PARAGUAY, South American republic; population (est. 2005) 4,960,000, Jewish population 900.
A few isolated Jews came to Paraguay from France, Switzerland, and Italy toward the end of the 19th century and merged with the native population without ever establishing a Jewish community. On the eve of World War I a number of Sephardi Jews immigrated from Palestine. The families Arditi, Cohenca, Levi, Mendelzon, and Varzan formed the first ḥevra kaddisha (Alianza Israelita) in 1917 and established the first synagogue with other Sephardim from Turkey and Greece. A second immigration wave in the early 1920s brought Jews from the Ukraine and Poland who founded the Ashkenazi community, Unión Hebraica. Until 1937 Jews immigrated to Paraguay without limitations according to the liberal constitution of 1870. In 1937 restrictions were imposed on the acceptance of refugees and the minister of foreign affairs instructed the consuls in Europe to avoid granting visas to Jews. At the end of the 1930s together with the increase of antisemitism in public opinion, some projects of agricultural colonization of Jews in the department of Concepción and the areas of the Chaco were considered. One of the requisites for this project was the deposit of $1,000 for each adult immigrant. But this project failed as a result of the opposition by the bishop of those areas, Emilio Sosa Gaona, some sections of the army, members of the Parliament, and the agitation provoked by agents of the German Nazi government. As a result, between 1933 and 1945 only some 1,000 Jews from Germany, Austria,
The Jews in Paraguay lived in the capital Asunción and established the Unión de Israelitas pro Socorro Mutuo. This group built the main synagogue, later located within the premises of the Unión Hebraica. After World War II a last group of immigrants, mostly survivors from the concentration camps, arrived.
In the beginning of the 21st century the Jewish community was estimated at some 300 families or 900 persons. The size of the community is decreasing through immigration to Argentina and Brazil, but there are also occasional immigrants from those countries, especially due to marriage. The intermarriage rate was rising; most of the intermarried couples give their children a Jewish education. There is a continuous trickle of emigrants to Israel, and since 1948 some 480 people made aliyah.
Most Paraguayan Jews engage in commerce or industry. There are about 25 Jewish professionals, most of whom studied in Paraguay. The community supports a Jewish school, named "Escuela Integral Estado de Israel," in which Hebrew is taught in addition to the official curriculum, which is attended by more than two thirds of the Jewish children of school age. About 50 Jewish students are enrolled at the university, in addition to others who study abroad. In Paraguay there are some 40,000 Germans or people of German descent, many of whom had openly supported the Nazis before and during World War II. A number of prominent Nazis, among them Dr. J. *Mengele of *Auschwitz, found temporary shelter in Paraguay. There were some short-lived antisemitic decrees in 1936 and some antisemitic incidents prior to the establishment of the strong-arm regime of General Alfredo Stroessner in 1954, which established a dictatorship until 1989. After that time, Jews were not disturbed. Paraguay voted in 1947 for the UN Resolution on the partition of Palestine and has been friendly to Israel ever since. An Israel Embassy was established in 1968. The Consejo Representativeo Israelita del Paraguay represents the Jewish community vis-à-vis the public and authorities. There is also a sports club, a *B'nai B'rith, *Wizo chapter, and a *Ha-No'ar ha-Ẓiyyoni movement. In 1968 another youth organization, Centro Israelita Juvenil, was established.
There were three synagogues: Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Chabad. In Asunción there is also a Jewish museum with a Holocaust memorial.
Associación Filantrópica Israelita, Buenos Aires, Zehn Jahre Aufbauarbeit in Suedamerika (Ger. and Sp., 1943); A. Monk and J. Isaacson, Comunidades Judías de Latinoamérica (1968); J. Shatzky, Comunidades Judías en Latinoamérica (1952); J. Beller, Jewsin Latin America (1969).
[Benjamin (Benno) Varon (Weiser) /
Efraim Zadoff (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.