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CENTRAL AMERICA -
NICARAGUA

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HISTORY OF THE JEWS OF NICARAGUA

Jewish Nicaraguans or Nicaraguan Jews (Spanish: Judío Nicaragüense) are Nicaraguans of Jewish ancestry who were born in or have immigrated to Nicaragua. They are part of the ethnic Jewish diaspora.

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.

EMIGRATION

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

Israel Lewites, son of Israel Lewites Rodríguez; the Sandinista leader, and member of the Sandinista Renovation Movement.

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

On December 16, 2007, Nicaraguan Jews welcomed a new Torah after 28 years. On the following day, the Torah was used for the first time in a minyan at a Bar Mitzvah of a local Nicaraguan Jew.

WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS

HISTORY AND COMMUNITY

The community reached a peak in 1972 with approximately 250 members, most living in Managua. But in the aftermath of an earthquake that destroyed much of Managua in December 1972, many Jews emigrated. The Sandinista government sequestered the synagogue and other Jewish property and also imprisoned the community leader. He managed to escape and fled the country together with most of the Jews. The Congregacion Israelita de Nicaragua was the central Jewish organization until 1979. The community maintained a synagogue and social center, and there was a B'nai B'rith lodge and WIZO chapter. Since 1979, however, the Jewish community has been dormant.  (See video above - from 2014 - looks like it has restarted)

ISRAEL

With the ouster of the Sandinista regime, Israel and Nicaragua have restored diplomatic relations. Israel is represented by its ambassador in Guatemala City.

The Jewish World: Nicaragua

World Jewish Congress  (2.06)

THE

INCREDIBLE

STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE



Jewish Population
in the Americas