Routes of Spain: Rediscovering a lost Jewish kingdom


It is not surprising that five hundred years after the Jewish expulsion and systematic anti-Semitism, little remains of a glorious Jewish past.

Toledo's XII century synagogue

Toledo’s XII century synagogue Photo: reuters

When I lived in Barcelona I used to run into my neighbor in the elevator quite often. He was a middle-aged man, chubby and always grumpy. Late one night, however, he was suddenly acting jovial, sympathetic and talkative; and because he was a little drunk he shared with me the cause of his joy: business was doing well. “What business?” I asked, feigning interest. He sells gift items to small shops geared toward tourists and – he explained boastfully – since the ‘Red de Juderías’ (Network of Jewish Quarters) association was created, groups of Jewish Americans began to invade Girona. He subsequently began to offer items such as clocks with Hebrew numbers, coasters depicting the Jewish quarter of Girona, magnets with Kabbalist Isaac el Cec… and the business began to prosper. “You know how Jews are…” he said smirking. “Not really. How are they?” I asked. He must have felt something behind my curiosity, because he was put on alert and carefully answered, “well, they buy everything Jewish … ”

Twenty-four Spanish cities are part of the Red de Juderías de España, a public non-profit association that aims to preserve urban, architectural, historical, artistic and cultural Sephardic heritage in Spain, in addition to helping boost tourism in those villages.

But it is not surprising that five hundred years after the Jewish expulsion and systematic anti-Semitism, little remains of that glorious past. There are, however, increasingly more ways to access it and to discover the Sephardic legacy by following the routes offered by the Red de Juderías en España.

There are three types of Sephardic historical tours, each organized geographically: Catalonia, Castile and Andalusia. This logistic division corresponds to three historical realities of a magnificent Jewish past that lasted many centuries, ending in 1492 with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.


In the Andalusian zone, the Jewish community lived and sometimes flourished under Muslim rule, which began in the year 711 with the conquest of Al – Andalus, the Arabic name for the Iberian peninsula. The route of Madrid and Castilla represents the territory of the Christian kingdoms, which from the focus of resistance to the Muslim invasion in Asturias, the Northwest of Spain, took them nearly 800 years to retake the country. The Christian area also had an important Jewish community, and although it did not flourish, it created an essential heritage for Spanish and Jewish history. The third area is Catalonia, which was released/conquered by the Carolingians francs less than a hundred years after the Arab conquest, and where the Jews were forced to begin a new chapter.

When the best option for a Jew was to live with Muslims

The history of the Jews does not begin with the Arab invasion, not in Spain nor in the rest of Europe. In Spain the Jews were there before the country had its current name and even before the nation that formed the country existed. Most studies indicate that there were already Jews in the Iberian peninsula in the times of King Solomon, during the Greek and Phoenician colonies, the domain of Rome and, of course, under the Christianized Visigoths that persecuted them in the name of the religion of love.

However, the Golden Age of the Jews of Spain started with the Arab invasion of the Visigothic domain. The Golden Age of Jewish culture lasted from the 10th century to the 12th century, featuring personalities such as Hasdai Ibn Shaprut (910-975), a physician and leading diplomat of two Caliphs who helped solve complicated conflicts within Christian communities.

Jews were also active in Toledo’s school of translators, and had a transcendent role in European culture when they rediscovered –with their translations of Hebrew and Arabic texts into Latin and Spanish – the works of Greek philosophers and Jewish and Muslim thinkers.


Aristotle’s philosophy came to Europe via Hebrew and Arabic

The Jewish cultural boom in the Christian kingdoms of Castile and its allies coincides with its decline in Muslim territories, but the latter still remained the most important Jewish community of the time. In 1148, Al-Andalus was conquered by a group of Berber religious fundamentalists called Almohades who had a hostile attitude towards the Jews, of whom some 40,000 emigrated to Toledo, a Spanish city reconquered in 1085.

