In 1502, Christopher Columbus landed in Trujillo. He
called the territory Honduras ("depths") after the deep water
off the Caribbean coast.
or New Christians, who converted to Christianity while secretly practicing
Judaism, were believed to be among the Spaniards who succeeded in buying
permits that allowed them to circumvent prohibitions against sailing
to the New World during the period after the Jewish expulsion from Spain. Many of these conversos
disembarked along the Gulf of Mexico, and the Honduran coast.
It is possible that these were the first "Jews"
to arrive in Honduras, but this is disputed by some historians.
At the end of the 1800's Honduras experienced an influx
of Jews. The majority emigrated from the Central European regions of Russia, Poland, Germany, Romania,
and Hungary, while a few
were of Sephardic origin,
and came from Greece, Turkey and North Africa.
Another surge in immigration occurred in the 1920s
when the Honduran government announced its willingness to welcome numerous
Jewish educators and professionals from Europe. It was at this time
that the two distinctive Jewish communities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro
Sula, which still exist today, were established, and Judaism began to
make an imprint on Honduran history and culture.
Eight families established a small Jewish settlement
in the northeastern port city of La Ceiba. Although the community was
unable to take hold and expand, those who came prospered by working
with the American companies involved in the cultivation and sale of
bananas. Today, only one Jewish family remains in La Ceiba.
During the years leading up to the Second
World War, and in the early stages of the war, Honduran consuls
were prohibited from giving visas to European Jews. Nevertheless, roughly
20 Jewish doctors and farmers, predominately German Jews, managed to
obtain special permits to enter and work in Honduras.
The Honduran government, then headed by President Carias,
allowed the entry of these Jews only after receiving requests from local
influential Jews. Salvador Schacher of Tegucigalpa and Jose Brandel
and Boris Goldstein of San Pedro Sula convinced the President to order
that visas be permitted to those who were seeking haven from the atrocities.
The majority of those who were granted admittance were youths who had
escaped the war via Holland or Switzerland, and already had
relatives living in Honduras.
By 1947, fewer then 140 Jews resided in the whole nation.
Throughout the 1950's there were an estimated 30 Jewish families living
in the city of Tegucigalpa. That community was led by Salomon Schacher
whose wife, Jenny, started a chapter of the Women's International Zionist
Organization (WIZO), which was geared toward helping young Jewish women
involved in the agricultural business. The Tegucigalpa Jewish community
assisted in the development of the tourist industry by building hotels,
offering better services to visitors, and helping the city to prosper.
The Jewish activist, Boris Goldstein, who also was
known to have donated the land needed to build a synagogue and establish a Jewish cemetery, headed the region of San Pedro Sula.
In general, the new immigrants tried to maintain a
sense of the Jewish religion and ethnicity, however, their knowledge
and love for the religion was not passed on to the second generation
of Honduran Jews. Unfortunately, the new generations were never versed
in Torah reading, and were unable to follow services. Assimilation and
intermarriage were not only common, but also widely accepted, although
there were instances in which non-Jewish spouses chose to convert to Judaism.
Throughout the 1970's, and into the 1980's, the nation
absorbed a large number of Israeli immigrants who came to work with
the Jewish community, and help them to expand their knowledge in such
areas as engineering, agriculture, and security. This once again invigorated
the Honduran Jewish community. During this period, the Honduras Israel
Cultural Institute was also established by a number of Hondurans who
had spent some time in Israel and brought back what they had learned
about their Jewish heritage to share with the community.
Within the past two decades, Honduras has experienced
a resurgence of Jewish life, in which the two dominant Jewish communities
in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula have grown and are active. The two
communities each have a synagogue that holds Kabbalat Shabbat services,
a congregation that celebrates and teaches religious holidays and customs.
In addition, within the last couple of years the nation has developed
an affiliation with the Jewish Agency, Maccabi and the Federation of
Zionist Latin American Students.
In 1998, Honduras was devastated by Hurricane Mitch.
The storm damaged the only synagogue in Tegucigalpa. Afterward, Jewish communities that learned of the destruction
contributed money to restore the temple.
Congregants from the Jewish Community Center on the
Hudson, located in Tarrytown, New York, went to Honduras to help victims
of the hurricane. While sorting through debris, they came across one
of the two torahs that belonged to the Synagogue of Tegucigalpa. It
was covered in mud and damaged, but volunteers from the congregation
decided to take the scroll back to the U.S. for repair. It was restored
and sent back to the community.
The Republic of Honduras today is home to 6.7 million
people. It is predominantly Roman Catholic; nevertheless, the 40-50
Jewish families that live in the country have experienced little anti-Semitism.
One exception was a comment made by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga
in 2002 suggesting that American Jews manipulated the media to exploit
the scandal concerning sexual abuse by Catholic priests as a means of
diverting attention from the crisis concerning the Palestinian-Israeli