President Horacio Cartes on Tuesday expressed his satisfaction at being the first Paraguayan head of state to visit Israel. Cartes addressed a breakfast meeting hosted by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR) in Jerusalem. The ICFR operates under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress.
ICFR President Dan Meridor welcomed the Paraguayan leader and thanked him for his country’s outstanding record of friendship with and support for Israel.
“Don’t thank me. Don’t welcome me. I feel at home,” Cartes responded, and added, “Israel is in the heart of my country. I received many messages from Paraguayans saying ‘You are blessed. You are in Israel.’”
Cortes lamented the fact that it took so many years for a presidential visit to take place, but said: “We should look forward, not back.”
He added that Paraguay and Israel were not only business partners but shared common values as well, and that he admired the fact that Israelis had a deep sense of history from which Paraguayans could learn.
Quoting Pope Francis, Cartes said: “He who forgets his past has no history.”
He reminded the participants in the meeting that Paraguay had suffered grievous losses in its population during the Paraguayan War (1864–1870) and therefore could empathize with the destruction wrought in the Holocaust. He also recalled that Paraguay had voted in favor of the establishment of the State of Israel at the United Nations in November 1947.
The visit came in the wake of the reopening of the Israeli Embassy in Paraguay about a year ago, after a 14-year hiatus due to budgetary cuts. Paraguay has distinguished itself among South American countries by supporting Israel in the UN and other international fora.
At the World Jewish Congress Special Plenary Assembly in Buenos Aires last March, Cartes was awarded the Shalom Prize of the Latin American Jewish Congress for his contributions to building coexistence.
Jewish settlement in Paraguay has a short history. The first Jews arrived in Paraguay only at the end of the 1800s and were highly susceptible to assimilation. It was only a couple of decades later that Sephardis began to immigrate from Turkey, Greece, and Palestine. They founded the first synagogue. Eastern European Jews began to arrive in the 1920s and 1930s and were later followed by about 15,000 Jews fleeing Nazi Europe. Paraguay’s role as accepting of Jewish refugees has continued into more recent times, as it has welcomed Jewish refugees from Argentina.
Paraguay has three synagogues, a Jewish school called “Escuela Integral Estado de Israel,” and even a Jewish museum in the capital of Asunción. Unfortunately, of these three synagogues, only Chabad is orthodox; as a result, there is a high rate of assimilation and intermarriage in the Jewish population in Paraguay.
When Rebbetzin Rachel visited in 2007, the population was vibrant and the Chabad was extremely popular and successful. Although there are estimates that there are only about 1,000 Jews left in Paraguay, the vast majority of these are highly involved in the community. Even the majority of intermarried couples send their children to Jewish schools. The Chabad events she attended were always packed.
You will have a hard time finding kosher food in Paraguay, so you may do better to bring something with you from nearby Brazil or Argentina, presuming you visit them first. The Chabad House there was very open and provided Rebbetzin Rachel with everything she needed; nevertheless, in 2007 there were only three families in the entire country who kept kosher. Most Jews who become religious leave for Argentina or Brazil. You may find kosher Argentinian products available for sale in Paraguayan supermarkets, but they will not have a hecksher (check http://www.kosher.org.ar/ for a full list of kosher products from Argentina).
There is a mikveh in Asunción, run by Chabad Lubavitch.
The community in Paraguay is small but fantastic. The people are warm and welcoming and there are Jewish events held by Chabad throughout the week. We would definitely recommend a visit to this warm and wonderful community!
The Jewish community of Paraguay inaugurated a new Jewish museum that includes the country’s first Holocaust studies center. The Walter Kochmann Jewish Museum of Paraguay, was under construction for 11 years.
The museum is located inside a three-story building donated by the Cohn family. It is divided into two main parts: A display area on Judaism and a separate part about the Holocaust. A third and smaller section is devoted to the stories of Holocaust survivors who settled in Paraguay.
“The Blue Room, Hope and Life, represents the bond between the Jewish people and our country, with the flags of Paraguay and Israel,” Humberto Ismajovich, director of the museum told ABC. The items on display include valuable artifacts such as a bronze menorah, a wooden Torah ark and a miniature Torah scroll.
The museum is named for Kochmann, a former director of the Hebrew Union and the Israel Alliance of Paraguay. The son of German immigrants who fled their country to Paraguay to escape Nazism, Kochmann initiated the opening of the museum along with his friend Alfredo Seiferheld, a historian and journalist who teaches Hebrew and Jewish customs.
About 1,000 Jews live in Paraguay today, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica.