Saturday, February 16, 2008

Chile´s Jewish Community

Since I have taken over the apartment of my Chilean Jewish friend Valeria (the wandering Jew becomes an Israeli settler) and have been hanging with her and her boyfriend Jorge, I thought I should include something on the Chilean Jewish community.

The Chilean Jewish is roughly 17,000, of which 95% is in Santiago; there are pockets in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar as well. The Jewish communtiy of Chile is mostly Ashkenazi from Eastern Europe and Germany, but Spehardim make up nearly 20 percent. The Sephardic communtiy comes mostly from the Ottoman Empire, comprising Jews from Istanbul, Soloniki, Izmir and Monastir (Macedonia).

My friend Valeria is from a mixed-marriage, in so far as her mother is an Ashkenazi German, while her father is a Sephardic Turkish Jew. Jorge is the product of a real mixed marriage, of Russian Ashkenazi extraction, while his father is a secular Chilean who didn´t convert. They are a cute couple, who met at a Jewish function in Valparaiso.

There are eight synagogues in Santiago, five of which are Conservative, while the other three are Orthodox (one Chabad); there are two Jewish day schools. The Jewish community in Chile is very secular, very Zionist and very integrated into Chilean society, while not being especially affiliated with the organized Jewish community. Jews of Chile have been active in academia, medicine, the press and other liberal facets of society and culture. The integration is most acutely symbolized in that Chile´s President Michelle Batchelet had the most Jewish ministers in her cabinet for any country in the world, exluding Israel.

Members of the Chilean Jewish community were involved in the government of President Allende, as well as the opposition to Allende; moreover, nearly a third of the Jewish community fled into exile during Allende´s rule, only to return when General Pinochet took power. Although Chile and Argentina both underwent periods of brutal military dictatorship, the Jewish community of Chile did not suffer nearly as much as the Jewish community of Argentina. Of the 3,000 Chileans who disappeared, twenty came from the Jewish community. During the General Pinochet gave considerable support to Israel, in spite of Chile´s large Palestinian community and also bought arms from Israel.

My own anecdote on Chile´s Jewish and Palestinian communities relates to a project I worked on at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. We were hosting "Breaking the Ice," a project that set out to prove that Israelis and Palestinians could do amazing things when brought together outside the conflict. The project was to have a group of Israelis and Palestinians (who had never seen snow) travel to Antartica and climb and unnamed, unclimbed mountain together. They completed the task, and it was mentioned in Time Magazine, among other media outlets. When the heads of the Chilean Palestinian and Jewish communities heard of the project, the contacted each other for the first time, and for the first time they came together to greet the climbers upon their return.

Dialogue between the communities continues today, including an intercultural diaologue project that Valeria works on as a facilitator.


soleilaviv said...

Hi Paul, I'll hope that you had a good time in Chile, thanks also for the wonderfull stories that you told us and the great time. Also for writting a little bit of the Chilean history.
A Hug

Ilia said...


I am travelling to Valparaiso in 10 days, but I cannot find any information on the synagagues or other Jewish community organizations there. Can you help me get in touch with somebody there?

Please e-mail me at

Thank you.

David said...

Wow, you can find anything on google!!! interesting stuff.... I am coming to Santiago in a few Weeks and I'll be living there for about 1 year. I'd like to meet people from the Jewish community and learn more about the synagogues there. Any info would be really helpful. My Email is

thank you,


Jessica Berk said...


I am Jewish myself and just got back from Chile! I was on a university trip to Santiago,Temuco, Concepcion and Renaca.

Your blogpost about this was very interesting to me, as I am now writing my research paper on the Jewish communities and populations in Chile!

Thanks for the great insight! Keep traveling!

Paul Rockower said...

Thanks for the warm words Jessica, good luck with the paper. Please send it my way when you are done, I would be interested to read it.