Jewish presence in Chile is as old as the history of that country. Over time, Chile has received several contingents of Jewish immigrants. Currently, the Jewish community in Chile comes mainly from the migrations occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly of Ashkenazi background. It is now home to the third-largest Jewish community in South America.
Spanish colonization and settlement The first Jews arrived in Chile with the Spanish conquistadors. These were Jewish converts to Catholicism because, at the time of the Inquisition, had to hide their Jewish origin living. Most of this immigration occurred in the early years of the conquest, fleeing religious persecution in Spain, since in the Americas is not yet the court of the Inquisition installed. Diego García de Cáceres, faithful friend and executor of the founder of Santiago, Pedro de Valdivia, was one of them.
In colonial times, the most prominent Jewish character in Chile was the surgeon Francisco Maldonado da Silva, one of the first directors of the San Juan de Dios Hospital. Maldonado da Silva was an Argentine Jew born in San Miguel de Tucumán into a Sephardic family from Portugal. He was accused to the Tribunal of the Inquisition by her sisters, devout Christians, from attempting to convert them to Judaism. Maldonado declared openly Jew, earning him the conviction to be burned alive in 1639. During this period, entire crypto-people families, those who "converted" to Catholicism but privately remained Jews, arrived.
Jewish immigration in the 19th century From 1840, decades after the abolition of the Inquisition in Chile, began the Jewish immigration to the country. The first Jews who arrived in Valparaíso were from Europe, especially from Germany and France. One of them, Manuel de Lima y Sola, was a man who became one of the founding members of the Fire Department of Valparaíso in 1851 and one of the founders of the Chilean freemasonry to create the first Masonic lodge, the "Unión Fraternal" two years later.
The earliest recorded Jew living in Chile was a converso by the name of Rodrigo de Orgonos who came with the expedition of Diego de Almagro in 1535. Conversos were widely persecuted until Chile gained independence from Spain in 1818. Even after independence, it wasn't until 1865 that a special law permitted non-Catholics to practice their religion in private homes and establish private schools. As of the 2012 Chilean census, 16,294 Chilean residents listed their religion as Judaism.
The Interactive Museum of Jewish History in Chile is an educational-research project that offers an innovative approach in multicultural museum education. The central exhibition extends over 80 square meters and presents an historical path that includes the Biblical Era, the Chazal Era, the Middle Ages and the Modern Era and a room for the remembrance of the Shoah.
The Museum is a rich educational arena, friendly and flexible, allowing different types of public to enjoy, be acquainted with, and intensify their knowledge in the main areas of Jewish History.
There are two paths to visit the museum: the path of Jewish History and the path of the Shoah.
The visitors program of the Jewish history path combines with additional activities in the Community Centre. Next there is a short description of a visit to the Museum:
Entrance exhibition: 360 degrees audiovisual show to present the museum and its main question: who are the Jewish people?
Interactive "Beit Midrash" in which there will be short activities age-adapted in a variety of subjects, like: the Jews of Chile, the renaissance of the Hebrew language, Halakhic issues, universal values and more.
The Jewish Community of Chile: permanent exhibition at the entrance to the museum, composed of five "segments" of the history of the Jewish community in Chile.
The heart of the museum: four gates to Jewish history. In each gate a different era will be presented and a main different "hero", with an opening presentation, visual material and technological systems.
The Gate of David: the Antique Age and the beginning of documented history; a sovereign people with a spiritual centre.
The Gate of Rabbi Akiva: from the destruction of the Temple and the passage to a life without the Sanctuary; a non-sovereign people without a spiritual centre.
The Gate of Rambam: the Jewish People coping with the challenges of living in Exile and inserting themselves in new cultural spaces.
The Gate of Herzl: the Modern Era as seen by the Zionist movement; challenges of the Jewish people; Zionism as one of the Jewish paths for coping with the Modern Era; the building of the homeland.
The Voices of the Shoah: a site of remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust; emphasis on the survivors and their families who made their home in Chile.
Exit exhibition: audio presentation in the synagogue of the community in which the temple will be shown as one of the central religious and communitarian institutions in the Jewish historical experience; wrapping up of the visit to the museum.
The path of the Shoah has a double objective and a challenge: first, it is a message of remembrance for the Shoah; second, we desire to clearly, simply and strongly transmit the central content of the Holocaust.
The path includes a 360 degree audiovisual presentation in which we learn about the years before the Holocaust. Afterwards, in the "Interactive Beit Midrash", there will be multimedia short films about the Shoah, by which the visitor will understand the central aspects of the epoch. In the interactive activity there will be the confrontation of the public with dilemmas based on situations which happened during the Shoah; ending with a multimedia presentation that wraps up the visit and offers a message of world peace and tolerance.
The Melton Centre for Jewish Education is responsible for the technical aspects of the museum. For this, it was helped by faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who are experts in the different historical eras depicted in the museum, and by educational advisors trusted in the educational translation and adaption of the content.
The Interactive Museum is a unique and innovative project in Latin America; it is based on the integration of advanced contents, pedagogy and technology which are joined together in a comfortable, interesting, and friendly educational experience open to a wide range of the public, Jews and Gentiles.
The museum in Chile is located in the compound of the Jewish Community of Chile; commissioned and funded by the Pollack Family, which initiated the project in memory of Yaacov Pollack (z"l) and in honor of the life of Yona Pollack Ben David Kane. In the development of the museum participated the company Urpan (concept planning and multimedia), Keidar Adrichalut (Architectural Design) and "Kvu Machshava" (Graphic Design).
All museum rights reserved by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which proposes to copy the idea and adapt the initiative to different communities in Latin America and the world who would be interested in it.
Director of the Project: Dr. Marcelo Dorfsman
Head of the Academic Committee: Prof. Gabriel Horenczyk.