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29 May 2015

The Jews of Columbia

Like many countries, the first Jews to arrive in Columbia came from Spain. These Jews, who arrived in the 1500's practiced Christianity but were really "Secret Jews" having been forced to convert during the Inquisition. In the year 1636, many of these secret Jews were caught and massacred. This massacre led the rest of the community to eventually fade away, and Columbia was left without a Jewish presence.
Beginning in the late 1700's Jews who openly practiced started arriving from the Caribbean countries of Jamaica and Curacao, two countries with long established Jewish communities.
Later the government made it legal to be a practicing Jew and even granted the Jewish community a plot of land for a cemetery.
Even with the arrivals from the Caribbean countries the Jewish community was not very large. That did not change until the beginning of the 20th century. After the end of World War I, Jews came in large numbers from all over Europe. First were the Sephardic Jews who came from places such as Greece, North Africa, Syria and Turkey. Right behind them were the Ashkenazic Jews from all over Eastern Europe. By the time of World War II, the Jewish population was a little under 7000 people. Most of the Jews were centered in Bogota but there were also smaller groups in Cali, Barranquilla, and Medellin. The Askenazic and Sephardic communities are about equal in size.
As with the earliest Jews in Columbia, today most are involved as merchants and businessmen. The number of Jews in Columbia has declined because of violence toward the community. Today the population is closer to 4000.