Religious tolerance in Christian kingdoms was based on their need to have the know-how, economical benefits and political weight of the Jewish and Muslim communities, rather than on the Spanish King’s political views. Once the Spanish king lost interest, he decided to get rid of the infidels. Meanwhile, the Jews managed to occupy important positions in medicine, finance, trade and diplomacy.

The best of Catalonia after the Barça

The third area corresponds to Catalonia, where Barcelona and Girona, city of the Kabbalist Isaac el Sec and Mose ben Nahman or Nahmanides, are the most relevant places along with the picturesque village Besalú, near Girona.

In any of these three routes the visitor can see the traces of a fascinating Jewish past: medieval synagogues, old Jewish quarters, mikves of the 11th or 12th centuries, newly resurrected cemeteries etc.

According to genetic research, no less than 20% of the current Iberian population descended from Sephardic Jews, but most Spaniards are not aware of that they may have Sephardic origins. Fuen Alcala is an example of this: born in Jaén, Andalusia, she discovered her Jewish origins when a Jesuit priest from her family decided to investigate their roots. The family,was forced to convert to Christianity shortly after the Statute of ethnic cleansing of Toledo in 1449. Despite everything, Alcala informed me that there are traditions that the family kept and which she did not relate to Judaism until she fully understood where she came from: ‘we always cleaned and decorated the house it a special way on Saturday, and my mother called it to do Saturday’.

Toledo - Tajo River

The routes of Spain offer history, culture and self-knowledge. If Paris was worth a mass to a French prince (Henry IV) who abandoned his religion in order to be crowned, Spain is worth a trip for all Jews who want to regain to their lost kingdom.

Jews in Amsterdam

Amsterdam became a haven for Jewish refugees from the Inquisition.

By Jane S Gerber- MJL-                         











The sizable Jewish community was given three months to liquidate its’ property and leave. Meanwhile, the “New Christians” who had converted to Christianity by force or by choice, were stuck in Spain, a class apart, subject to the long arm of the Inquisition. Where did the exiled Jews go? Where could New Christians find peace?

Two places offered immediate relief: Portugal and the Ottoman Empire. However, over time, as the political situation across Europe shifted, new opportunities for Jewish settlement materialized. Chief among these was Holland (particularly Amsterdam), which emerged from the 80 year Wars of Spanish Succession as an independent nation in 1648.  Jane Gerber recounts the formation and development of the Jewish community there. It is reprinted with permission from The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (The Free Press).

The Dutch: Tolerant Traders

Dutch principles of religious toleration were born out of the exigencies of warfare and the need to establish peace among her religiously heterogeneous population. New Christian skills and contacts were welcomed during the protracted warfare with Spain. Article XIII of the Treaty of Utrecht, which ratified the union of the northern provinces, declared that no one was to be prosecuted for his religious beliefs. Although this clause was intended to benefit the Protestants and keep peace among Christians, it provided the legal basis upon which Jews immediately began to take up residence and seek recognition in Holland. There the Sephardim would find the ideal conditions to create a New Jerusalem.

jewish amsterdam

The Dutch capital was the emporium of seventeenth century Europe, her harbor teeming with ships brimful of goods from the Americas and the Far East. Her people eagerly invented themselves as a new nation; beguiled by commerce and its possibilities, they were nonetheless characterized by sobriety of behavior and distaste for both superstition and any pretension of nobility. The city’s great wealth was based on three factors: her fleet, her thriving trade, and a policy of tolerance that attracted some of the most enterprising and ambitious souls on the Continent….

Amsterdam: A New Jerusalem

In this newfound mercantilism, marranos [crypto-Jews; Jews who converted to Christianity but continued to practice Judaism in secret] became especially prominent. In 1604 a certain Manuel Rodrigues de Vega petitioned the city’s burgomasters to be allowed to establish silk mills there along with two other Portuguese Jews. In short order, the Sephardim would develop not only the domestic silk industry but also the silk trade, much of the tobacco trade, and commerce in sugar, corals and diamonds. Eventually, Sephardic poets, dramatists, calligraphers, and copper-etchers would also be found alongside the customary merchants, bankers, and physicians.

