The Development of a Community
Though officially forbidden from settling in Puerto Rico through much of its history, Jews managed to settle on the Island as secret Jews, also called marranos, conversos, or Crypto-Jews. Jewish immigration to Puerto Rico began in the 15th century, though the community could not flourish as Judaism was prohibited by the Spanish Inquisition and the first synagogue was not established until a few hundred years later.
Even after Puerto Rico was ceded by Spain to the United States, following the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, very few American Jews settled on the island. The first large group of Jewish immigrants came in the 1930s and 1940s and were refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. The majority settled in the island's capital, San Juan, where in 1942 they established the first Jewish Community Center of Puerto Rico. The second influx of Jewish immigrants was in the 1950s, following the success of the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959. Almost all of Cuba's 15,000 Jews went into exile, many of them fleeing to Miami, Florida and Puerto Rico.
In 1952, Puerto Rico achieved U.S. commonwealth status. That same year a handful of American Jews established the island's first synagogue in the former residence of a wealthy German family. The synagogue, called Shaare Zedeck, hired its first rabbi in 1954. A Hebrew School was established in 1959 and by 1970, there were 600 members of the synagogue, a Hadassah chapter, and B'nai Brith and Young Judaea youth groups.
Today, Puerto Rico is home to the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in the Caribbean, with over 3,000 Jewish inhabitants, and is also the only Caribbean island in which all three major Jewish denominations are represented. Most of the Jewish community lives in San Juan, but there are also Jewish families in Ponce and Mayaguez. San Juan has three synagogues: Reform Congregation Temple Beth Shalom, established in 1967, Conservative Congregation Shaare Zedeck, established in 1953, and a Chabad Center, established in 1997. There is additionally a Satmar Community in the western part of the Island in Mayaguez known as Toiras Jesed. Kosher food is available for order through Chabad and Hebrew school classes are held at the Jewish Community Center.
As is the case in many former Spanish colonies that were founded soon after the Spanish Inquisition, there are some Puerto Ricans who are descendants of forcibly converted Jews. Though raised as Christians, there are some that still maintain elements of Jewish traditions. Some notable Puerto Ricans of Jewish descent include David Blaine, Joaquin Phoenix, Freddie Prinze, Freddie Prinze Jr., Geraldo Rivera, Aaron Cecil Snyder, and Nina Tassler.
Chabad Lubavitch of Puerto Rico - Serving the Caribbean
Address: 17 Calle Dalia
Carolina, PR 00979-7346
Rabbi Mendel Zarchi
Kosher food can be ordered through Chabad.
Temple Beth Shalom, Puerto Rico
Reform Jewish Congregation
Address: 101 Calle San Jorge
San Juan, PR 00911
Tel: 787-721-6333 (School administration office)
Tel: 787-723-3017 (Visiting Rabbi's study room)
Shaare Zedeck Synagogue
Jewish Community Center of Puerto Rico
Address: 903 Ponce de Leon Ave
San Juan, PR 00907
Sources: "Jewish Immigration to Puerto Rico" and "History of Jews in Puerto Rico", Wikipedia.
Puerto Rico photo courtesy Amiga in a Box
Synagogue photo courtesy Jewish Sightseeing
Temple Beth Shalom photo: HaChayim HaYehudim Jewish Photo Library (Jono David Media)
Map: CIA-World Fact Book