Nicaraguan Crisis Endangers Lives of Jews Desperate to Return

June 28, 2018

3 min read

While the political situation in Nicaragua rages out of control, a small community of Jews and non-Jews in the process of conversion is struggling to make aliyah to Israel. Their lives are threatened but the doors for them to return to their people are jammed shut with paperwork.

Since 2011, several communities totalling more than 160 people in Nicaragua have been studying the topics required for conversion with Rabbis Kunis and Philippe of the United States, and Rabbi Eichenholz of Israel. Some members of the community had already undergone an Orthodox conversion and wanted to continue their studies. Others were seriously considering the process or had already begun it. Many of the non-Jewish members of the community were descendants of Anousim, Jews who had been forcibly converted during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions of the 15th and 16th Centuries. Many had grown up believing they were Jews but lacked the necessary documentation to confirm this for the purpose of making aliyah. The community built a mikveh, necessary for conversion and for Jewish family purity, and a synagogue where they conduct religious activities.

About eight months ago, the Nicaraguan communities contacted Machon Kibutz Galuyot (the Institute for the Ingathering of Exiles), an organization that helps bring Jews to Israel while studying Torah for conversion. The communities requested that the institute help facilitate their religious studies, to which they readily complied, providing them with lessons in Spanish on WhatsApp and via the Internet. The institute’s rabbis were in direct communication with them on a daily basis. At the time of the initial contact between the institute and the communities, Nicaragua was not in crisis.

Nicaraguan police drive in convoy past a burning car. (Credit: Kibutz Galuyot)

The political situation in Nicaragua took a drastic turn for the worse on April 18, when protesters took to the streets in opposition to President Daniel Ortega. The government reacted violently and at least 212 people have been killed in the last two months.

Dr. Moshé Henríquez, the head of the Nicaraguan Jewish community, wrote a letter to Rabbi Nisim Makor, head of Machon Kibutz Galuyot, pleading with him to help expedite the aliyah process.

“We have the documents for 76 people from the community who wish to make aliyah to Israel as soon as possible,” Rabbi Makor told Breaking Israel News. “A total of 160 people want to make aliyah. These people fear that even a two-week delay in the process will endanger their lives. There is a government-enforced curfew and there is shooting in the streets.”

“Not only is the general situation in Nicaragua critical, but there have also been aspects that suggest anti-Semitic undertones and incitement specifically targeting the Jews. This situation calls for urgency,” Rabbi Mkor added.

In late May, Dr. Henríquez wrote to Sergio Goldstein, the director of Latin American affairs for the Jewish Agency, who responded quickly with the following points:

  • The Jewish Agency does not move populations from one place to another, we have neither the mandate nor the logistical possibility of doing so.
  • Our attention is always on individuals who fall under the guidelines of the law of return and can make aliyah to Israel.
  • Members of the community who wish to live in a country other than Nicaragua can do so under their own volition without the intervention of this Agency.

Mr. Goldstein also raised doubts concerning their “mass conversion.”

Rabbi Makor has contacted Isaac Herzog, the newly appointed head of the Jewish agency, who has expressed a desire to aid the community. Unfortunately, Herzog does not assume his responsibilities until August 1 and, until then, will be unable to officially help.

Members of the Nicaraguan Jewish community. (Credit: Kibutz Galuyot)

“If the political situation in Nicaragua was different, these people would have the time to arrange their paperwork and to convert properly if necessary,” Rabbi Makor said. “That is not the reality. Like many other communities of Jews throughout history, these people are desperate. They have turned to Israel, the shining hope for Jews in crisis. It is unthinkable that their fates will be sealed because of bureaucracy.”

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