The first record of Jewish settlement in Uruguay is in the late 18th century. Today, Uruguay boasts a Jewish population of approximately 17,300 - the fourth largest Jewish community in South America.
- Early History
- War Time
- Community Today
- Uruguay & Israel
- Institutions & Tourist Sites
Uruguay has a long and established Jewish community,
and its development parallels the development of the country. Uruguay
did not have a significant Inquisition and there are some traces of Conversos who lived in the 16th century.
Few documents relating to Jewish history during the
Colonial period are extant. In 1726, the governor of Montevideo called
upon the first settlers to be "persons of worth, of good habits,
repute and family, so that they be not inferior nor of Moorish or Jewish
race." The first record of Jewish settlement is in the 1770s. With
the end of the Inquisition in 1813, the political and social system
of Uruguay evolved to a greater level of openness and tolerance. This
openness provided the basis for continued Jewish residence beginning
in the nineteenth-century.
of today's Jewish community dates back only to 1880. In 1905, there
were various records of the Jews' arrival. The first recorded minyan was not until 1912. In 1909, 150 Jews lived in Montevideo, the city
with the largest Jewish population. Despite the history of settlement,
the community did not open its first synagogue until 1917.
For many Jews, Uruguay was a temporary stop on the
way to Argentina or Brazil and the majority of immigration occurred between the 1920s and early
1930s. A large number of these immigrants were secular leftists who
disassociated themselves from the Jewish community.
In 1929, the Ashkenazi Jewish community set up an educational network. Jewish schools have
been functioning in various parts of the country since the 1920s. In
the 1930s, there were significant Fascist and liberal anti-immigration
elements that opposed all foreign immigration, weighing heavily on Jewish
immigration. Jews were singled out and many people opposed Jewish inclusion
in Uruguayan society. This harsh treatment abated around the time of World War II due to the
administration of the antifascist General Alfredo Baldomir. Despite
harsh immigration quotas, immediately prior to and during World War
II, Jews also used Uruguay as a way station to other countries. After
the establishment of the State
of Israel and the forced exodus of Jews out of Arab lands, there
was a considerable wave of immigration to Uruguay — more than
18,000 Jews. Among other places, these Jews came from Algeria, Egypt and Rhodes.
During the time of early settlement, the Jews engaged
primarily in commerce, light industry and crafts, and salaried jobs.
German immigration in the 1930s contributed to an economic increase
through World War II. From the 1930s until about 1950, there were several
failed attempts at creating Jewish agricultural settlement in Uruguay.
Post-WWII, Jews increased their representation in the professional world,
particularly as the community became second and third generation and
assimilation increased. Beginning in the 1920s, the Jewish community
became predominately middle class and their economic development basically
mirrored that of the general middle class. This economic development
was helped by the creation of Jewish loan and assistance funds, which
gradually evolved into Jewish banks.
In the 1960s, there were sporadic anti-Semitic outbursts among nationalist and neo-Nazi organizations, many originating
in Argentina. In 1961, during the Eichmann trial, Neo-Nazi groups provoked serious anti-Semitic disturbances. Anti-Semitism
in Uruguay tends to mirror negative general trends; for example, when
the economy is in crisis, anti-Semitism tends to increase. In the late
twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, very few anti-Semitic incidents
were recorded; however, one exception occurred in 1998 when a Molotov
cocktail was thrown through the window of the Anshei Emet synagogue.
The Jewish community of Uruguay is made up of 10,000
families of Polish-Russian, Sephardi,
German and Hungarian descent. Surprisingly, approximately 75% of Uruguay's
Jews are Ashkenazi, while
only 11% are of Sephardic descent, however, that was not always the
case. In 1917-1918, 75% of the Jewish population were Sephardim.
Jewish community is predominately secular while observing basic elements
of the Jewish tradition. Organizationally, the religious and secular
functions have been separate since 1942. Jewish cultural life is the
prominent expression of Jewish identity in Uruguay, and there is an
organized community of secular
humanists in Uruguay. In the mid-1990s, there were 14 Orthodox and 1 Masorti (Conservative) synagogue and two Orthodox and two Masorti (Conservative) rabbis. The
growing Masorti community is partially due to the growing population
of the Seminario
Rabinico Latinamerico rabbinical school of the Conservative movement
in Argentina (1 of 5 Conservative rabbinical schools in the world). Chabad-Lubavitch also runs a center and several schools in Montevideo and a center in
Punta del Este. As of 2003, Uruguay has 20 synagogues, but only six
hold weekly Shabbat services, and only the Yavne Community Center synagogue
in Montevideo functions every day.
Uruguay has Zionist and non-Zionist, Ashkenazi and Sephardi schools. Zionist youth groups such as the national-religious Bnai Akiva, the socialist HaShomer HaTzair,
HaNoar HaTzioni, and the Revisionist Betar give informal youth education.
Uruguay has eight strong Zionist youth organizations and Uruguay is
the only South American country authorized to administer Israel's university
entrance exam. Local youth organizations include the Maccabia sports
group, and the youth section of the Nueva Congregacion Israelita (NCI).
The NCI is the umbrella organization of the Uruguayan Jewish community.
