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 community. On the eve of World War I, a
number of Sephardi Jews
emigrated from Palestine. The families, Arditi, Cohenca, Levi, Mendelzon,
and Varzan, formed the first community, la Alianza Israelita, in 1917
and established the first synagogue with other Sephardim from Turkey and Greece.
A second wave of immigration in the early 1920s brought
Jews from the Ukraine and Poland who founded the Ashkenazi community, Union Hebraica. Between 1933 and 1939, between 15,000 and
20,000 Jews from Germany, Austria,
and Czechoslovakia took advantage of Paraguay's liberal immigration
laws to escape from Nazi-occupied
Europe. Most of them used Paraguay or their Paraguayan visas as stepping
stones to Argentina, Brazil,
and Uruguay where immigration
laws were more severe. The small fraction that remained in Paraguay
established the Union de Israelitas por Socorro Mutuo. This group built
the main synagogue, later located within the premises of the Union Hebraica.
After World War II, a last
group of immigrants, mostly survivors from the concentration
There were some short-lived anti-Semitic decrees in 1936, and some anti-Semitic incidents prior to the establishment
of the regime of General Alfredo Stroessner in 1954; however, after
that, Jews were not disturbed. Paraguay voted in 1947 for the UN Resolution on the partition of Palestine and has always been friendly to Israel.
The population, which lost two-thirds of its members in the war against
an array of larger nations between 1865 and 1870, tends to empathize
with Israel. An Israeli Embassy was established in 1968.
Today, the Jewish community numbers approximately 900, most of whom live in the capital, Asuncion. The intermarriage
rate is rising, but most of the intermarried couples provide their children
with a Jewish education. The community, however, is declining through
immigration to Argentina and Brazil. Cccasionally immigrants
come from those countries to Paraguay, especially due to marriage.
A trickle of Jews — 50 people since 1948 — have immigrated
The community supports a Jewish school named, "Escuela
Integral Estado de Israel," at which Hebrew and Jewish studies
are taught in addition to the Paraguayan curriculum. The Estado de Israel
school is attended by 71 percnet of the Jewish children. About 50 Jewish
students are enrolled at the university, in addition to others who study
Most Paraguayan Jews work in commerce or industry,
but the Jewish community is heavily outnumbered by the richer and more
influential Arab colony, whose members engage actively in Paraguayan
politics and have intermarried with the country's most influential families.
There are also some 40,000 Germans or people of German descent, many
of whom openly supported the Nazis before and during World War II. A
number of prominent Nazis, among them Josef
Mengele of Auschwitz,
found temporary shelter in Paraguay. In June 2000, neo-Nazis distributed
pamphlets at the American University in Asunción. The pamphlets
invited all those with complaints against Jews to come to a meeting.
Also in 2000, a teacher was dismissed from the same university following
a complaint against him of telling anti-Semitic jokes. Despite these incidents, the Jewish community lives, for the
most part, undisturbed.
The Jewish community established the Consejo Representativo
Israelita del Paraguay, which represents the Jewish community to the
public and authorities. Among its achievements is its successful lobbying
effort to prevent the closing of the Israel Embassy in Asuncion. Additionally,
community leaders exerted pressure on the government after the Buenos
Aires DAIA bombing, leading to the extradition from Paraguay of
seven Arabs suspected of complicity in the attack.
Asuncion has three synagogues, Ashkenazi, Sephardi
which distributes kosher food and provides a mikvah to the community. The city also has a Jewish
museum with a Holocaust memorial. Socially
and for the youth, there is a Jewish sports club, a B'nai B'rith club,
a Centro Israelita Juvenil, a Wizo chapter, and a Ha-No'ar ha-Ziyyoni
Sources: Beker, Avi, ed. Jewish
Communities of the World. Company; Minnesota, 1998.
Stephen Roth Institute of the Tel Aviv University