Now that it seemed the Jew could finally cease their wanderings, they began to poor into Holland from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany and Antwerp. At first, religious services were held inconspicuously in private homes as well as the residence of Samuel Pallache, a Sephardic Jew who was Morocco’s ambassador to the Netherlands from 1612 to 1616.


To a certain extent, the position of the Jews was regularized in 1597 when burghers’ rights were granted to members of the “Portuguese nation” in Amsterdam. It was not until 1606 that one finds the first official reference to Joodche Gemeente (the Jewish congregation), but by 1609 the Sephardic community numbered 200 souls and supported two synagogues. A decade after, a third house of worship would be founded….

Jews Fascinated Their Dutch Neighbors

Ironically, it became better to be known in Amsterdam as a Jew than as a “Portuguese merchant,” thanks to anti-Iberian sentiment after the breakaway from Spain. Many Dutch intellectuals became fascinated with the somewhat exotic inhabitants of the Jewish quarter and sought them out for conversation.

At the outset of his career, Rembrandt, young and unknown, sketched many of his Portuguese neighbors, including Menasseh ben Israel [eminent rabbi and scholar; who petitioned Oliver Cromwell for the readmission of the Jews to England in 1655-6]. Conversely, the Sephardim reaped the benefits of the lively intellectual life created by Amsterdam’s savants, who eagerly cultivated theology, philosophy, jurisprudence, mathematics and oriental languages.

The Jewish Printing Capital of Europe

In 1617,the heads of the Jewish school voted to establish a printing press. Within the decade, several private Hebrew presses were also set up including that operated by the renowned intellectual Menasseh ben Israel. During its first twenty years, his multilingual press produced more than sixty titles, including Bibles, prayerbooks, and his own original works. Well known among the philosophers, scientists, and theologians of Amsterdam, he gave sermons that attracted flocks of Christians as well as Jews, and would even represent his enterprise at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1634. By this time, since Hebrew printing had decayed in Venice, Amsterdam was effectively the Judaic printing capital of Europe…

Lisbon on the Amstel

Meanwhile, in contrast with the Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire, the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam remained deeply immersed in Spanish and Lusitanian high culture as it evolved in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. While the Ottoman Sephardim distinguished themselves by continuing to use medieval Spanish in everyday

speech, writing this Ladino in Hebrew characters and incorporating Hebrew words and expressions, the Amsterdam Sephardi used the living Spanish or Portuguese of his day, constantly changing linguistically and written with Roman characters.


In fact, the culture of the Portuguese Jewish émigrés bore so few traces of the traditional Hebrew spirit that most of its members knew no Hebrew at all when they arrived in Amsterdam. They had to be laboriously schooled as adults by the community’s tutors and rabbis. As surviving lists of private book collections show, they continued their interest in Iberian literature, which was a main source of their shared community pride. They created something of a miniature Lisbon or Madrid on the banks of the Amstel, on Jodenbreestraat, populated by poets and dramatists writing in Spanish and Portuguese as well as men resembling Jewish hidalgos (Spanish noblemen of a lower rank), who preserved the manners of the nobility and retained their solidarity with other Iberian Jews.

For all of their sophistication and pride in their secular heritage, however, most continued to harbor well-founded fears of the Inquisition. Even in Amsterdam, Sephardic Jews used aliases in business, if only to protect relatives and business associates who had remained behind in Iberia.


mh – New York Jewish

Spain Offers Citizenship to Descendants of Jews Forced Out During the Inquisition

By Gerry Hadden–  @ new York Jewish


Spain’s Justice Minister, Alberto Ruizo-Gallardon, announced the offer to descendants of Spain’s former Jews in November at a Jewish center in Madrid.

“In the long journey Spain has undertaken to rediscover a part of herself, few occasions are as moving as today,” he said. “The measure we’re announcing will let anyone who can prove their Sephardic origins obtain Spanish nationality.”

