Shalom, El Salvador: A Jewish Culture Cuide

Spanish and Portuguese Conversos undoubtedly trod on El Salvador’s soil throughout the centuries. However, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that any Jewish presence in the country can be accurately documented. The first Jews to arrive in El Salvador were Sephardi from France who settled in the town of Chaluchuapa, according to the World Jewish Congress. During the subsequent decades, Sephardic families from German, Turkey, Tunisia, and Egypt arrived in the country.

It wasn’t until the 1940’s, that the Salvadoran Jewish community was founded. In 1944, the Comunidad Israelita de El Salvador was established. A year later, the Jewish center was opened. In 1950, the first synagogue was founded, located in the capital, San Salvador. It’s still in use today, and remains the only synagogue in the country.

By 1976, there were roughly 370 Jews residing in El Salvador. However, in 1979 the Salvadoran Civil War commenced, with left-wing guerrilla groups combating the military-led government. The bloody civil war lasted until 1992, and many Jews in the community left El Salvador during the conflict. Once peace was attained, several Jewish families returned to the country.

Today, an estimated 100 Jews reside in El Salvador. The San Salvador synagogue is mainly Conservative, and also contains classrooms and a playground. El Kehilatón, a monthly bulletin, is published advertising events at the synagogue.

“In terms of how we define ourselves, we always say that we are too Conservative to be Reform and too Reform to be Conservative. Some people regard us as ‘Conservative Egalitarian’. Our Rabbi Fernando Lapiduz from Argentina has increased Jewish life significantly. Since last year when he and his wife, Patricia, settled here, the community has had a boost in terms both of spirituality and attendance,” Aaron Sztarkman explained to E Jewish Philanthropy in 2011.

In addition to providing spiritual guidance and leadership, Lapiduz and his wife teach “the community’s children, prepare Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, run conversion classes, and instruct adults in Hebrew and Judaism,” according to The Jewish Virtual Library.

No kosher food is available in El Salvador. The Noar Shelanu youth movement, geared towards children ranging from 8 to 18, meets on a weekly basis. According to Encyclopedia Judaica, the ‘Chevra of Women’ “offers a course in Jewish cooking” and other social activities for women.

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