El Salvador’s Jewish Population is Down to Twenty Families

Continued internal strife and an uncertain political and economic situation has resulted in the exodus of most of the 130 Jewish families of El Salvador, shrinking the Jewish population to 20 families, it was reported by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and spiritual leader of the Park East Synagogue, who recently returned from a study mission to El Salvador, as a member of the Citizen’s Committee on the El Salvador Crisis.

It was headed by Clark Kerr, President Emeritus of the University of California, and Angier Biddle Duke, former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

In a joint statement, the committee declared: “While we see no easy road ahead for El Salvador, some essential steps toward peaceful democratic solutions to the current and often violent conflicts are under way — the sweeping land reform program enacted by the Christian Democratic government in March and April of 1980, and the elections that are scheduled for March 28, 1982, to name a Constituent Assembly.

“However, the success of these processes is endangered by the violence and terror which are ripping apart the fabric of this society, not only due to the conflict between the rebel forces and the government but also to the violence against the people of El Salvador perpetrated by terrorists of the extreme right and left, and by elements of the government’s own security forces.

CONSEQUENCES OF DWINDLING COMMUNITY

Because of the dwindling Jewish community, San Salvador’s only synagogue has been rented to a newly organized private Evangelical University, Schneier said. The Comunidad Israelita de El Salvador has rented a small home where services are held only on Friday nights, conducted by an Israeli who had opened a language school in San Salvador. There is no rabbi, shohet or mohel. El Salvador’s only rabbi left two years ago.

The rallying force is a 90-year-old woman, originally from Germany, who motivates her fellow Jews to hold Friday Shabbat services and holiday observances, most recently the Chanukah observance, Schneier reported. There are about 20 children between the ages of 6 and 17. Of the Jewish families, 12 are intermarried. The Jewish community maintains a well-preserved cemetery with a Chevra Kadisha.

“The remaining Jewish families face the ambivalence and tension between economic wellbeing and the realization of the dearth of Jewish life for their children and for themselves,” Schneier said.

The delegation met with President Jose Napoleon Duarte and Defense Minister Garcia as well as Archbishop Rivera y Damas, who succeeded the assassinated Archbishop Romero. They also visited refugee camps and representatives of the Campesinos.

NEXT STORY