In 1492 the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabela, expelled the Jews from what is now modern day Spain. Those who stayed were forced to convert to Catholicism.

Some 200,000 chose to leave. More than five centuries later, very few have come back.

Today in Spain there are only some 40,000 Jews. The head of the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities told Spanish TV that the new offer of immediate citizenship for descendants had created a buzz in Jewish communities around the world.

“I can tell you that in less than a month we have received about 6,000 inquiries, among which I would highlight one from an American member of Congress,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Federation could not say who that Congressman was. But one American who has looked into the possibility of becoming Spanish is Doreen Carvajal, a reporter with the New York Times in Paris.

Some years ago she learned she had Sephardic Jewish roots. She began to investigate, even moved to Spain and wrote a book about her experience, called “The Forgetting River.”

“My initial reaction was that it was a really thrilling moment,” Carvajal said. “That it was an act of justice. They held this news conference with top ministers to offer automatic citizenship to descendents of all Sephardic Jews who left during inquisition. Point blank done. 363 It was a romantic notion on my part. I told my husband, I think I’m going to try and get the passport because it closes a circle. It was very poetic,” Carvajal said.

But Carvajal says that when she contacted Spain’s Jewish Federation, she learned she didn’t qualify. Not yet anyway.

Part of Carvajal’s family was Sephardic Jew. But when they left Spain for Costa Rica, they converted to Catholicism, at least officially, out of fear of Spanish Inquisitors. The Inquisition hunted down and persecuted Jews even in the far-off Spanish colonies.

So, Carvajal is technically the descendent of converts or, conversos. She’s not a practicing Jew herself. She says she was told she’d have to convert to become Spanish.

“I felt like another it was act of being forced,” she said. “Here are the these people, the descendents of the anousim, the forced ones, the conversos, being told you have to do this, you have to be a certain religion? So what happens if you’re a secular Jew? It was a bittersweet moment for me when I realized there were a lot of clauses there and it really wasn’t an automatic offer for everyone.”

Isaac Querub, the president of Spain’s Jewish Federation, did not respond to multiple requests for interviews. Nor has Spain’s Justice Ministry commented on why some descendants are excluded from the citizenship offer.

Carvajal says she’s been left to wonder whether Spain just wants to attract Jewish wealth, from known Sephardic enclaves that have survived in place like Venezuela and Turkey.

Maria Josep Estanyol, an historian on Jews at the University of Barcelona, says she’s not sure why Spain is splitting hairs now. But she says it is well known that when Spain expelled the Jews in 1492 it had disastrous effect on the economy.

Many Iberian Jews were wealthy textile traders and jewelers and bankers.

“At the time of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan was said to have commented that he couldn’t understand why a great Spanish king like Ferdinand would go without the Jews, who were such a source of wealth, and just give them to him. The Sultan was very pleased to receive these Jewish families, who went on to enrich his empire,” Estanyol said.

In theory, enticing them back now might give a boost to Spain’s shrinking economy. Although, Estanyol doubts many families would reestablish roots in Spain.

“Given how disastrous things are here today, I’d advise against it,” she said.

It’s also been suggested that Spain made the offer to appease Israel, after Madrid supported last year’s successful Palestinian bid for a seat at the United Nations.

Whatever the motivation, some Muslim scholars are denouncing the offer as unfair. They point out that their ancestors were expelled from Iberia too, just a few years after the Jews. But no one’s inviting them back.

The Spanish government expelled its Jewish population in 1492. In November 2012, the country announced a change to its citizenship laws which makes it easier for Sephardic Jews to reclaim their Spanish nationality. This image shows "La Juderia," the old Jewish quarter in Cordoba, Spain. Image by urbanlegend, Flickr. Spain, 2009.

The Spanish government expelled its Jewish population in 1492. In November 2012, the country announced a change to its citizenship laws which makes it easier for Sephardic Jews to reclaim their Spanish nationality. This image shows “La Juderia,” the old Jewish quarter in Cordoba, Spain. Image by urbanlegend, Flickr. Spain, 2009.

