Costa Rica Jewish Community – Schools & Synagogues

Synagogue Shaarei Zion, San Jose, Costa Rica.

Synagogue Shaarei Zion, San Jose, Costa Rica

Costa Rica may well be Israel’s best friend among the states of the world, unswerving in its friendship since 1948 and the only state to maintain its embassy in Jerusalem. A green and eco-friendly land, approximately twice the size of Israel, Costa Rica lies some ten degrees above the equator, between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, rising from tropical beaches through rain forests to sometime-now dusted volcanic peaks. Located between Nicaragua and Panama,  Costa Rica is the great democracy of Central America and perhaps the greatest democracy in all Latin America.

Costa Ricans pride themselves on three things in particular: their democracy, their strong commitment to education, and their lack of a standing army.

They could also pride themselves on their efforts to preserve their natural wonders and their tolerance of the minorities in the midst, including the Jewish minority. A Catholic country, officially as well as demographically, since the 1930′s, several thousand Jews, almost half from the same two villages in Poland, have found a home in Costa Rica. They have built a prosperous and closely knit Jewish community.

While one wave of Sephardic Jews lived in Costa Rica as Marranos in the 16th and 17th centuries and another as merchants in the 19th, the present Jewish community dates from before World War II and is primarily of Eastern European origin, nearly half from two villages in Poland. They were apparently from within the Hasidic ambit since they use the Hasidic ritual Nusach Sephard in their services. When they came to Costa Rica they became known as “Polacos,” (perhaps for the same reason as in Mexico where the Jews chose that term because they feared to be identified as “Judeos” or “Israelitas”), a term which had some derogatory connotations. There has been a bit of anti-Semitism, though it is nowhere anything to worry about.

Costa Rican non-Jews have as part of their national myth the notion that the original Spanish population in Costa Rica included many Sephardic Jews, which is one of the reasons they use to explain why Costa Rica is exceptional in Latin America. Those Sephardim were fleeing the Inquisition. They were Marranos and simply assimilated. Again, this partly explains the extensive nominal Catholicism in the country, according to the local Costa Ricans. They also say that people who have animal surnames betray their Marrano origin, for they did not want to take real “Catholic” names.

The common estimate of the size of the Jewish community is 3,000 souls, but many suggest that there are another 1,500 “hidden” Jews, including American retirees who have settled in Costa Rica.

The principal institutions of the community are the Instituto Jaim Weizmann, a comprehensive school from kindergarten through secondary school, with 350 students. Just about all Jewish children attend primary school. Most stay on for secondary school, although a few are taken out and sent to the American school presumably to better prepare for entrance into American universities. Essentially none go to the Costa Rican public schools which teach Catholic religion. The school is organized on a very high level with a relatively intensive Jewish education program.

Like much of the diaspora, the community is nominally Orthodox by choice. Thus the school teaches Orthodox Judaism and is served by the Torah Education Department of the WZO. There are religious services every morning and until two or three years ago attendance at Shabbat services was compulsory. There is a certain amount of social pressure to attend and some 20-30 students do so weekly. They also have their own High Holiday services.

The established synagogue is the Orthodox synagogue. All the permanent resident Costa Rican Jews are members of it, even though their Orthodoxy is quite nominal. There is also a Reform group, B’nai Israel, which meets Friday nights at 7:30. It seems to cater primarily to Americans Jews who have retired to Costa Rica, of which there are an unknown number estimated in the hundreds. There is also a community center, Centro Israelita to which most Jews belong.

The community also has a kosher butcher shop, two shochetim, one of whom is retired, and a delicatessen run by Orthodox Jews that carries kosher products. Thus it is possible to get the basics in Costa Rica to maintain a Jewish life. The community does want to maintain its Orthodox linkage, with many keeping kashrut at home and then doing what they please outside.

In February 2006, two members of Costa Rica’s small Jewish community, Clara Zomer and Masha Ofelia Taitelbaum, won seats in the country’s Legislative Assembly and will begin serving four-year terms when the new legislature takes office in May. Their party will have the largest bloc in the legislature and both are expected to have leadership roles within the bloc.

It is generally agreed that business is good for Jews, that they can make money doing almost anything, and that Costa Rica is a very comfortable place so it is quite attractive.

Rabinato De Costa Rica and Synagogue
(Orthodox)
Centro Israelita Sionista De Costa Rica
Apartado Postal 1473-1000
San Jose, Costa Rica
Phone: +506-2520-1013
Fax: +506 2220-1951
Email: flang@centroisraelita.com , Frida Lang, Secretary
Rabbi Gershon Miletzki
There is  kosher food in the cafeteria of the Centro Israelita. (Dairy and Parve).

