Rabbi Arthur Segal – Jewish Weddings – Hilton Head


Wednesday, June 7, 2017



A standard Dominican breakfast is a mix of mashed plantain, fried eggs, slices of deep-fried cheese, and circular slabs of crispy, fried andstrangely addictive

 Jewish based salami.

I was sitting at a hotel cafe in the Dominican city of La Romana, when the waitress slid my breakfast plate in front of me. It was a plato típico, the standard Dominican breakfast that came free with my stay. Looking down at the heavy mix of mashed mangú (plantain), fried eggs, slices of deep-fried cheese, and circular slabs of crispy, fried and strangely addictive salami, it seemed the last thing I should be eating on a sweltering day. I’d only been in the DR for a few days, but I knew by now that this was breakfast. It was served everywhere, almost every day, and it was downright delicious.

Salami was served almost every day, and it was downright delicious

Salami is a Dominican staple. It’s eaten cubed in spaghetti with tomato sauce, stewed with peppers and onions, tossed in rice and sliced thick and deep fried. I’d been served it every one of those ways over my trip. It was extremely tasty, but I was still a little baffled. How, I wondered, had a processed meat become such a staple?

Some of salami’s popularity is due to cost: it’s cheap. Another reason is environmental. Unreliable electricity and a lack of refrigeration put fully-cooked proteins in high demand. But when I asked an American doctor who’d worked in the DR for decades about the salami craze, he said that there was another reason, one that involves two dictatorships, deep racism, human ingenuity and World War II.

Salami is a Dominican staple eaten cubed in spaghetti, stewed with peppers and onions, and sliced thick and deep-fried (Credit: Credit: William Ragosta/Alamy)

Salami is a Dominican staple eaten cubed in spaghetti, stewed with peppers and onions, and sliced thick and deep-fried (Credit: William Ragosta/Alamy)

Over the years, I asked both Dominican friends and strangers about the cryptic lead, but no one knew what I was talking about. It wasn’t until I overheard talk of a small Jewish community in the northern city of Sosúa that I had a real trail to follow. That tip led me to the Sosúa Virtual Museum,[we went here in

 person] an online historical archive of a small community of settlers in Sosúa as told through its current and former residents, their children, and its creator, Sylvia Schwarz.

Schwarz explained that she is the child of European Jews, but she grew up in the Dominican Republic. When her parents, Egon and Hildegard, moved to the DR in 1947, they were trading one regime for another – but this one wanted them there.

European Jews were trading one regime for another – but this one wanted them

At the 1938 Evian Conference, a convening of the leaders of 32 nations and numerous private organizations to discuss the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the rapidly spreading Nazi regime, Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina stood out as the only world leader willing to accept a significant number of those seeking asylum.

But his reasons were political, not humanitarian. Trujillo had massacred tens of thousands of Haitians over six days in October 1937, an event English speakers call the ‘parsley massacre’, Dominicans call el corte (the cutting) and Haitians remember as kout kout-a (the stabbing). Regardless of name, it was a vicious attempt at the same sort of ethnic cleansing that was happening in Europe, and Trujillo was in serious need of a positive public relations boost.

In 1938, Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina agreed to accept up to 100,000 Jews into his country (Credit: Credit: Three Lions Stringer/Getty Images)

In 1938, Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina agreed to accept up to 100,000 Jews into his country (Credit: Three Lions Stringer/Getty Images)

Trujillo was obsessed with whiteness. He saw the island of Hispaniola as a physical polarisation between light and dark, and his mission was to keep the darkness at bay. Known for powdering his own skin to appear whiter, Trujillo saw the exodus of Jewish people from Eastern Europe in the time between Hitler’s rise to power and the closing of the borders as an opportunity to further his racial agenda. At the conference, Trujillo agreed to accept up to 100,000 Jews into his country, hoping that they would procreate with Dominican women, who would then give birth to lighter-skinned babies.

This was an opportunity to survive that couldn’t be passed up

Despite these dark motives, his offer was an opportunity to survive that couldn’t be passed up. The DR issued approximately 5,000 visas to European Jews between the Evian Conference and 1944, but due to travel issues, political tensions and some uncertainty about relocating to the Caribbean nation, fewer than 1,000 Jews ever made it to the DR. Those that did were given land and livestock, and the opportunity to start rebuilding their lives.

