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The history of the Uruguayan Jewish community began towards the latter part of the eighteenth century when the country became more tolerant, allowing for continued Jewish residence beginning in the nineteenth-century. In 1909 there were 150 Jews living in Montevideo and in 1917, the city's first synagpgue was opened. In 1918 there were some 1,700 Jews in Uruguay, 75% of them Sephardim (from the Balkans, Syria, Cyprus, Morocco, Egypt, Greece, Turkey and France). The remainder of Uruguay's Jewish population came from Eastern Europe (mostly from Russia, Poland and Lithuania).

At the outset of World War II, Uruguay imposed immigration quotas. Nevertheless, in 1939 some 2,200 Jews fleeing Europe succeeded in entering the country, mostly from Germany, as did an additional 373 Jews who arrived in 1940. After the war, Jews from Hungary and from the Middle East also sought refuge in the Uruguay.

At the 1920 San Remo Conference, Uruguay supported Jewish aspirations stated in the Balfour Declaration. In 1947, it voted for the establishment of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), which included a staunchly pro-Zionist delegate from Uruguay. Uruguay was the first Latin American country, to recognize the State of Israel. Montevideo was the first Latin American capital (and fourth globally) in which Israel established a diplomatic mission. Uruguay was also one of the few nations willing to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It opposed the proposed internationalization of the city in 1949 and upgraded the diplomatic representation in Jerusalem to the status of an embassy in 1958. It was subsequently downgraded to the status of consulate, however, due to external pressure.

Although in severe decline, there is currently an active Jewish community in Montevideo. In the period between 1998-2003, more than half of the community's 40,000 Jews emigrated - mostly to Israel. Today, 20,000 Jews live in Uruguay, with 95% residing in Montevideo. In the wake of the recent Latin American economic crisis, Uruguayan Jews have grown increasingly dependent. The World Zionist Congress as well declared in June 2002 that Uruguay's Jewish community was in a state of emergency. The JDC released a study stating that 22 percent of the country's adult Jewish population is "poor" and 40.5 percent is "vulnerable." However, much less aid is coming into Uruguay and no external educational funding program exists for Jewish, Uruguayan children. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and local Jewish organizations have also undertaken the task of helping to provide assistance to this community.

Despite the increase in emigration of Jews from Uruguay to Israel and elsewhere as well as high assimilations rates, there still exists an organized communal structure in Uruguay known as the Israelite Central Committee. Zionist youth groups such as the national-religious Bnai Akiva, the socialist HaShomer HaTzair, HaNoar HaTzioni, and the Revisionist Betar have been known to give youth education. These organizations, like the community itself are in decline and require continued and sustained assistance.

Jewish Education in Montevideo, Uruguay

Until December 2007, Montevideo had three, well-functioning Jewish private schools. Recent economic constraints however, led to the closure of Ariel, one of the city's Jewish institutions. The two remaining day schools are the Escuela Integral Hebreo Uruguaya (EIHU) - a pluralistic, Zionist institution including nursery, primary and secondary levels and Yavneh - the orthodox community-school, also including nursery, primary and secondary education.

The EIHU has 900 students and recently absorbed the majority of students from Ariel. Yavneh has approximately 300 students. Both institutions comply with national education requisites and provide a high level of Jewish and secular education. Both institutions are in serious need of economic support as the number of students requiring scholarship assistance stands at approximately half of the community's Jewish children.

There is currently no other organization dedicated to providing scholarship funds for needy children in Uruguay.

In December 2007, Michael Ettedgui, of Yaldeinu visited the Jewish schools of Montevideo, forging working relationships with their administrations. Yaldeinu currently has a framework for assisting the educational needs of the Uruguayan Jewish community, including scholarship programs and religious instruction.

 

 

 

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