Guita Grynspan
Directora Ejecutiva
Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica
Tel: +506-2520-1013 ext.3
Fax: +506-2220-1951
Email: ggrynspan (at)centroisraelita.com

CHABAD OF COSTA RICA:
Jabad Lubavitch de Costa Rica
Del Banco Cuscatlan Carretera a Pavas 20 m al norte
S. Jose, 816-1007,  Costa Rica
Tel: +506-2296-6565
Fax: +506-2232-6240
Hotels within walking distance to Chabad center:
Rabbi Hershel Spalter, Mrs. Chanah Spalter, Co-Directors

Israel Embassy,  Costa Rica
Paseo Colón, Calle 38 avenida 2, Oficento Colón, Piso 11
Email: embofisr (at)racsa.co.cr

REFORM JUDAISM:
Congregación B’nei Israel – Judaísmo Reformista en Costa Rica – Reform Judaism in Costa Rica ( Liberal , Progressive)
Affiliated with World Union of Progressive Judaism – Union of Jewish Liberal Congregations of Central America and the Caribbean.
Tel. +506-2231-5243
Fax +506-2257-3308

LIBERAL JUDAISM:
Sinagoga B’nai Israel Oficinas de TORNECA
Avenida 10. Frente al Cemetario de Extranjeros

The Jewish Country Club
“Deportivo Israelita”
(2 blocks West of the Shell cas station of Pavas)

KOSHER ESTABLISHMENTS:

Kosher Burger King
PLAZA ROHRMOSER (two blocks from the orthodox synagogue)
Supervision: Rabbi Gershon Miletzki, Chief Rabbinate of Costa Rica, Glatt Kosher

Kosher Center (2 Blocks from the Orthodox synagogue)
Carretera a Pavas – South side of October 54, diagonal to La Artistica. Pavas opposite La Artistica, big red sign.
Cuisine: All Kinds of delicatessen, meats, grill, bakery.
Supervision: Rabbi Gershon Miletski Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox-Jewish
By: Harv Gmail hbinnes (at) gmail.com

HOTELS/BUSINESSES:

Barcelo San Jose Palacio
Email: Palacio (at) sol.racsa.co.cr

Autopista Prospero
Fernandez y Blvd
PO Box 11856-1000
Email: caminoreal (at)ticonet.co.cr

IMPORTANT & RETAILERS:
Corporacion Mas x Menos
Gustavo Zuniga, Import Manager
Apdo.56-1000
San José
Tel.: +506-2243-7100

Yaohan Supermarket
Jose A. Munoz, General Manager
Apdo.642-1000
San José
Tel.: +506-2223-7766

Costa Rica Medical
Calypso Cruises

ADDITIONAL POSTS
previous post: Costa Rica Property Management – Bill Paying and Maintenance
next post: Stupid, Bizarre and Lack of Common Sense Questions on Costa Rica

Comments

  1. Andres Guerra says:

    09.20.2014

    Greeting,

    looking for information regarding:
    Reform Jewish Life in Costa Rica
    commumity living / rental property in Jewish neighborhood
    Reform Jewish Synagogues Membership.
    job opportunity in health care i am a registered nurse.

    Thank You/Shalom,
    Andres

  2. Rose says:

    Hi I'm visiting in April and need a place for Shabath and Shabath dinner. I would appreciate if you can advise me how to contact.
    Thank you

  3. William Davidson says:

    Are there any synagogues or Friday services in Quepos or Manuel Antonio?  I will be here until February 6th.  Thanks
     

  4. Angie says:

    are there any jewish hostels where a gorup of students can stay while performing community service

  5. Jeremy says:

    I have a Jewish family event in Costa Rica Thursday Jan 3rd and would be grateful to visit a synangogue over Shabbat on the 4th/5th – I'm looking for any contacts who help with hospitality on Shabbat visits and would also be grateful to know if there is anyone who knows a lot about the history of the Jewish community in Costa Rica that I could meet with.

  6. Wanda says:

    Crystal…for Messianic congregations in CR, try TalkingTorah.org or 119ministries

  7. silvia portnoy says:

    Hello,
     
    Thank you for this site. I'm looking forward to meeting Jewish people.. I am also looking for Jewish Real Estate agents and Jewish neighborhoods.
     
    Best regards,
     
    Silvia Portnoy

  8. Aviva says:

    Are there Jewish real estate agents? Are there Jewish neighborhoods in Costa Rica?

    • admin says:

      Hello, you should contact some of the groups we have listed – I/m sure they can help you

  9. amir musazadeh says:

    hi i want to come in costa rica to see synago to meet people iam single looking to get married can you email me some information thanks

  10. Marsha Rimler says:

    I am interested in learning if there is a Jewish Community in Guanacaste. I live in New York City and plan to spend several months a year in Costa Rica.
    Marsha

    • admin says:

      It is best to email Rabinato De Costa Rica and Synagogue and they will have all the info you need

  11. andrew motiwalla says:

    Does anyone know any synagogues or Jewish community centers near Liberia, Costa Rica? Most places seem to be around San Jose — but I’m looking for anything within 1 hour drive from Liberia. Thank you.

  12. crystal says:

    please tell me if you know of any Messianic Jewish places of worship CR?

  13. Claude Huebsch says:

    Super post! Your style is so refreshing compared to most other writers. Thanks for writing when you get the chance to, I’ll be sure to read more!

  14. zerodtkjoe says:

    Thanks for the info

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