The Spanish government expelled its Jewish population in 1492. In November 2012, the country announced a change to its citizenship laws which makes it easier for Sephardic Jews to reclaim their Spanish nationality. This image shows “La Juderia,” the old Jewish quarter in Cordoba, Spain. Image by urbanlegend, Flickr. Spain, 2009.


mh- New York Jewish

Manila Memories History of Jews in the Philippines

By Bonnie M. Harris, Ph.D.  @ New York Jewish Guide







In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Portuguese vessels carried Sephardic Jewish merchants for the first time down the West Coast of Africa, around the horn and up the East Coast, and the across the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean to India, China, the Spice Islands of Indochina, and to the as yet unnamed islands of the Philippines. These Crypto-Jewish merchants escaped the persecutions of their time by migrating ubiquitously from the Iberian Peninsula to commercial ports scattered throughout the world.

Even before the arrival of these first Europeans in the Philippine archipelago, the socio-political fate of the Philippines was destined to be contested by the Spanish and Portuguese by virtue of the Treaty of Tordesillas that attempted to divide all New World discoveries between Spain and Portugal in the late 15th century. Disputes between the Iberian fleets over the Philippines and its neighboring islands, the Moluccas, resulted in the 1529 Treaty of Zaragoza, in which Portugal ceded the Philippines to Spain, which would remain under Spanish control for nearly four hundred years. Nevertheless, the Portuguese enjoyed an economic presence within the Spanish realm by virtue of Jewish merchants fleeing the Spanish Inquisition via Portugal to the New World. Medieval texts reveal that 180,000 Jews fled Spain and that of these, 120,000 entered Portugal raising the Jewish population numbers to 15% of the total population.When these Spanish Jewish refugees encountered a litany of extreme abuses, many accepted a forced conversion to Christianity as a means to escape death and eventually to escape Iberia – becoming explorers, mathematicians, cartographers, and especially merchants abroad Portuguese and Spanish vessels en route to New World ports – Manila

AJL-Feature-Issue11-Manila-2When Marranos or New Christians, other distinctions for the conversos or Cryto-Jewish merchants, reached the Philippines they no doubt engaged in the Spanish Galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco.ii The New Christian brothers Jorge and Domingo Rodriguez are the first recorded Marranos to have arrived in the Spanish Philippines, reaching Manila in the 1590s. By 1593 both were tried and convicted at an auto-da-fe in Mexico City because the Inquisition did not have an independent tribunal in the Philippines. The Inquisition imprisoned the Rodriguez brothers and subsequently tried and convicted at least eight other New Christians from the Philippine Islands.iii Jewish presence in these islands during the subsequent centuries of Spanish colonization remained small and unorganized.

John Griese writes that “Spanish law would not have permitted an organized Jewish religious life,” so that Philippine Jews would have practiced Judaism in secret as Marranos did throughout the world.iv But the Philippines had the rare distinction of being colonized by the Spanish, becoming the only Catholic enclave in an Orient world. Christian prejudices against Judaic adherents would have discouraged the settlement of Jewish practitioners, although as Crypto-Jews, they blended into the Spanish-Christian society of the elite and continued to fulfill their utilitarian mercantilist roles till the end of the 19th century.

When the Spanish Galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco declined, contact between Marranos of the Philippines and other merchant Jews of New World and Old World ports ultimately ceased, resulting in a decline of Jewish identity for the New Christians in the Catholic-dominated Philippines. The first permanent settlement of Jews in the Philippines during the nearly four hundred years of Spanish colonialism began with the arrival of three Levy brothers from Alsace-Lorraine, who were escaping the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

