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February 19, 1988 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-02-19

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nesses and became productive mem-
bers of the Managuan middle class.
They did not experience major pro-
blems of anti-Semitism.
Though too small to support a
rabbi, the community maintained a
synagogue and conducted regular
worship services, bringing in a rabbi
for holidays and special occasions.
Their small meeting house crumbled
in the devastating earthquake of
1972, which destroyed the entire ci-
ty, leaving 13,000 dead and nearly
200,000 homeless. (Though thousands
of dollars in relief were sent to
Nicaragua, the money was pocketed
by Somoza. lbday, 15 years later,
Managua is still in ruins.)
In 1976, in anticipation of a long
life for the Jewish population in
Nicaragua, the Jewish community
built a new synagogue. At the time of
its construction, the Sandinistas were
busy gathering support to create a
revolution and overthrow Somoza.
But the Jews, who had enjoyed good
relations with the dictator, were un-
willing to forget the Somozas' strong

evening services were underway, an
incendiary device (some claim it was
a Molotov cocktail) was hurled at the
Managuan synagogue, igniting its
wooden doors. When worshippers at-
tempted to exit through the side door,
they were faced with a carload of
armed men pointing guns in their
direction who ordered them back in-
side. Eventually the unidentified at-
tackers fled and the fire was ex-
tinguished. Despite reports to the con-
trary, the building was not destroyed
and no one was injured.
But the incident underscored the
changes taking place in Nicaragua,
changes that would directly affect the
Jewish community.
As fighting between the leftist
Sandinistas and Somoza's corrupt na-
tional guard reached its climax in the
humidity of July 1979, several Jews
fled into exile along with thousands
of other rich and influential people
close to the regime. Most went to
Costa Rica and Miami. The syna-
gogue's two Torahs were taken out of
the country for safekeeping. One is



Cooking utensils in a corner of the synagogue.

The Sandinistas vehemently deny
such claims, stating that any confisca-
tion of property was undertaken in
the name of the revolution and was by
no means directed towards the Jews.
On several occasions it has been
falsely reported in the Western press
that the synagogue of Managua was
burned down. Soon after the revolu-
tion began, the building was con-
verted temporarily into a Sandinista
youth center and then abandoned.

The Huembes children watch television.

support for Israel and were deterred
from working towards Somoza's over-
The Jewish community's close
ties with Somoza left many of them
labeled by the Sandinistas as Somo-
cistas. This, along with word in the
late '70s of Israel's secret arms ship-
ments to Somoza, made the Nicara-
guan Jews targets of Sandinista
In December 1978, as Friday

now in a North Miami synagogue
and the second is in the synagogue in
San Jose, Costa Rica.
Once Gen. Anastosia Somoza was
deposed and the Sandinistas siezed
power, some Jews returned; most did
not. The abandoned property of some
of these Jews was confiscated under
the new government laws — including
the synagogue.
The exiled Jews of Nicaragua
claim they never abandoned the

synagogue and still have hopes of
returning. "We left Nicaragua
because of Sandinista anti-Semitism,"
said Fred Luft, who served as the con-
gregation's secretary and now lives in
Miami. "We left behind two paid
caretakers who were living in the
building. They were both 'taken care
of' by the Sandinistas who forced
them out of the building so they could
claim it as 'abandoned' and use it for
their own purposes."

Now it is the home of the
Huembes family, a family that, like
most others in Nicaragua, suffers
from a war that is chewing up the
country and spitting it out to rot in
the hot winter sun. The Sandinista
government fights to hold onto its
socialist revolution and the United
States-backed Contras aim to de-
stabilize and destroy it. The war con-
sumes half of Nicaragua's budget.
The economy has collapsed.
The results of this war are
everywhere — from the overcrowded
hospitals to the hungry Huembes
children in the synagogue.
Indeed, times are still bad in
Nicaragua, where the main focus is
no longer the future of the San-
dinista's revolution. Rather, the peo-
ple are interested in food, clothing
and peace, all of which are in short
supply in this war-weary country of
three million people — Central
America's largest and most thinly
populated country.
As for politics, the situation here
is by no means black and white. It
isn't the good guys against the bad
guys. Those who don't support the
Sandinista government don't neces-
sarily support the Contras. Most peo-
ple are somewhere in the middle. The
common denominator is the will for
peace. Signs, posters and art work all
over the country bear the same
phrase: Nicaragua quiere paz —

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