Egon and Hildegard met as refugees in Shanghai in 1938. He had fled Vienna and she, Berlin. They spent nine years in China, including time in a Japanese-run concentration camp, before being granted visas to the DR. By the time they arrived in 1947, the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA), a programme of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), had built a small but thriving community on a former banana plantation in Sosúa on the island’s northern coast. It was nicknamed El Batey, a Caribbean term for the residential areas where plantation workers live.

Sosúa is a small but thriving community on the Dominican Republic s northern coast (Credit: Credit: World Pictures/Alamy)

Sosúa is a small but thriving community on the Dominican Republic’s northern coast (Credit: World Pictures/Alamy)

Like Egon and Hildegard, many of the refugees were successful professionals in their home countries, and the community quickly became economically powerful. CILCA, a dairy cooperative, and Ganadera, a meat cooperative, were created and funded by DORSA, but their success was built on the tenacity and business savvy of the settlers. By pooling their expertise and bringing in consultants from Europe, they were able to create high-quality European-style cheeses, butter that was voted the nation’s best, award-winning sausages and salamis that were sold around the country under the name Productos Sosúa (Sosúa Products).

Dominican food is a mix of Spanish, African and indigenous Taíno influences. Beans, stews, and starches like rice, plantains and yucca form a foundation that is absorbent and easy to build upon. Sausage certainly existed in the DR before the Jewish community arrived, but by offering cooked salami similar to bologna, they were able to capitalise on the novelty of their products while also meshing with the existing cuisine.


By the 1960s, the Sosúa community was selling millions of dollars USD in meat and dairy products each year. Their salami, especially, became so popular that other processed-meat businesses, like Dominican-owned Induveca, still a leader in the country today, also began to thrive. But even as the Jewish community grew in influence, they tended to keep together in tight-knit religious and cultural communities that still exist today (much to Trujillo’s chagrin).  The salami made at Ganadera was by no means Glat Kosher, and many of the Jewish families who settled in Sosúa raised pigs. “They didn’t stay Kosher,” Schwarz said of her parents. “After you almost died of hunger, whatever you can find to eat you eat, and you don’t care if it’s Kosher or not.”

A small synagogue, a Jewish cemetery and a few Jewish families remain in Sosúa (Credit: Credit: Nik Wheeler/Alamy)

A small synagogue, a Jewish cemetery and a few Jewish families remain in Sosúa (Credit: Nik Wheeler/Alamy)

As the years passed, most of the Jewish settlers left for the US, Israel or their home nations. But the Productos Sosúa factory, a small synagogue, a Jewish cemetery and a few Jewish families remain in the city that sprung up around them as the small town of Sosúa transformed into a tourist destination. Even Schwarz left in 1995, after her quiet street turned into a bustling thoroughfare.

Although Productos Sosúa  was sold to Mexican multinational Sigma Alimento in 2004, the Dominican staple’s roots in the small Jewish cooperative and the flavours they popularised can still be tasted in almost any kitchen in the country.

So, eight years and countless slabs of fried salami later, I finally had my answer. Today, the history of the Jewish settlers, of DORSA, Ganadera and Productos Sosúa has almost been forgotten. Most people visit Sosúa without knowing that what is now the main tourist section (and still called El Batey) was once tilled by Jewish homesteaders. But every Dominican – and every person who has sat down to a Dominican breakfast – has tasted a little bit of the mark they left on one of the only countries in the world that was willing to take them in.

The main tourist section in Sosúa was once tilled by Jewish refugees (Credit: Credit: Holgs/Getty Images)

The main tourist section in Sosúa was once tilled by Jewish refugees (Credit: Holgs/Getty Images)


Sosua is a small ocean side town west of Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic. This small beach town started as a Jewish settlement back in 1938 when Adolf Hitler was attacking Jews in Europe and Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo accepted to allow up to 100,000 Jewish refugees to be settled in the lands up North, what is now called Sosua. The Jewish settlers were arriving to the island between 1940 and 1945 due to logistics issues related to war planes not being available as planned due to war demands. The Dominican government gave the refugees land and resources, which allowed them to set up farming and dairy operations that lead to the creation of a successful business that is still in place today.  Although nowadays Sosua is more a villa rental tourist destination with expats from all over the world, still there are signs of the old times when Jewish settlers were living here. Several families still own property and live in Sosua, descendants of the original settlers. A synagogue, a museum and several other landmarks are still part of life in Sosua.

Before the advent of tourism in the mid 1980`s, Sosua was little known in the international scenario. With the creation of Playa Dorada, things quickly changed for this little farming and fishing village, and soon large developers started to notice the potential of its beaches, proximity to Puerto Plata and the neighboring beach town of Cabarete. Divided in thee main areas, El Batey is the main shopping and commercial center, where all the bars, villas for rent, restaurants and hotels are found. Mostly populated by foreigner expats from European and American countries such as Germany, Austria, Canada, United States, Italy, France and Switzerland among others. There`s also Sosua abajo ( lower Sosua ) where most Dominican employees live, and Charamicos. Sosua beach is a  crescent shaped cove between El Batey and Charamicos, lined up with small bars and gift shops. The water in the bay is very clear, making it an ideal place for snorkelers and divers alike. On the right side of Sosua there`s the Sosua Bay Hotel and Victorian House, two landmark resorts with amazing views of the bay.

A new casino in the Bay plaza opened a year ago, and a now famous gym and spa center. Every season, Sosua sees the rise and fall of new bars, restaurants and stores, and only the ones that know how to deal with such a multicultural society can prevail long term. Many hotels in town are now closed, and a large percentage of tourists are now renting private condos and villas instead of booking hotel rooms. This has driven the market for new condo and villa development in Sosua, with an amazing increase in real estate investments in the past 10 years.  Sosua also became famous as a single guy`s paradise, because tourism attracted many women ( called Chicas in local Spanish ) and soon a new market emerged that created friction between those opposed and the ones profiting from the activity. Almost all bars in Sosua have several girls that would become mistresses for the night, and a recent crackdown on the sex trade by the new major tightened the rules against the chicas to keep them inside the bars and off the streets.

Jewish influence in the island was first introduced by Christopher Columbus in October 12, 1492, who brought in a Hebrew companion, Mr. Luis de Torres. The land that Columbus first called “the new world” he called La Isabela, which is about one hour west of Sosua, in Puerto Plata. Still the remnants of the old settlement ( first in the new world ) can be seen in the area.


Cordell Hull and Dictator Trujillo


First Jews departing to Sosua


horse drawn cart carrying a Jewish family

Refugees History
In July 1938 the President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt convened in Evian-les-Bains a meeting of the European countries plus Australia and the U.S. , and some Latin Americans, in order to discuss “The Organization of the Emigration and Resettlement” of “Political Refugees and Those Persecuted   by Reason of Race or Religion”. (Note the absence of the word “Jewish” from the titles).

At the time a large number of refugees were fleeing Austria and Germany , while already many others faced confinement in concentration camps; most affected were the Jews. A delegate of the League of Nations also attended the Conference, but no representative of the “refugees” was accredited since this was deemed a “governmental level” event; eventually they were allowed to meet with a low level sub-commission.

The conference achieved very little; Germany and Austria conceded a slight easing of the exit procedures for Jews, allowing some of them to expatriate portions of their possessions; Australia agreed to grant 15.000 entry permits spread out over the next three years, and some Latin American countries accorded visas to small groups. The outstanding exception to this bleak outcome was the Dominican Republic ; it was the only country that was willing to unconditionally receive the Jewish refugees.

Because of bureaucratic difficulties in the countries from which the Jews were to leave, both in their countries of origin and the countries of passage, and the slow pace adopted by the institutions responsible for the implementation of the project, its success was less than satisfactory. The colony struggled as the settlers learned farming by trial-and-error. The thousands of additional refugees that Trujillo had agreed to take never arrived, unable to cross the submarine-infested ocean in the midst of World War II. Between 1940 and 1942, when because of the War no more Jews could make it, less than 600 persons finally settled in Sosua. After Hitler was defeated by the allies and the war ended, many of the settlers left, worn out by the hard life and eager for opportunities in the United States.


