EL SALVADOR, republic of Central America; population, 6,704,932 (2005); Jewish population, 120.

El Salvador is one of the smallest communities in Latin America. A few Crypto-Jews from Portugal passed through El Salvador in colonial times. The recorded existence of Jews in El Salvador dates back to the first half of the 19th century, when some French-Sephardi Jews settled in the small town of Chalchuapa. More French and German Jews, most of them Alsatians, settled in the capital, San Salvador, during the second half of the 19th century. Alfredo Widawer, arriving in 1909, was the first to organize the services of the High Holidays. East European and some Oriental Jews came during the 1920s and a few German Jews arrived as a consequence of World War II. During that period, El Salvador granted Salvadoran documents of citizenship to 10,000 Jews, most of them from Hungary, thus rescuing them from deportation to Auschwitz. This operation was carried out by George Mandel-Mantello, a Romanian Jew, who was appointed as first secretary in the Salvadoran Consulate in Geneva, Switzerland. Mandel-Mantello was supported by José Castellanos, consul general of El Salvador in Switzerland, by José Gustavo Guerrero, former president of El Salvador, and by the foreign minister of El Salvador, Julio Enrique.

The communal organization La Comunidad Israelita de El Salvador was founded in 1944, as the representative organ of the Jewish community and the provider of its social and religious needs. A year later it inaugurated its cemetery and in 1950 it opened a synagogue that conducts services on Sabbaths and holidays. The Zionist Organization was established in 1945 and an affiliate of *WIZO somewhat later. There is no regular Jewish school, but some classes in Hebrew and religion are conducted by the rabbi. The Jewish community of El Salvador is affiliated to FEDECO - Federación de Comunidades Judías de Centro América that was founded in 1956. The Liebes and De Sola families were the most prominent in philanthropic, cultural, and business activities of the community. Alexander Freund was for many years the spiritual leader of the community.

Prior to the civil war of 1979–91 there were around 300 Jews in El Salvador, most of them in the capital. A census of the community carried out in 1971 recorded 268 affiliated Jews and 43 non-affiliated; 277 were Ashkenazim and 34 Sephardim; 53 couples were Jewish and 60 were of mixed marriages, with most of the children considered as non-Jews.

The signing of peace treaties in 1991 led to the return of several Jewish couples with children who had moved elsewhere during the civil war, and, as of 2000, the Jewish population in El Salvador was approximately 120. A new community center and synagogue were inaugurated in the 1990s. There are two synagogues, and the community is divided between adherents to Conservative and Reform Judaism. At the Conservative synagogue, Sabbath services are held on Friday evenings only; however, the Comunidad Israelita de El Salvador holds services on Friday, Shabbat morning, and on holidays. University students have a Jewish students association, ejes (Estudiantes Judíos de El Salvador), and a Zionist group, fusla (Federación de Universitarios Sionistas de Latinoamérica), both of which are active throughout the year. For adults, the community offers different educational classes in Hebrew and other topics of interest. The "Chevra of Women" offers a course in Jewish cooking, and there is a monthly Jewish bulletin called El Kehilatón, which advertises synagogue events. The Noar Shelanu youth movement, with about 30 children age 8–18 and a kindergarten for young children, meets weekly.

Relations with Israel

El Salvador abstained in the debate about the Partition of Palestine in the UN General Assembly session of November 29, 1947, but was one of the first countries which recognized the State of Israel (on Sept. 11, 1948). The Instituto Cultural El Salvador-Israel was founded in 1956. El Salvador is one of only two countries (Costa Rica is the other) to maintain its embassy in Jerusalem. One of the only times of tension between the two countries was during the civil war, when the Israeli Honorary Consul was kidnapped and murdered by guerillas.


J. Beller, Jews in Latin America (1969), 42–45. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Govrin, Bi-Tefuẓot ha-Golah, 16 (1975), 130–32; D. Kranzler, The Man Who Stopped the Trains to Auschwitz (2000). Website: http://www.ujcl.org/espanol/elsalvador/.

[Alfred Joseph /

Margalit Bejarano (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.