Hostos explores Jewish life in the Dominican Republic to kickoff Hispanic Heritage Month

Hostos Community College Hostos inaugurated Hispanic Heritage Month with an exploration of Jewish life in the Dominican Republic.
Photo Camille Botello

Hostos Community College kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month with a discussion about the rich heritage and contributions of Jewish people in the Dominican Republic led by Herbert Stern Díaz, a renowned Dominican ophthalmologist and historian.

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

At a time when Jewish refugees were turned away worldwide, the island stood out as one of the few countries that received them with open arms. Keeping this in perspective and drawing a parallel with the current migrant crisis, Stern illuminated the remarkable journey of Jewish communities on the Caribbean island through the findings included in his most recent publication “Hechos y documentos sobre la presencia judía en República Dominicana” or “Facts and Documents of the Jewish Presence in the Dominican Republic” in English.

Hostos President Daisy Cocco De Filippis emphasized the importance of celebrating diverse heritages and the contributions of various communities to society, specifically in the Dominican country.

“I am very pleased to be celebrating the Jewish community in the Dominican Republic and here at Hostos. It is a testament to the diversity that enriches our institution,” Cocco De Filippis said. “What makes this even more special is to be surrounded by elected officials, and some of them are not only part of the Jewish community but beloved friends of our College and supporters of our mission. Their presence makes the celebration all the more meaningful.”

State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz lauded the event as an example of the richness of the Bronx’s cultural tapestry. His son, City Councilmember Eric Dinowitz and chair of the Committee on Higher Education, spoke about the power of education in fostering understanding and unity, especially at a place like Hostos.

City Councilmember Julie Menin, chair of the Small Business Committee and the council’s Jewish Caucus, shared how moving the occasion was as a descendant of Holocaust survivors. For her part, Bronx Deputy Borough President Janet Peguero praised Hostos for making space for learning more about the historical role her home country, the Dominican Republic, has played in opening doors for sociopolitical transformation. Moreover, Fidel Malena, Bronx Regional Representative from the Office of the Governor of the State of New York Kathy Hochul, brought remarks about the importance of celebrating diversity and acknowledging the contributions of Jewish people in the U.S.

After opening remarks, Stern presented his documented accounts of the Jewish presence in the Dominican Republic, shedding light on this lesser-known chapter of history.

“After all my years of research, I discovered a profound sense of commonality between Jewish people and Dominicans as the refugees encountered peace from persecution in the fishing village of Sosúa,” Stern said. “They transcended cultural and language barriers. In Sosúa, the refugees from Germany who had escaped persecution during World War II finally found a welcoming haven where histories that seemed disconnected converged.”

In Sosúa, the Dominican community extended a warm embrace to the Jewish refugees, offering them not only shelter but also a chance to rebuild their lives. The Dominican Republic Settlement Association, the entity in charge of organizing their relocation from Germany, provided the newcomers with a plot of land that they were to nurture to the best of their abilities. In turn, the locals provided invaluable support by helping Jewish immigrants adapt to their new home throughout the 1940s.

This spirit of compassion and solidarity between the Dominicans and the refugees became a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. To this day, Jewish refugees from the Sosúa settlement and their descendants have become successful business owners and intellectuals who have turned the Dominican Republic into an island where global encounters are successfully carried out.

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