Adolf Hitler in Paris


yalta conference


Jews celebrate the liberation of Auschwitz

The DORSA: After the Evian conference, two Jewish American aid organizations “The American Joint Distribution Comitee” aka the JDC or JOINT and “The American Joint Agricultural Corp.” a subsidiary of the first, aka AGROJOINT, created the ” Dominican Republic Settlement Association, Inc.” that was dubbed DORSA. This newly created organization took care of the selection, paperwork, relocation and expedited migration procedures for the fleeing Jews.

Rafael Trujillo was a ruthless dictator that kept the island under his complete control from 1930 to 1961 when he was finally assassinated after three decades of bloody, absolutist rule. Trujillo had ordered a massive murder of Haitians in October 1937, what was known as the Parsley massacre. This action had international repercussions and it is believed that Trujillo allowed the Jewish people into the country to better his image in the international scenario.

Others believe that Trujillo allowed the Jews because their skin is white, as the dictator was known to dislike black colored skin. Whatever the reason, The Jewish settlers in Sosua found their tropical Zion in the small Northern coast town of Sosua, where they farmed the land, created schools, churches, roads and a successful dairy business that even today bears the name of the town, Productos Sosua.




first building built in Sosua


cows and workers in Sosua


children playing near the farms


early Sosua settlers by the beach


tractor for farming


men in horses


a synagogue of early Sosua


first public works


jewish family settlers

THE JEWISH MUSEUM:  In order to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its inception, in 1990 the Jewish Community held a number of commemorative ceremonies that were attended by many ex-Sosuans who gathered from around the World. These events were given both domestic and international highlight, on account of their profound meaning. A Museum was dedicated in the center of town, that documents and perpetuates this one of a kind story. In 2003 the Museum reopened after a lengthy renovation. It houses documents, pictures, objects and testimonies, some written and others in audiovisual format.

THE SYNAGOGUE: The Community carefully and lovingly preserves its small Synagogue, which functions in a totally wooden frame house, and was recently renovated. Periodically, Religious Services are held in it; with the increase in tourism, this Temple is certainly destined to become an attraction for Jewish and non Jewish tourists alike and for Jewish couples who wish to be wed in the Dominican Republic . It is adjacent to the Museum, in the midst of a small garden; the two are a major Sosúa landmark, right in the middle of town. The Museum is open on weekdays and its patrons are welcome to also visit the Synagogue.

In the book Tropical Zion, Allen Wells narrates the circumstances involved that later gave birth to the founding of Sosua, the life of the original settlers and how the Jewish refugees found paradise in the Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic when there was no other place to go and the United States and Europe were limiting the visas to the refugees.

Another book that provides insightful information on the beginnings and life of the Jewish people in Sosua is Marion Kaplan`s Dominican Haven ( Publisher: Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust  Date published: 02/2008 ) The book begins to answer many questions about this most peculiar case of refugee migration that changed the lives of those fleeing the horrors of Nazism and of those in the Dominican Republic who welcomed them.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage published a Sosua teacher`s guide to prepare middle and high school students for a visit to the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, and the special exhibition Sosúa: A Refuge for Jews in the Dominican Republic. This guide shows how the Jews in Sosua created their society around the land and dairy products, becoming a successful economy.


Raoul Wallenberg

The video documentary Jews in Many Lands: Sosua is courtesy of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Raoul Wallenberg is the Swedish diplomat missing since January 1945 after saving the lives of thousands of Jews and other persecuted during World War II.

While serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944, Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory.

On 17 January 1945, during the Siege of Budapest by the Red Army, Wallenberg was detained by Soviet authorities on suspicion of espionage and subsequently disappeared. He was later reported to have died on 17 July 1947 while imprisoned by communist authorities and KGB secret police in the Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters and affiliated prison in Moscow.

The mission of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation is to develop educational programs and public awareness campaigns based on the values of solidarity and civic courage, ethical cornerstones of the Saviors of the Holocaust. The foundation website is http://www.raoulwallenberg.net/

RABBI DR ARTHUR SEGALwww.JewishSpiritualRenewal.com/bookswww.FaceBook.com/Arthur.L.Segalwww.FaceBook.com/RabbiArthurSegalJewishSpiritualRenewal www.RabbiArthurSegal.blogspot.com
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