The Dorsa and Migration:
One of the minimal successes of the Evian Conference was the creation of the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA) which was founded with the aid of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or JOINT) and the American Joint Agricultural Corp (AGROJOINT). It was through DORSA that the rights of the Jewish settlers were defined. According to legislation passed by the Dominican Parliament, migration procedures were expedited, tax and customs exemptions were implemented.. DORSA then became the representative organization of the Jews in the DR. It bought land on behalf of the Jews, distributed it among the settlers and administered the funds donated by parent institutions.

The migration of Jews to the Dominican Republic was hampered from the beginning. The war in Europe, scarcity of travel on the high seas, along with bureaucratic obstacles, made it difficult for Jews to make their way to the Caribbean. Between 1939 and 1942 the DR issued around 5,000 entry visas, but only about 600 Jews made their way to the Caribbean country. After the end of WWII a few more Jews who had been stuck in Shanghai during the war also arrived to the DR. In all about 705 Jews had passed through the Dominican Republic.

Sosua: The Jewish Settlement
The DR’s Jewish settlement was located in the northern part of the island in an almost completely uninhabited region called Sosua. A majority of the new immigrants were around 25 years old and were witnesses to the gruesome situation in Europe. By 1947 only about half of the 705 Jews who originally came to the DR remained. Dictator Trujillo sold the remaining Jews in the DR 22,230 acres of land in the northern region of the DR and the hope was that the Jews would develop the agricultural sector in that part of the country. But a 1947 census revealed that of the 363 remaining Jews in Sosua only 167 worked in agriculture and that the remaining 60% were more adept to commerce and finance. Still the settlement took brave steps in embracing a small opportunity and turning it into a way of life. The village, through hard work and dedication, became a small model. The town had its own water works system, sanitation system, clinic, pharmacy, school, library, synagogue, theater, newspaper, shops and even a small bank. In fact, Productos Sosua, a cooperative formed in the early days of the Jewish community in the DR, is part of the legacy of the Jews in the DR and currently one of the nation’s largest meat and dairy producers. The Sosuan model was representative of the spirit of this community and its members to survive and prosper. The Sosuan Jews delved into other industries and integrated themselves into the regional and national community, regardless of the historical and cultural backgrounds. The population of the once uninhabited community grew strong with some of the Sosuan Jews getting married.

By the 1960’s Sosua began to slowly change its economic model, facing the reality of the times. The amount of Jews in Sosua by 1963 was only 163. Though a majority of merchants and businessmen maintained strong communal ties there was a collective move towards independent ventures by the community’s members. The land of Sosua was eventually parceled out among the community’s members. Through the 1970’s Sosua was still an isolated small town considerably out of reach, but by 1980 the town finally got connected to the national road system with the construction of paved roads and the inauguration of an airport in Puerto Plata; with this a new era in the history of Sosua began. Instead of being a wholly Jewish settlement Sosua would become a new tourist destination for the developing Dominican tourist market. In 1990, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Jewish settlement in Sosua the Jewish Community held a number of ceremonies which counted on the participation of many former citizens of this small town. It was during these events that the Jewish Museum was dedicated. In 2003, after a long renovation process, the synagogue and the adjacent Museum were reopened.

The synagogue in SD
The synagogue in Santo Domingo was built in 1958 and soon will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. The synagogue was built with the cooperation of the JDC.
Currently the synagogue in Santo Domingo has 60 dues paying families and services are held every Friday evening (some Saturday mornings), and every Thursday morning. Every Jewish Holiday is celebrated and well over 160 adults attend New Year and Yom Kippur Services. There is a children’s after-school for three different age groups and a weekly Torah lesson for adults (Mondays, 8.00pm). Boys and girls are prepared for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah and several cultural activities such as Communal Shabbat Dinners, movie screenings, Judaism/Hebrew lessons are part of activities offered. Service is conducted in Hebrew with few Spanish insertions. Separate seating is maintained, (no Mehitza, though) and no microphone. Because Kosher meat or poultry need to be imported, only Dairy or Parve food is served on the premises. Kosher Certifications to exporters are offered, in coordination with one of the world’s most respected supervision establishments. The synagogue represents one of the leading international Kosher Certification institutions and serves the Dominican food export industrial sector. Kosher meats and other products are regularly imported, every 6 weeks from Florida, thus satisfying the needs of interested families. Though in some cases Kosher food is occasionally found in the better supermarkets. For over sixty years there has also been a Jewish Cemetery; the community also assists the supervised repatriation services for the remains of Jews who need to be interred in other countries. Huppah services are offered to foreign couples, in coordination with the event planners at their resort of choice. Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration programs for overseas families are also offered. And there is also Tzedakaw (charity) care for the indigent, striving to respect their dignity. There are also cooperation programs for the education of needy children in the city. There have been several attempts to establish Kosher vacations programs at various hotels, but have not persevered past their initial difficulties.

Acceptance by the Dominicans
Since their arrival in the DR Jews have been accepted wholeheartedly by Dominicans and have been treated with respect and as equal citizens of the DR. Chicole Ghitis, the Religious Director of the synagogue in Santo Domingo speaks proudly of the strides made by the Jewish community in the DR to fully integrate, though his hope is to integrate more. He adds that Dominicans have always been sympathetically curious of Jews, and their customs, but have always been respectful towards them. Currently there are about 300 Jews in the DR, with a majority of them living in Santo Domingo and a few still residing in Sosua. And though Dominican Jews have maintained a low profile, never making too much noise, this policy is changing. Ghitis is responsible for increased Jewish-Christian dialogue and cites Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez as one of his friends and allies. The goal of the synagogue and the DR’s Jews is to continue growing and continue providing the community with what they need. The hope is to strengthen the community by importing Jews to live in the DR, but in the meantime it’s the goal of those involved to make it work, as they’ve made it work for three quarters of a century.
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