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Eritrea Virtual Jewish History Tour

Jews first settled in Eritrea in the late 19th century, emigrating from Yemen. Many Jews came to the country in search of economic and commercial opportunities. In 1905, the Asmara Hebrew Congregation was formed. During the 1930s, many Jews arrived in Eritrea fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe.

The last wedding celebrated at the Asmara Hebrew Congregation was in the 1950’s. During that decade the Jewish congregation numbered more than 500. On the High Holidays, Jews came from all over Africa to the synagogue for services. In 1948, many Jews left Eritrea when Israel gained its independence. Nevertheless, the majority of the Jewish community left the country in the 1970s during its thirty year battle with Ethiopia for independence. In 1975, the Rabbi and much of the community were evacuated. By t then, only 150 Jews remained in Eritrea.

Today, only a handful of Jews remain in Eritrea. The synagogue is kept up by Samuel Cohen, one of the few Jews left in Eritrea. The Cohen family immigrated to Eritrea around 1900. It is often difficult to get enough people together for a minyan, Israeli diplomats and UN officials occasionally make up the difference. The Jewish cemetery is located on a hill just on the outskirts of Asmara. There are nearly 150 graves in the plot.

Although, Judaism is not an officially recognized religion in Eritrea the Jews are left alone. Jews have never been persecuted in Eritrea.

Asmara Hebrew Congregation
Asmara, Eritrea

Sources: Harris, Ed. “Asmara’s last Jew recalls ‘good old days’”. BBC News (April 30, 2006); “Eritrea’s last two Jews struggle with solitude”; Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy