Ecuador's Jewish community responds to Assange arguments

Those watching the Julian Assange coverage over the last week may have idly wondered, where is Ecuador? Do I know anything about Ecuador? Or, more importantly, does Ecuador have a Jewish community?

The JC is here to help.

First, Ecuador is in the north west of south America, bordered by Colombia to the north and Peru to the east and south. Second, the Ecuadorian national dishes are ceviche (marinated seafood) and roast guinea-pig, both lamentably non-kosher.

And third, yes, indeed Ecuador has a Jewish community.

Rabbi Tomer Roten of the small Orthodox synagogue, Baruch Hashem, in the centre of Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, estimates that there are 1,000 Jews in Ecuador and “every day there are more.

“The rabbinate in Israel, they say I am the Chief Rabbi of Ecuador,” he says, sounding somewhat surprised. “We are in the centre of town, and half an hour outside town there is the Conservative congregation.”

This is the formidable Communidad de Judia de Ecuador, a triumph in pale stone, built in 2000, which claims 600 members, as well as an indoor swimming pool, tennis courts and a football field. The provision of facilities is an attempt to combat the depletion of the non-Orthodox Jewish community.

The number of Jews in the country was at its peak of 4,000 in the 1950s and, despite Rabbi Roten’s assertions, has been shrinking ever since. There is only one other synagogue, a new Orthodox congregation in Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.

Most of the current population are Second World War refugees refugees and their descendants, many arriving from Germany on the Koenigstein ship in 1939. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Latin America representative, Sergio Widder, says Ecuador has a unique relationship with Jews and Israel.

As a member of the Alba bloc which includes Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela, he says Ecuador “has a strong anti-Israel stance” and “Iran is looking to deepen its ties with the country”.

But unlike Venezuela and Bolivia, it has yet to eject its Israeli ambassadors. And, Mr Widder says: “There is, unlike Venezuela, no state-sponsored antisemitism”.

In fact, a conference of Latin American Jewish Communities is due to be held in Quito this November. Mr Assange is unlikely to attend.

Last updated: 10:57am, August 23 2012