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10 September 2015

The Jews of Peru

The Jewish history of Peru is not as easy to document as other countries in South America. As with the other countries there were probably Jews in Peru as early as the first part of the 16th century with the arrival of Columbus in the New World. Others fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal would also find their way to places such as Peru, but still in fear kept their Jewish blood a secret. The need to keep their Jewish heritage secret began to change at the end of the 18th century
Between the end of the 1700's and the middle of the 1800's, South America began to undergo a change of attitude. They began to be more accepting of the Jewish people and their way of life. This allowed those Jews who were still in hiding to come out of hiding. This they did, and established La Sociedad de Beneficencia, the Jewish community that still exists today. At the time this community was formed there were very few Jews left and those that were left either married out of the faith or continued to practice in secret.
The second wave of immigrants to Peru began to strengthen the Jewish community. These Jews who were mostly merchants, came in the 1870's from many locations throughout Central Europe. Some of these made their money then left to return to Europe.
The third group to come to Peru where also merchants, only this time they came from their homes in North Africa. When they arrived in the late 1800's they became a part of the community but still established their own Synagogues and schools. They like the previous group had many who just wanted to make money then return home, which they did. It wasn't until right before and after World War I, that the immigrants who arrived did so with the intent of staying. These Jews, who were for the most part from places like Syria and Turkey, left to escape countries that were being torn apart by war. Their desire was not to get rich but rather to be safe. They established small communities all over Peru.
After World War II, most of the Jewish community moved backed into Lima, where they built an Ashkenazic synagogue and two Sephardi synagogues. The population of the community reached over 5,000 people by the 1970's. At that time, a new government was elected which brought many restrictions upon all the people of Peru. Many took the opportunity to leave at that time. However, those that stayed continued to have success in their businesses and in government service.

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