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October 14, 1977 - Image 12

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-10-14

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

12 Friday, October 14, 1977

Caribbean's Largest Jewish Community Prospers in Puerto Rico

By WARREN FREEDMAN
This American Com-
monwealth, just 885 miles
southeast of Florida, has
unfortunately no venerable
synagogue, no ancient cem-
etery and no early Jewish
settlement. But Puerto
Rico's 2,000 Jews do con-
stitute the largest Jewish

community in the
Caribbean.
History records that Mar-
rano Jews from the
Balearic Islands may have
settled here in 1520. Some of
their descendants, being
Catholic, still observe such
Jewish traditions as lighting
candles on Friday evening!
Probably the first Jewish
congregation was organized
in 1889 in the city of Ponce
by Rabbi Adolph Spiegel,
who conducted Rosh Hash-
ana services for the Ameri-
can military forces. The
synagogue was located in a
telephone exchange
building.
From 1900 to the early
1920's, there were individual
Jews in Puerto Rico but no
community and no congre-
gation. The family of
Charles Gans came from
Connecticut and established
a cigar factor,y on the island
in 1899. Milton Farber and
Nathaniel Namerow were

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also early settlers in Puerto
Rico.

A number of East
European Jews, unable to
gain admittance to the
United States after the 1924
immigration quota law
became operative, took up
residence in Puerto Rico,
while awaiting entry to the
mainland. However, after
learning Spanish, many of
these Jews - stayed and set-
tled their families here.
Among these arrivals were
Simon Benus and Aaron
Levine, who built up a chain
of department stores
throughout the island.

While an organized Jew-
ish community did not come
into being until World, War
II, individual Jews have
made notable contributions
to Puerto Rico's progress
from 1900 to 1935. After
Spain ceded the island to
the United States, President
McKinley named Leo Stan-
ton Rowe (1871-1946), later
director-general of the Pan
American Union, to codify
Puerto Rico's laws.
(Prof. Rowe was profes=
sor of political science at
the University of Pennsylva-
nia, 1909-1917; assistant sec-
retary of the U.S. Treasury,
1917-18; and chief of the
Latin American Division of
the U.S. State Department,
1919-20.)
Jacob Hollander, a profes-
sor of economics at Johns
Hopkins University in Balti-
more, organized the island's
revenue system as the first
treasurer of the Puerto
Rican government. Louis
Sulzbacher was a justice of
Puerto Rico's first supreme
court and an early exponent
of American citizenship for
Puerto Ricans.

The present JewiSh com-
munity in Puerto Rico dates
back truly to 1900 when a
number of East European
and American Jews settled
here, principally in San
Juan and neighboring San-
turce. But it was not until
1942 that the present Jewish
community was established.
(After the Castro revolution
in 1959, about 150 Cuban
Jewish families came to
Puerto Rico.) The first reli-
gious school was opened in
1952.

Until 1955, the commu-
nity's religious leadership
was provided by part-time
Jewish chaplains on duty at
Ramey Air Force Base and
the Roosevelt Roads Naval
Station and by Rabbi
Nathan Witkin, the JWB-
USO field director in the
Panama Canal Zone. In
1953, the community pur-
chased an old mansion once
owned by a Nazi sympa-
thizer and converted it into
the Jewish Community Cen-
ter and Shaare Zedek
Synagogue.
Today the Conservative
synagogue, Shaare Zedek, is
located at 903 Ponce de
Leon Ave., Santurce. It's
membership is more than
300 families; Rabbi Martin
I. Sandberg leads the
congregation.

The Jewish Community
Center is in the same build-
ing at 903 Ponce de Leon
Ave. in Santurce, and has a
membership of less than
1,000 persons. Here is the
Morris Rothenberg Memo-
rial Library — named after
the president of the Zionist
Organization of America,
1932-1936. The president I
the Puerto Rican Jewish
Community Center is Salo-
mon Gold.
There also is a small
Reform congregation,
Temple Beth Shalom,
founded in 1967, at Loiza
and San Jorge St., Santurce.
The local Bnai Brith lodge
was founded in 1964; and,
before his death, Nathan
Leopold of the Loeb-Leopold
murder case was a mem-
ber. Among other places of
Jewish interest in Puerto
Rico is La Casa del Libro
(House of the Book) at 255
Cristo St. in Old San Juan.

This government-spon-
sored library of rare books
and fine printing was
founded in 1955 by the late
Dr. Elber Adler, an Ameri-
can Jew who was a noted
book collector and typogra-

French Extend
Invite to Begin

PARIS (JTA )—Former
French Premier Jacques
Chaban-Delm as flew to
Israel last week to formally
invite Premier Menahem
Begin to off ically visit
France. Chaban-Delmas,
one of France's main Gaull-
ist leaders, undertook this
mission at the personal
request of President Valery
Giscard d'Estaing.
French sources say Gis-
card d'Estaing wanted to
extend France's invitation
to Begin in a "high-level
and yet friendly way." The
sources say the exact date
for Begin's visit will be
decided upon by the Israeli
Premier but that Paris
hopes the visit will take
place before the end of this
year, probably some time
next month.
The French government
last year invited then-Pre-
mier Yitzhak Rabin to
France and _ has since
renewed the invitation to
Begin. Israeli diplomats
privately say Begin felt
France should extend a per-
sonal invitation and not con-
tent itself with renewing the
outstanding one

Israel Tourism Up

JERUSALEM (JTA)-
Some 747.700 tourists
arrived in Israel from Janu-
ary to September, a rise of
24 percent compared to the
same period last year, the
Central Bureau of Statistics
said last week. The main
increase. 50 percent. was in
the number of tourists corn-
ing on boat - cruises.

"There has never been a
statue erected to sae memo-
ry of someone who let well
enough alone."
—Jules Ellinger

phical expert. His bequest of
$100,000 to the library in
1963 remains the largest

single gift ever made to a
Puerto Rican cultural
institution (His namesake
Elkan Nathan Adler (1861-
1946) was a lawyer, also a
bibliophile and collector of
Hebrew manuscripts. Elkan
Adler was a world traveler
who acquired on his exten-
sive journeys the greatest
Hebrew library in private
hands in the world. His col-
lection of 5,000 manuscripts
is in the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America in
New York City. Elkan
Adler's father was the chief
rabbi of the British Empire
from 1845 to 1890) ; and
Levittown, a major housing
development on a 500-acre
tract, six miles across San

Juan Bay from Old San
Juan; the area is named for
the New York Jewish
developer.

On the offshore island of
Isla Verde there is a small
Reform congregation. also
dating back to World War
II.
Kosher food' can be pur-
chased at Pueblo Super-
markets and at Deli-Fare
(corner of Ashford and De
Diego Ayes., Santurce).

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