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04 April 2011

Jews of Bolivia

The history of the Jewish community of Bolivia dates back as far as the 16th century. At that time Jews fleeing the Inquisition arrived from Spain to the area then controlled by Peru. Most of these early Jews were miners working the silver mines. A few however were the earliest settlers into the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which they helped establish in 1557. The Inquisition came to the area in the 1570's which began to lead to the destruction of this once vibrant community. In was not until the 20th century that Jews returned to Bolivia in any numbers. That first group were Jews from Russia, followed by some from Argentina and then Sephardic Jews from Turkey and the Near East. Even with these immigrants into Bolivia, the community never achieved great numbers, probably not more that a hundred or so. The first large group of Jews to arrive into Bolivia did so in the early 1930's, when about 7,500 arrived from Germany. They were followed at the end of the decade, by a group of Polish Jews fleeing their adopted hometown of Shanghai. These immigrants settled in places such as La Paz and Cochabamba. In fact the Circulo Israelita de Bolivia Synagogue is the highest synagogue in the world. It is located in La Paz, and is located at over 12,000 feet above sea level. At the close of World War II, the Jewish population of Bolivia began to decrease, many immigrating to the United States and Israel. This continues today, as many view the leaders of the government as not friendly toward the Jews. As of the beginning of the 21st century, population of the Jewish community in Bolivia is under 1,000 with the majority in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.

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