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Shalom, Guatemala: A Jewish Culture Guide

The small community of roughly 900 Jews in Guatemala consider themselves to be one large family.

By: Sarah Bauder
Published: November 5th, 2013 in Culture » Society » News
Kippahs in Guatemala

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Guatemala

The first Jews to reside in Guatemala were Conversos - individuals forced to convert to Catholicism in Spain and Portugal throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. During the colonial period, Conversos fled persecution in the Iberian Peninsula, hoping to find more freedom in the far-flung reaches of the empire.

In the 1840’s, an influx of German Jews arrived in Guatemala, establishing a small community. Many of those immigrants who were unable to find Jewish spouses, turned to mixed marriage and assimilated. After World War I, there was another wave of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe to the country. In the 1930’s, the Guatemalan government was reluctant to provide a safe-haven for Jews escaping Nazism. In 1936, although implicit, laws were enacted that prevented individuals of “Asian origins” from immigrating to Guatemala. Those who fell under said category included those hailing from Poland, who were predominantly Jewish.

By 1939, the Jewish community was comprised of only 800 people. Although the legislation was not formally abolished, after World War II, the government adopted a more accepting stance on immigration; thus, Jews again began settling in the country.

Unfortunately, civil war broke out betwixt the government and leftist rebels in 1960, and raged until 1996. During the thirty-six year conflict, many Jews and non-Jews fled the unrest, further decreasing the population. However, following the civil war, Guatemala has enjoyed both economic growth, and democratic prosperity.

Today, the Jewish community in Guatemala has roughly 900 individuals. The vast majority live in the capital, Guatemala City, with Jews also residing in the second largest city, Quetzaltenango, and San Marcos, respectively. Although small in numbers, Guatemalan Jews fervently cultivate a sense of community.

Children's Council in Centro Hebreo

In Guatemala City, there is the Ashkenazi synagogue, Centro Hebreo, the Sephardic Maguen David, and Chabad Guatemala. The food at each of the synagogues is kosher, and likewise, kosher food and kosher freshly baked items can be ordered through Chabad House for delivery.

The Jewry of Guatemala have such an entrenched sense of community, that a trust fund was established to construct a “planned community”, Har Carmel, about 25 minutes outside the capital. The 150-acre site will contain 200 lots for housing, a synagogue, a community center, a park, and athletic fields. With over half the lots sold, it’s expected that approximately 250 people will reside there.

Although small in numbers, the Jewish community in Guatemala has a strong sense of community and proud traditions. Many equate it to a large family. Despite varying religious beliefs, Guatemalan Jews pride themselves on the inclusive nature of their community. Guatemala is definitely a place not to be missed.

Links:

www.ChabadGuatemala.com

http://comunidadjudia.com/main.asp?clc=74

http://www.kosherdelight.com/Guatemala.htm

Related articles: Shalom, Guatemala, Jewish, Culture Guide, Tourism, Vacation, Backpacking, South America, Latin, Judaism, Travel
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