AJL-Feature-Issue11-Manila-3The opening of the Suez Canal in March 1869 provided a more direct trading route between Europe and the Philippines, which allowed all passenger and cargo ships to follow “a similar route: along warm-weather sea lanes of the Mediterranean through the canal along the Red Sea, and finally into the Indian Ocean.”v As businesses grew, the number of Jews in Manila grew as well. The Levy brothers were then joined by Turkish, Syrian, and Egyptian Jews, creating a multi-ethnic community of about fifty individuals by the end of the Spanish It was not until the Spanish-American war at the end of the 19th century, when the United States took control of the islands from Spain in 1898, that the Jewish community started to advance in the “first and only official American colony” in Asia.vii

When the Philippines became an American concern, this created opportunities for American Jewish citizens to take advantage of this new frontier – a wave of Jewish migration to East Asia that was neither Middle Eastern nor European. The arrival of American military forces to the Philippines brought a few Jewish servicemen who decided to remain in the islands after their military discharge and become permanent residents.

Jewish teachers from the United States also arrived with a contingent of “Thomasites,” a delegation of volunteer teachers, who gave public instruction to Filipino children. In 1901, 540 American teachers and some of their families boarded the U.S. Army Transport “Thomas” at San Francisco Pier, bound for the Philippines. Trained by prestigious institutions in the United States, these young men and women were selected by the U.S. Civil Service Commission to establish a modern public school system in the newly acquired U.S. territory of the Philippines and to conduct all instruction in English. By 1902, the number of American teachers, labeled Thomasites, swelled to 1,074.viii

In addition to education, new markets for import-export businesses attracted young American Jewish businessmen, who set up new shops in the islands as well. In this regard, the attraction of the Philippines for Jewish American merchants in setting up outposts for their larger home companies back in the United States seems consistent with the Port Jew identity of the Sephardic Jews of the Atlantic seaports and merchant Jews of other port cities in Asia.


Three important names appear in the Jewish community of Manila shortly after the turn of the century: Emil Bachrach, Morton I. Netzorg, and Israel Konigsberg. Annette Eberly, freelance author and Philippine resident, recorded that Emil Bachrach arrived in Manila in 1901 and soon “built a commercial empire of fairly substantial proportions.”ix Because he is regarded as the first American Jew who permanently settled in the Philippines, the synagogue and cultural hall, which the Bachrach family financed in subsequent decades, bore his name: Temple Emil and Bachrach Hall. Bachrach encouraged his extended family to resettle in the Philippines and experience the good life provided by this beautiful archipelago. Eberly, quoting Minna Gabermann, Bachrach’s niece, stated that living in Manila “was distinctly colonial and elegant in those days. It had a special air of a sumptuous, civilized world.”x Bachrach’s economic successes allowed him to be a generous philanthropist, who supported both Jewish and Christian causes.

By 1918, twenty years after the Americans took over the Philippines from the Spanish, the Manila Jewish community totaled about 150 families, including a small number of Russian Jews who sought asylum following the Bolshevik Revolution.xi Aside from these few Russian Jews who became a part of the multi-ethnic Jewish community in Manila, Russian Jewish immigration to Asia had little effect on the Philippines. Although institutionally trained rabbis, cantors, and shochetim did not appear on the scene permanently until well after WWII, lay members of the Jewish Community in Manila and Jewish refugees filled these roles at various times in the first few decades of the American period in the Philippines.

We must remember that peace did not prevail in the Philippines following the 1898 Spanish-American war until 1902, after the three-year long Philippine War of Independence. No formal religious Jewish community existed at that time and one would not be officially developed until 1917. It took about ten years of American rule in the Philippines for the influx of international Jewish businessmen, teachers, and ex-soldiers to gather themselves into an official community of Jews. Frank Ephraim recounts that by 1919, 150 Jewish families lived in Manila of various nationalities and denominations and that religious services at the time were held in family homes. Ephraim also states that “in 1919, Yom Kippur services took place in the Eagles Hall, where Motel Goldstein, a Russian Jew, officiated. That year the Jewish community was formally organized.”xii These events demonstrated a growing Jewish identity in Manila, led by the merchant Jewish families, which sought after the establishment of a form of Jewish worship that was sustainable within their unique community.


