Bintel Blog

Haiti's Jewish Remnant

By Gabrielle Birkner

Haiti, the island nation suffering terribly in the wake of the catastrophic January 12 earthquake, is home to a tiny Jewish remnant.

According to Chabad.org, the number of Jewish residents is about 25, but Larry Luxner — in this piece for JTA, in 2004 — wrote that the the Jewish population could be as high as 50 in a country of about 9 million people, most of whom are Voodoos and Catholics.

In the aforementioned piece, Luxner wrote:

… Luis de Torres, the interpreter of Christopher Columbus, was the first Jew to set foot in Haiti, in 1492. The first Jewish immigrants came from Brazil in the 17th century, after Haiti was conquered by the French. These marranos were all murdered or expelled — along with the rest of the white population — during the slave revolt of in 1804.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a synagogue in Jeremie, a city along Haiti’s southern peninsula that was home to many mulatto families of Jewish origin; there are also vague historical references to Jewish tombstones in the port cities of Cap Haitien and Jacmel.

… [B]y the end of the 19th century, Sephardic Jews began arriving from Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. In 1937, Haitian officials — like their counterparts in the neighboring Dominican Republic — began issuing passports to Eastern European Jews fleeing the Nazis. Many of those grateful Ashkenazim stayed until the late 1950s.

Mid-century, Haiti’s Jewish community is said to have peaked at around 300.

In 1947, Haiti was among the 33 countries that voted in favor of partitioning the British Mandate of Palestine into two states — one Jewish, one Arab.

Chabad of the Caribbean is preparing kosher food shipments to those residents, as well as to the Israeli aid workers, who arrived in Port-au-Prince on January 15.

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