|Costa Rica's Main Jewish Community
Jewish immigrants from Europe began arriving in Costa Rica in the mid 1920s. The first wave came in 1925, when families from Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Austria, Romania and Hungary emigrated to Costa Rica, escaping poverty and discrimination. The second wave came in the 1940s, when Holocaust survivors reunited with their families who had reached the country before World War II.
By the late 1920s, Costa Rica's Jews had already become a close-knit community, taking care of members' religious, social and educational affairs. In 1932, the community acquired its first building in downtown San Jose. In 1934, the Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica (Jewish Zionist Center of Costa Rica) was founded as a communal entity and was formally recognized as an association in 1937.
The Centro Israelita is the principal institution of the Jewish community in Costa Rica and as such, is responsible for organizing all religious activities, charity work, Jewish formal and informal education, and organizing activities for the elderly and other communal activities. The Centro Israelita also manages the main Orthodox synagogue and the main Jewish cemetery. It is responsible for supervising and certifying Kosher food products and it is the main supplier of "Kosher for Passover" products to the community.
Today, about 600 families make up Costa Rica's main Jewish community. The Chabad Lubavitch and Reform movements also have a small presence. Additionally, several Israelis have settled in some of Costa Rica's coastal towns.
The Centro Israelita oversees many communal social institutions, providing help to those in need within the Jewish community, and also to Costa Rican society as a whole.
The main Jewish institutions operating under the umbrella of the Centro Israelita are:
Asociacion Corona de Oro (Gold Crown Association)
The Asociacion Corona de Oro was established in 1987 with the sole objective of assisting and looking after the needs and interests of the Jewish community's senior citizens. Its main facilities are located within the Centro Israelita's main building. The association provides activities and programs for the elderly, designed and supervised by professionals in the field.
Asociacion Damas Israelitas Pro Beneficiencia (Association of Jewish Ladies for Charity)This group was established in 1952 and is dedicated to raising and channeling funds towards specific projects to help the needy in Costa Rica, focusing primarily on disabled citizens, children, teenagers and senior citizens. Projects have ranged from building hundreds of homes for low-income families to donating medical equipment to dozens of hospitals and medical centers to distributing toys in impoverished suburbs of San Jose.
B'nai B'rith de Costa Rica
In May 1957, 25 members of the Jewish Community founded the Costa Rica 2094 Lodge of B'nai B'rith. The lodge worked on charitable projects (financing homes for individuals with limited economic resources, aiding orphans); organized fundraisers; honored local personalities; provided conferences and courses on education and culture; and organized joint activities with the Christian community. Although the lodge became inactive during the 1980s, community members are currently working to re-activate this group.
Cementerio Israelita (Jewish Cemetery)
In April 1931, the Jewish cemetery was officially opened on the grounds where it operates today. In the same year, the first organized community group was formed to manage the cemetery and provide the services required under Jewish Law. An all-volunteer Chevra Kadisha (Holy Society) has been operational for 75 years.
Comite Yad Vashem (Yad Vashem Committee)The Yad Vashem Committee was founded in August 1978 with the goal of building a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The monument is located at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery. The group holds an annual commemorative act on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day).
Deportivo Israelita (Jewish Sports Club)The Deportivo Israelita was built in 1964 to offer members of all age groups a place to congregate, to practice sports and to hold cultural activities. Since its inception, the Club has been managed as a private entity where members pay monthly dues. About 500 families are active members. The club features three swimming pools, a soccer field, basketball and tennis courts, an outdoor Jacuzzi, locker rooms with saunas and steam baths, a kosher restaurant and ample garden areas for socializing.
Hanoar Hatzioni de Costa Rica
Hanoar Hatzioni is a Zionist youth organization that reinforces Jewish identity and Zionist values. It is intended to work as a barrier against assimilation. Community children and young adults aged 9 and older meet every Friday night and Saturday afternoon. They are guided by a professional envoy sent from Israel and an elected group of leaders. Upon high school graduation, the Hanoar Hatzioni offers a one year Hajshara plan for young adults. Participants travel to Israel for a year where they participate in seminars and activities around the country.
First published in May 1985, Hayom is the monthly publication of the Costa Rica Jewish Community. It is the primary media outlet for news, articles and discussion on different topics that concern the local community. Circulation is free to members of the Centro Israelita.
Instituto Dr. Haim Weizman (Dr. Haim Weizman Institute)
Founded in 1960 and named after Israel's first president, the Haim Weizman Institute is the only formal Jewish school in Costa Rica. The school is recognized by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education. The institute offers a full academic curriculum, plus courses in Jewish Identity and Religion and Hebrew, and includes pre-school, primary and secondary schools.
An Israel-based fundraising organization, Keren Hayesod seeks to bring underprivileged families to Israel and support the State of Israel.
Museo de la Comunidad Judia de Costa Rica (Museum of the Costa Rica Jewish Community)
The non-profit Museum is a cultural and educational entity, whose mission to collect, document, preserve and interpret documents pertaining to both the world and Costa Rican Jewish communities. The museum was inaugurated in September 2005, after 10 years of planning, organizing and collecting the historic and cultural documentation. The exhibits cover subjects such as Jewish culture and religion and the arrival of Jews to Costa Rica. A room is dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims.
WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization)Costa Rica's WIZO chapter was established in 1940, and it quickly became an important association for charitable and cultural events. The chapter is divided into diverse age groups and its main goal is to work towards the continuity of the Jewish people and the stability of the State of Israel.