We've decided to follow Friday's post about the Jews of Sweden with another segment in our (unofficial) ongoing series, "Jews Around the World." Today: Peru!
Yesterday's New York Times featured a story about Iquitos, a city in the Peruvian rainforest. According to Wikipedia "it is the most populous city in the world that cannot be reached by road." Established by Jesuit missionaries in the 1750s, Iquitos welcomed its first Jews (from places such as Morocco, Gibraltar, Malta, England, and France) in the late 19th century when the area saw a huge economic boom spurred on by the rubber industry. When rubber plant seeds were smuggled out of the Loreto Region and into other countries, however, the city's prosperity lurched to a halt. As for the Jewish population (which consisted mainly of entrepreneurial men), some died of cholera and other diseases, some returned to their countries of origin, and some married local women and raised families but, due to their isolation from Jewish religious and cultural outlets, largely assimilated.
But in the past decade, hundreds of descendents of these original pioneers have reclaimed their Jewish heritage: most among those have moved to Israel. Ronald Reátegui Levy, a local man who has been active in reviving the Jewish community of Iquitos, reflects on his rededication to Judaism after living so long with only a vague concept of his ethnicity. “When I was a child, my mother told me something that forever burned into my mind,” he said. “She told me, ‘You are a Jew, and you are never to forget that.’ ”