In 1911, the growing Jewish community in the Philippines gained one of its most important families, Morton I. Netzorg and his wife, Katherine. They came from the United States and joined the Philippine public school teacher corps of Thomasites. Their son, Morton “Jock” Netzorg, was born February 4, 1912 in the town of Nueva Caceres. His memoirs, written in 1987, relate the family’s many business ventures and the educational influence they had on the lives of the children of Manila’s most prestigious families.xiii Some of those students included “the daughters of Paul McNutt, General Sutherland, Ambassador MacMurray, [and] General Casey.”xiv Israel Netzorg became the representative of the Jewish Welfare Board in the Philippines, with the responsibility to oversee matters involving Jewish sailors and soldiers. He was also the representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).xv Jewish merchants in the Philippines filled multiple rolls within their own Jewish community as well as the larger Philippine community, as they joined and frequently led civic organizations too.

According to Netzorg, businesses from the American mainland began to arrive with increasing volume in 1920. Manila Jewry included the founder of the Makati Stock Exchange, the conductor of the Manila Symphony Orchestra, and other professionals such as physicians, dentists and architects.xvi

The Frieder Brothers, the family most instrumental in saving German-Jewish refugees in the late 1930s, arrived in 1921 and expanded their family’s state-side cigar business into a lucrative venture in Manila, the Helena Cigar Factory. The Frieder Brothers’ economic prosperity, along with their high level of societal interaction, provided them with safety and status that allowed them to be leaders of the newly formed Jewish community. Eberly described this emerging Jewish society:

There was little Jewish flavor in this 19th century lifestyle of the very rich. The Jewish families did go to the Temple for special occasions, and the existence of the adjacent social hall [did] serve to centralize and focus Jewish interrelationships and concerns, but it was all very low-key.xvii

Once Temple Emil was built in 1923, primarily through the generous contributions of the Bachrachs, Netzorgs, and Frieders, the Jewish Community in Manila commissioned Motel Goldstein, the Russian Jew who had been serving as a lay rabbi, to hire an ordained rabbi from Shanghai. Israel Konigsberg, who had settled in Shanghai immediately after World War I, had been a Jewish Chaplain in the army of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. While in Shanghai, he had received cantorial training and upon meeting up with Motel Goldstein, he was hired to officiate services in Temple Emil in Manila in 1924. Jock Netzorg was the first bar mitzvah held in the Philippine Jewish synagogue.xviii Netzorg recounts how he later taught in the Jewish Sunday School at Temple Emil, relating how Emil Bachrach provided bus service by picking up Jewish children from all over town and driving them to Temple for Sunday School and then driving them back home again.xix


The Jewish community of Manila, which continued to gradually increase in size in the 1920s and early 1930s as businessmen and merchants from the U.S. and the Middle East began filtering into East Asia, along with political refugees from Russia and other parts of Europe, remained a predominantly American-led Jewish community.xx

By 1936, the Jewish community in the Philippines had a distinctly cosmopolitan makeup with a total population of about 500 persons. Even though there were no separations by communities as existed in Shanghai, one would not describe the  Temple Emilas uniform either. It wasn’t until the Nazi danger to European Jewry arose in the 1930s that a united Jewish consciousness in the Philippines sprang into existence.

The small, decentralized and mostly secular-minded Jewish community of Manila took heroic steps to save its fellow Jews from sure destruction. As Bachrach’s niece Gaberman told Eberly in 1975, “We only really became Jewish-conscious in a deep way when this terrible threat came out of Europe, and suddenly there were Jews in desperate need of help.”xxi Netzorg maintained that his father considered his most important deed in the Philippines to have been “bringing refugees out of Hitler’s Germany,”xxii when refugees, fleeing the encroaching Nazi expansion, found asylum in every country in the greater Asian world, including 1300 refugee Jews in the Philippines.

The occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese during WWII brought these refugees and their benefactors under Japanese rule until the liberation of the archipelago and the further dispersion of the Philippine Jewish Community to other ports of call.