The Uruguayan Jewish community is less than 1% of the
total population and has undergone a serious decline since the 1970s
due to emigration. As of the mid-1990s, there are no Jews in the upper
echelons of the social strata or military. There is also very little
Jewish representation in the legislative bodies of the Uruguayan political
system. In the wake of the Latin American economic crisis of the early
twenty-first century, Uruguayan Jews have been hit hard. Between 1998-2003,
more then half of the community's 40,000 Jews have immigrated - mostly
to Israel. Today, 23,000 Jews live in Uruguay, with 95% residing in
Montevideo. Many of the Jewish owned shops have closed due to lack of
business. The Israelite Community of Uruguay, also known as the Ashkenazi
Kehilah, has been, and continues to be, the main source of social service
aid within the traditional system.
According to a 2003 study commissioned by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, titled "Poverty,
Vulnerability and Risk in the Uruguayan Jewish Community," 22 percent
of the country's adult Jewish population is "poor" and 40.5
percent is "vulnerable." The American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee and local Jewish organizations are providing thousands of
dollars in assistance and enabling children to obtain a free Jewish
education. However, while Argentina is receiving significant international
financial assistance to meet that Jewish community's desperate needs,
much less aid is coming in to Uruguay. In June 2002, the World
Zionist Congress declared Uruguay's Jewish community to be in a
state of emergency.
Albert Einstein Monument in Montevideo
Uruguay & Israel
the 1920 San Remo Conference,
Uruguay supported Jewish aspirations in Eretz Yisrael and the Balfour Declaration. In 1947, it voted for the establishment of
the United Nations Special Committee
on Palestine (UNSCOP), which had a delegate from Uruguay who was
one of the Jews' most ardent supporters. Uruguay was the first Latin
American country, and one of the first countries overall, to recognize
the State of Israel. Montevideo was the first Latin American capital
(and fourth globally) in which Israel established a diplomatic mission.
Uruguay was also one of the few nations willing to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It opposed the proposed internationalization
of the city in 1949 and upgraded the diplomatic representation in Jerusalem
to the status of an embassy in 1958. It was subsequently downgraded
to the status of consulate, however, due to Arab pressure.
Institutions & Tourist Sites
Montevideo has a Jewish museum, documentation center
and a Holocaust memorial. The Holocaust
museum has been declared a national historic landmark. Next to the major
opera house (Téatro Solis), there is a square named after Golda
Meir. The Albert Einstein monument stands in Rodo Park, opposite the casino. There is also a Jewish
cemetery, with monuments to victims of the Holocaust, Israeli soldiers,
and victims of the terror
attack on the AMIA Building in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Holocaust Memorial of Uruguay
neighborhoods also contain traces of a long-abandoned Jewish past. While
dwindling because of the economic crisis, many of the small shops are
Jewish owned. Kosher food is available at the Hogar de Padres, the senior
citizens' residence of the Nueva Congregación Israelita. Instituto
Integral Hebreo Uruguayo "Yavne" is a school, synagogue and
adult education center. Also, a Hillel was opened for students in Montevideo.
Comite Central Israelita del Uruguay,
Casilla de Correo 743,
Rio Negro 1308 piso 5 Esc.5,
Tel. 598 2 916 057,
Fax. 598 2 906 562
The main umbrella organization of the Jewish Community of Uruguay
Cementerio Israelita de la Paz: "Within the Jewish cemetery there
are monuments in memory of the victims of the Shoah, Israeli soldiers
who fell in battle, and victims of the terrorist attack on the AMIA building
in Buenos Aires."
Tel: 442-900-8456 Fax: 442-900-8456
Centro Lubavitch del Uruguay http://www.jabad.org.uy/
Ave. Brasil 2704
Montevideo Chabad Lubavitch
Tel: 598-2-709-3444 Fax: 598-2-711-3696
Communidad Israelita Sephardi
Buenos aires 234, 21 de Setiembre 3111
Comunidad Israelita de Urugauay
Canelones 1084, Piso 1
Tel: 4562132 Fax:
Comunidad Israelita Hungara http://www.nci.org.uy/
Tel: 442-900-8456 Fax: 442-900-8456
Corriente Judia Humanista
Solana Antunia 2749
Tel: 598-2-705-937 Fax: 598-2-713-303
Nueva Congregación Israelita http://www.nci.org.uy/
Cipriano Payan 3030
598 2 709 0709
Rabbi Ariel Kleiner
Templo Sephardi de Pocitos
Luis Franzini 888
Tel: 442-900-6106 Fax: 442-711-7736
Instituto Integral Hebreo Uruguayo "Yavne"
Luis B Cavia 2800,
Diego Nachman, General Coordinator
Synagogue: Rabbi Shai and Michal Froindlich
Center for Adult Education
Hillel Uruguay: A Center for Jewish Campus Life
Solano Garcia 2559
Montevideo CP 11300
Calle Montevideo y Londres
Punta Del Este, 11.300
Phone: 598-2-785-169 Fax: 598-2-713-696
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Encyclopedia Judaica; International Jewish Cemetery Project - Uruguay; Jewish Telegraphic Agency; Tigay, Alan M. The Jewish Traveler; World Jewish Congress - Jewish Communities of the World - Uruguay; Zaidner, Michael, Jewish Travel Guide
Photos courtesy of ORT - Jewish Monuments