Since the posts from this week have focused on non-Catholic religions in Latin America, I figured I’d continue the theme today to close out the week by including one of the more overlooked religious groups in Latin America: Jews. Jewish peoples have populated the Americas virtually from the moment that Spain and Portugal began earnestly settling in North and South America. Many came to the Americas to escape the persecution that they faced in Europe; although they usually still had to convert to Christianity, these “new Christians” were able to clandestinely continue practicing the Jewish faith in the Americas more easily, and in some areas, they practiced their faith openly. Scholars believe the first synagogue to appear in the Americas was in the Brazilian city of Recife, where a synagogue was constructed in 1636 (while Recife was under Dutch control). Brazil’s constitution of 1824 guaranteed freedom of religion, spurring migration to the Americas throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. That said, Argentina is the country with the greatest Jewish population in Latin America, with upwards of 250,000 Jewish Argentines.
While Jews have been able to settle in Latin America, they have regularly faced anti-Semitism in the Americas, be it in the colonial period, the 19th century, or the 20th century. One of the more infamous instances of violence in Latin America in recent memory was the car-bombing of the Associación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. In 1994, a van loaded with ammonium nitrate plowed into AMIA’s headquarters, killing 85 people and injuring over 300 others. Although several investigations were launched, the perpetrators remain unknown, although Argentine prosecutors have accused Hezbollah of being behind the plot, with aid from Iran. Complicating the investigations are accusations and counter-accusations of corruption, cover-ups, and incompetency. While for many the investigation has not reached a satisfying conclusion, AMIA was able to rebuild, with a memorial outside the building commemorating those who were murdered, and today it continues to aid Argentine Jews in a variety of ways, be it by providing a community to gather, helping find employment, or providing social services.