History of Jews in El Salvador
It is believed that the first Jews to settle in El Salvador arrived from France in the mid- to late-19th century. During the Holocaust, El Salvador closed its doors to Jewish immigration from Nazi Europe, however it was the one of the first countries in the world to officially recognize the State of Israel in 1948. Today, the Jewish population of El Salvador stands at around 100, though many travelling Israelis have made its beaches a second home.
Beginning of a Community
It is believed that the El Salvador’s first Jewish immigrant, Alsatian-born Bernardo Haas, arrived in 1868 and later summoned his nephews Lazaro and Julian Dreyfus (relatives of Captain Alfred Dreyfus). Leon Liebes, the first documented German Jew arrived in the country in 1888. The same year, Liebes founded his business Casa Goldtree-Liebes which elicited the arrival of his nephew, Eugenio Liebes. At the end of the nineteenth century, Casa Benny and Armando Bloch was founded along with associates Jose Olkovich and Julio Oppenheimer. This firm was later considered one of the leading import/export houses in the country. Salvador Mugdan later came to the country in 1888, followed by his brothers Felix and Arturo. Mr. Mugdan eventually became one of the most significant spiritual leaders of the community.
Of the few Sephardic families who arrived in El Salvador, one of the most notable included Herbert de Sola (who emigrated via Curacao). Other Sephardic families arrived from Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia (via France). An important entrepreneur in the history of El Salvador, de Sola helped to found the first synagogue and became an invaluable member of the Jewish community, not to mention the Salvadoran business community. In 1909, Alfred Widawer, a virtuous and religious man, joined the community. His knowledge of Judaism allowed the small group of Jews to celebrate their first high holidays in El Salvador despite the lack of a rabbi.
As became the custom of most Jewish entrepreneurs, firms such as Casa Goldtree-Liebes and Casa Haas invited young Jewish bachelors to join the ranks and settle in El Salvador. Other notable pre-World War II arrivals included Enrique Guttfreund, Enrique Weill, Jorge Salomón, Max Freund, Ernesto Reich, Toto Lasally, Jaime Gabay, Federico Bloch, Jose “Don Chepe” Baum, and Jorge Lewinsky.
Max Freund, whose family hardware business continues to this day, arrived in 1913. He become the first president of the community in 1943 and sat on the board of directors with Herbert de Sola, Leon Liebes, Eugenio Liebes, Alfredo Widawer, and Benjamin Bloom. The first synagogue was founded in 1950, and the first rabbi and spiritual leader of the community was Alex Freund, who officiated at the community’s first bar mitzvah, Ernesto Freund, son of Max Freund.