On October 18, 1898, the “Stars and Stripes” flag of the United States was raised over Puerto Rico, announcing that the island was now under American sovereignty. Today’s Treat presents an overview of the history of Puerto Rico’s Jewish community.

Although there is a great deal of speculation about Jews arriving on the island when Christopher Columbus first anchored in the Western Hemisphere — which was the same time that Jews were expelled from Spain — there is little known about local Jewish history before the 20th century. It is believed that “Crypto Jews” (Jews living as Christians, also known as conversos/anusim/marranos) who came to settle there had moved to more remote, mountainous areas in order to avoid any possible attention from the Inquisition. Even after the abolishment of the Inquisition and Spain’s 1870 Acta de Culto Condicionado – issued after a failed uprising — allowing freedom of religion in Puerto Rico in hopes of encouraging loyal settlement, few Jews settled there.

The origins of the modern Jewish community, which began in the 1930s and 1940s, was primarily composed of refugees from Europe and some U.S. servicemen who chose to remain on the island after the Spanish American war.

Puerto Rico’s Jewish Community Center opened in 1942. Shaare Zedek synagogue, a Conservative congregation, was established ten years later.

Aside from Shaare Zedeck Synagogue, Puerto Rico is noted for having synagogues representing the full range of Jewish denominations: Reform Temple Beth Shalom was established in 1967, and the Orthodox Chabad of Puerto Rico in 1999. Additionally, in 2005, a Satmar Chassidic community opened a synagogue in Mayagüez.

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