOMY:  The economy of the D.R. stands mainly on three pillars:

Tourism: About 3.800.000 tourists came last year.

Free Zone Manufacturing: There are seven free trade areas where over four hundred factories operate.

Money transfers by expats:  About a million Dominicans live in the US and they send home over two billion dollars a year. Large numbers reside in Europe and their contribution is also sizable.


OISIKI GHITIS1 is the  Religious Director, Centro Israelita de la Republica Dominicana. PO Box 303-7, Santo Domingo, D.R. Email: chicole@ghitis.wsPhone/fax: 1 809 533 0168. Cel: 1 809 440 9981. The Museum in Sosua: 1 809 571 1386 – museojudiososua@gmail.com   
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JEWISH AND KOSHER DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:
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  2. JEWISH CEMETERIES
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