The first Jews who came to Bolivia were Marranos, some of whom worked in the silver mines in Potosi. Others helped start the city of Santa Cruz. Today there are still some families in the area who have the custom to light candles on Friday night and to sit on the floor when in mourning. These are probably echoes of Marrano ancestors.
There was an influx of Jews to Bolivia in 1905. Russian Jews, followed by Jews from Argentina, Turkey and a few other places showed up in trickles. By 1933 there were perhaps 30 Jewish Families. With the war in Europe, more Jews arrived, fleeing the Nazi regime. Most Jews were originally settled in La Paz, but some of the new arrivals started spreading around the country.
There were some visa issues, as the government initially granted Jews agricultural visas but then found that the Jews in Bolivia were engaging mostly in commerce.
In the 1950s there was political instability in Bolivia and many Jews began to leave.
Most of Bolivia’s Jews now live in the capital, La Paz. There are also communities in Cochababmba and in Santa Cruz.
I spent close to three months in Bolivia, including a Shavout in La Paz and a Shabbat in Cochabamba. The community in Cochabamba was incredibly warm. Like in other parts of South America, I found older people who spoke Yiddish. My davening as chazzan with a strong Yiddish accent mad the older people cry as it brought back memories.
The Chabad house in La Paz is run by Rabbi Yotam and his wife. Expect loads of Israelis and delicious kosher food on Shabbat and at the restaurant.
Bolivia is by far one of my favorite places. There is so much to see and do, one could spend a year there.
There is a Chabad house. I’m not sure of its current address. There is also a chabad house in Rurrenabaque.
Check for current locations before you go. These chabad houses do not operate under the main umbrella of Chabad and therefore may not be found on chabad.org
Circulo Israelita de Bolivia (Shabat Morning Services)
Obrajes, Calle 1 No 307, PO Box 1545 Tel: (2) 278 5083
Communidad Israelita Synagogue
Calle Canada Stronguest 1846, PO Box 2198 (Friday night services are held here)
Calle Junin y Calle Colombia, Casillia 349