DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, republic in the Caribbean islands comprising two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. This region (Santo Domingo) has quite a convoluted history. By the treaty of Ryswich (1607) it was given to Spain, but the treaty of Basel (1793) gave it to France, and in 1814 it reverted to Spain. Haiti occupied it from 1822 to 1844 when it became independent; it was then occupied by Spain until 1865, when it became independent once and for all.
In the first part of the sixteenth century those in charge of colonization of the Spanish colonies, the Converso Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca and the secretaries of King Ferdinand, Lope de Conchilles and Miguel Perez de Almazan, applied a policy of sending *Converso colonists to Santo Domingo. Historians deduce that in that period Santo Domingo was practically in Converso hands.
From 1781 to 1785 Jews arrived from the destroyed Jewish community on the Dutch island of St. Eustatius. During the French occupation (1795) Jews from Curaçao, occupied by England, began to settle there and were joined by Jews from St. Thomas and Jamaica, all holding foreign citizenship. Jews also arrived from Haiti after the slave rebellion there.
Under the Haitian occupation a cemetery for foreigners was established and the first Jewish grave is located in it – that of Jacob Pardo, dated December 6, 1826. The Jews dispersed in various areas, including the capital Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata, Monte Christi, La Vega, and S. Pedro de Macoris. They dealt mainly with the export of tobacco, timber, and jewelry and the importation of general merchandise from Curaçao, St. Thomas, and Europe through the Sephardi community of Hamburg.
The local population saw the Jews as a progressive, positive, and patriotic element. This is best demonstrated by the famous response by the first Dominican president, Santana (Sept. 16, 1846), to an anti-Jewish petition instigated by the Spaniards in the city of La Vega.
Jews actively helped in the revolution against Spain in 1865, and the new independent government immediately thanked Rafael de Mordecai de Marchena and other Dutch subjects for their active support in the War of Independence.
The number of Jews living there in that period cannot be effectively evaluated, since most of them lived as Dutch, Danish, or British citizens. No organized community existed, and one of them – Rafael Namias Curiel – acted as cantor and perfomed
marriages until 1900. The second-generation Sephardi Jews assimilated almost completely into the local population in a phenomenon that was called by the historian Ucko "the fusion between the Sephardics and the Dominicans."
President Gregorio La Peron made an official proposal in 1882 for the settling in the Dominican Republic of Jews suffering from pogroms in Russia. After limited public debate, however, the proposal was abandoned without further investigation.
At the *Evian Conference on refugees, convened by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938, the Dominican Republic offered to accept for settlement up to 100,000 refugees. The Dominican Republic Settlement Association Inc. (DORSA) – sponsored by the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – acquired from President Trujillo 22,230 acres of land in Sosúa on the northern coast, and the American Jewish Joint Agricultural Corp. (Agro-Joint) – a subsidiary of JDC – contributed a large sum in subsidies for the project. The agreement, signed by DORSA and the Dominican Republic and unanimously approved by parliament, assured the immigrants freedom of religion and facilitated immigration by offering tax and customs exemptions. DORSA, in turn, promised a policy of selective immigration and financial support for the settlers.
Despite the optimism of the government and the Agro-Joint, basic difficulties precluded the ultimate success of the project. Wartime conditions made travel, especially from occupied countries, extremely difficult. The first immigrants did not arrive until mid-1940; by 1942 there were only 472 settlers; and by 1947, 705 persons had passed through the settlement. Although the original objective of the project had been agricultural development, few of the settlers were agriculturists or even inclined toward it. Of the 373 people left in Sosúa in July 1947, only 166 were engaged in agriculture. The rest worked as businessmen and artisans. It is estimated that under the colonization scheme some 5,000 visas were actually issued, thus helping many of the beneficiaries to escape the Holocaust; but most of them never reached the Dominican Republic. The census taken in 1950 indicated the presence of 463 Jews in the Dominican Republic. Today most of the inhabitants of Sosúa have assimilated into the local population.
Descendants of Jews reached the highest strata of Dominican society. Francisco Henriquez y Carvajal, son of a
In 2004 some 250 Jews lived in the Dominican Republic, which had two synagogues – one in Santo Domingo, the other in Sosúa; an active community, Centro Israelita de la Republica Dominicana; a bimonthly magazine, Shalom; and a Sunday school.
Comunidades Judías de Latinoamérica (1968); A. Tartakower, Megillat ha-Hityashevut, 2 (1959), 268f., 272; M. Wischnitzer, in: JSOS, 4:1 (1942), 50–58; J. Shatzky, Comunidades Judías en Latinoamérica (1952), 163–5; L. Schapiro, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.), The Jewish People Past and Present, 2 (1948), 88. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Arbell, The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean (1994); C.E.Deive, "Los Judios en Santo Domingo y America durante el siglo XVI," in: A. Lockward, ed., Presencia Judia en Santo Domingo (1994), 195–92; E. Ucko, La Fusion de los Sefardies con los Dominicanos (1944).
[Benjamin (Benno) Varon (Weiser) /
Mordechai Arbell (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.