Mh – New York Jewish

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Jewish Argentina – Kosher McDonalds and Jewish Cowboys


Congregation Libertad, the oldest in the country also home to the Jewish Museum

In 1850 two men found themselves standing under a tree near the famous Recoleta Cemetery in the center of Buenos Aires. Each man was carrying a small book and reading to himself. It was Yom Kippur and each man prayed silently to himself without saying a word, even though they each knew what the other was doing. After finishing their prayers they started to talk and they agreed to meet next year and to try to find some more Jews. The year after this story the first minyan took place for Yom Kippur and they decided to found the Congregation Israelita de la Republica Argentina, the first Jewish Institution in Argentina.

When I asked Rabbi Guido Cohen about the history of Jewish life in Argentina, this was the legend he shared, truth or fiction it is hard to say, but as he pointed out the tree is still there.

The roots of Jewish life in Argentina are relatively new, prior to the late 1800s there had been a small smattering of Sephardic Jews who had come to the country but the Inquisition followed and all signs of Jewish life disappeared. The eradication of the Inquisition in 1813 paved the way for the potential of Jewish life but it was not until the very end of the 19th century that large numbers of Jews began to settle in Argentina.

Today Argentina is the home to the world’s largest Spanish speaking Jewish community. There are over 250,000 Jews in Argentina, most living in Buenos Aires. The earliest European Jewish settlers, however, initially made their homes on the Pampas, the vast Argentinean plains, where it was common to find Jewish cowboys.

In many ways Jewish life in Buenos Aires bears a strong resemblance to Jewish life in any major North American city. There are a myriad of synagogues, Jewish organizations and schools. The arts scene is vibrant and there a Conservative Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano, which like it’s American counterparts, trains rabbis. On a recent Friday, I attended a Shabbat Service in the center of the city. The tunes were a recognizable mix of contemporary liturgical music used in the United States.

But even as it is familiar, there is no mistaking Buenos Aires for Boston or Los Angeles. While visiting, Rabbi Cohen offered to take me to see a local synagogue, which he promised, would be quite special. Walking into the courtyard and then the sanctuary of Amijai, it was easy to understand what he was talking about. Set amidst greenery, the building is modern and rounded, the sanctuary made of Jerusalem stone and the acoustics state of the  art.

Congregation Amijai

But it was Cohen’s comment as we left that reminded us of exactly where we were, “not only is this the most beautiful shul in the city, it is also the safest.”

Concern for safety is real. In 1994, the Jewish Community Center was bombed and 85 people were killed and over 200 wounded. Moving around town with the World Union of Progressive Judaism we were never without our security team. Moreover, the economic instability that plagued the country in 2001 led to significant migration to Israel, the United States, Spain and Canada. As proud as Argentineans are, they have reasons to worry too.


Still Jewish life is vibrant and uniquely Latin American. Though concerns about safety abound, there are 1,500 students at the Tarbut Jewish School where Rabbi Cohen directs Jewish life and learning, and this is only one of many openly Jewish schools. Jewish children are educated to be multi lingual. Though not particularly religious –the numbers for intermarriage that I heard while there varied but were around 50% – people are proud to be Jewish. Recently, the city elected Rabbbi Sergio Bergman to an important seat on the city council. Buenos Aires boasts more than a dozen kosher eateries including the only Kosher McDonald’s outside of Israel. The popular ten membe Samaj band has a really local flavor. It plays a mix of Klezmer, Israeli and Latin music, that had us dancing for hours one night at our conference.

Today the Recoleta Cemetery is in the center of one of Buenos Aires’ most posh neighborhood which buzzes with life at all hours of the day and night. It is hard to imagine that it was ever a place where two Jews might find some quiet for reflection on Yom Kippur. Yet, if those fabled men were by some extraordinary means to come looking for Jewish life in Buenos Aires today they would be far from alone as they were just over a century and a half ago, instead they would be in the midst of the worlds most vibrant Jewish communities. The biggest question they would face would be choosing which synagogue to attend!

MH – New York Jewish Guide