I usually stick to the world of the Second Temple Period but I saw this article on JPost and couldn’t resist. One, because I am by ethnicity Puerto Rican (whatever that means) and two, I study ancient Judaism. Some of my family is from Ponce and I have some suspicion that there has been some contact with conversos from Spain. Who knows? Anyway, enjoy this article.
The Jewish Palate: The Jews of Puerto Rico
By DENNIS WASKO
The mouthwatering flavors that make up the cuisine of the largest Jewish community in the Caribbean are numerous, chef Dennis Wasko finds.
Jewish history in Puerto Rico can be traced back to the 15th century and the Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus. Though it would take hundreds of years for a Jewish community to be established in Puerto Rico, many Jews settled on the island hoping to flee from the scrutiny of the Spanish Inquisition.
Puerto Rico has the largest and most diverse Jewish community in the Caribbean. The island’s 3,000 Jewish inhabitants are mainly the descendants of Jewish refugees who fled from German occupied Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s and from Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the 1950’s.
According to historians, the first Jews to arrive in Puerto Rico were Conversos, also known as Anusim. These were Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism by the Spanish Inquisition, but who still practiced Judaism secretly. Many of these Anusim, seeking to flee from the Inquisition, joined the expeditionary crews sailing for the New World. They hoped that there would be safety in distance, but unfortunately once Spain established colonies in the New World, the inquisition followed. The Anusim were forced to settle the island’s remote, mountainous interior and flee from the cities and power centers. As a result of this isolation and lack of community, the Jews eventually intermarried with Catholics and fully assimilated into Puerto Rican society.
By the 19th century, Spain’s influence in the region was dwindling and it lost most of its colonial possessions. It did, however, manage to hold on to Puerto Rico and Cuba. Though it was still illegal for Jews to practice Judaism and own land in Puerto Rico, some Jews continued to settle there. Many of them were instrumental in Puerto Rico’s early, though ill-fated, independence movement.
Life for Puerto Rico’s Jews improved after Spain ceded the island to the United States after the Spanish-American War ended in 1898. During the war, many Jewish American servicemen gathered with local Puerto Rican Jews at the Old Telegraph Building in Ponce to hold religious services. Few of these American Jews chose to stay in Puerto Rico after the war ended…[rest here]