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At least one secret Jew, Louis de Torres, sailed with Columbus, and Columbus’ voyage was financed by Spanish Jews.Puerto Rico was formally incorporated as a colony of Spain in 1508, which made it off limits to any potential Jewish settlers under pain of death.
Many of these early refugees were Holocaust survivors who’d been living in Cuba, and now found a safe haven in the US Territory.
When the United States won Puerto Rico from Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Jews for the first time were allowed to live openly on the island.
The first openly Jewish residents were American servicemen fighting in the territory; roughly 5,000 American Jewish soldiers fought in the Spanish-American War.
A small handful of these soldiers remained in Puerto Rico and formed the core of a nascent Jewish community in the southern town of Ponce. Noah Shepard served as an unofficial leader of this group, and Rabbi Adolph Spiegel, who had served in the US forces, remained in Ponce for several years.
Many of these Jewish former servicemen worked in Puerto Rico’s administration, helping to create its legal code and court system, and worked in public health to help eradicate tropical diseases from the island.
Part of the Commonwealth’s unique history is its extensive Jewish ties, going back centuries.
Here are seven facts about Jews and Puerto Rico, and information about how you can help the island now.About 200 Israelis came to the island and built a state of the art educational farm on 2,000 acres in the Santa Isabel region in the south of the island.In time, they named their innovative farm “Gan Eden”, Hebrew for the Garden of Eden.Yoav Cohen and his daughter “Gan Eden” developed Puerto Rico’s first commercial mango orchard and a vegetable farm.Currently run by the Israeli agronomist Yoav Cohen, the farm sells mangoes in Europe and a range of produce including papayas, squash, cucumbers and peppers in the US.The island’s Chabad center offers a kosher restaurant and catering, serving over 30,000 meals annually. After a high in the 1990s, the community has been declining. As people struggle to deliver resources to the island, Puerto Rico’s Jewish community, itself battered by the storm, has been coordinating aid.