Jews of Iquitos strive to keep their community alive in Peru.

A small-scale cultural and spiritual revival is happening in the city of Iquitos with the last few Jewish residents striving hard to keep their community alive. With more than 100 years of history, this Peruvian Jewish community has dwindled over the years due to marriages with non-Jewish people, conversions and migrations. However, the remaining families seem determined to keep alive the tradition of the Sephardic Jews who began to immigrate to this city from Morocco around the year 1870.

Iquitos was a small town, founded by the Jesuit priests, which remained in the shadows until the sudden boom in market demand for rubber. Blessed with geographical and topographical features that make the perfect environment for growing rubber, Iquitos quickly became an important commercial center and grew into a city. The metropolis is however still inaccessible by road due to the tough terrain and thick Amazon forests surrounding it. In-fact, the city was mostly isolated from the rest of the nation until airplanes made an entry into the transportation scene. It was following this sudden growth of the city that the first Jews from Morocco began migrating to Iquitos with the hope of finding better fortunes. These 150 Jewish families had initially no plan of staying in the rainforest-city for long. However, with time, they stayed on. In the 1900s, Eastern Europe saw a rise in anti-Semitism and as a result some more Jewish families made their way to Iquitos.

The population began dwindling with the fall in demand for rubber from the plantations of Iquitos. Many Jews saw no reason to stay back and began to migrate elsewhere, mostly to the capital city of Lima where the Jewish communities are more organized with proper synagogues, rabbis and Jewish schools. As such, no Jewish institution or organized Jewish society existed so far in Iquitos. When the movement for creation of the Jewish state of Israel began, the community saw more families migrating to the newly created “promised land.” The beginning of the revival of the Jewish faith in Iquitos in the 2000s only spurred this migration to Israel further.

Today, the few surviving Jewish families are trying hard to hold on to their identity. The city has only one Jewish prayer house -the back room of a mattress shop owned by Jorge Abramovitz. Today, Iquitos is the only Peruvian city other than the capital city of Lima that has an organized Jewish community. 

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter