Peru’s “Jews of the Jungle” Receive Rabbi

Peru’s “Jews of the Jungle” Receive Rabbi

The emerging Jewish community of Tarapoto, located in the heart of the Peruvian jungle region, now has its first rabbi thanks to the Shavei Israel organization.

Comprising several hundred people, the Tarapoto community consists of descendants of Moroccan Jews who migrated to the area in the late 19th century. Settling in towns in Peru’s Amazon basin such as Iquitos in the 1880s, many became involved in local trade and commerce. From there they spread out to other parts of the country’s northern interior, such as Tarapoto.
“Assimilation and intermarriage took a heavy toll on the Moroccan Jews who chose to remain in the area,” noted Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund. “Now, however, their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren have begun to return to their Jewish roots.”

Known as the City of Palms, Tarapoto is located adjacent to the Andes Mountains, over 600 kilometers north of Lima, Peru’s capital. Many of the town’s Jewish descendants still bear distinctly Jewish names, such as Ben-Zaken, Ben-Shimon and Cohen.
The community is well-organized, and its members include doctors, lawyers, architects and academics who work at the local university. They gather for regular Sabbath and holiday prayers.
Last year, while on a visit to Peru, Freund met with the leaders and members of the Tarapoto community, who asked him to consider sending them a rabbi who could teach them more about their Jewish heritage.

Freund took up the challenge, and a Spanish-speaking rabbi arrived in Tarapoto last week, where he will begin conducting classes, services and other educational and outreach activities.
“It is remarkable that even in the remotest corners of the Peruvian jungle, the pintele Yid (Yiddish for the spark of Jewishness) inside every Jew continues to live on,” Freund said. “No matter how far a Jewish soul may have wandered, the fact is that it will eventually find its way back home to its Land and its people.”