Cover image for Jews of the Amazon : self-exile in earthly paradise
Jews of the Amazon : self-exile in earthly paradise
Segal Freilich, Ariel, 1965-
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxiii, 341 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F3619.M47 S45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A fascinating study of a Jewish community in one of the world's most isolated places: the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this absorbing work, historian Segal narrows his focus to the tiny Jewish community of Iquitos, an isolated Peruvian town in the Amazon jungle. Segal weaves the town's microhistory with the larger history of Peru. Jewish men first came to Iquitos during the rubber boom in the late 19th century, married Amazonian women and created their own syncretic Jewish tradition, including elements of nominal Catholicism and indigenous religions. Segal categorizes the Iquitos Jews with the Marranos of Spain who secretly maintained their Jewish faith after ostensibly becoming Catholics. Recognizing their mixed ancestry, he calls them "Jewish Mestizos." Others have dubbed them "Jewish Incas." For comparative purposes, Segal provides background information about such other "exotic" Jewish communities as the B'nai Israel of India, Samaritans, Karaites and Beta Israel of Ethiopia. These and other lesser known Jewish communities have been lost as a result of war, exile and forced conversions. Born in Venezuela but educated in America, Segal began this project in 1995, as part of his doctoral program. He candidly documents his clouded role as a "sentimental scholar" who abandoned objectivity and adopted the cause of the people he studied. Segal became enamored with the 100 Jewish Mestizos of Iquitos, teaching them Jewish religion and prayer services, and intervening on their behalf to secure their eligibility for immigration to Israel. Describing these activities, he acknowledges that he "trespassed the boundaries" of traditional scholarship. The result is an unusual, refreshing and vividly researched cultural study. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Segal, who grew up in Venezuela and earned his doctorate in Latin American history at the University of Miami (and now works as a lecturer and as a radio analyst in Israel) brings us an unusual tale. Making use of the various strands of his background, he investigates a strange and little-known episode in Jewish history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during a rubber boom in the Peruvian Amazon, Jewish men from Europe and Morocco came to make their fortune and ended up settling in a remote and seemingly inhospitable town named Iquitos. Over the years, they married native Amazonian women. Now a later generation exists of people who are culturally part Jewish, part Christian, and part native AmazonianÄand who participate in such a strange amalgam of cultures and rituals that Segal finds them hard to classify. Meticulous research (Segal lived in the Amazon for months) and his engrossing writing (at times, his account reads like a novel) combine with an ethnographic richness to make this a fascinating scholarly book. Recommended for libraries with larger holdings in Jewish or Latin American studies.ÄPaul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Segal explores the identity of present-day "Jewish mestizos" of Iquitos, who are descended from Peruvian mothers and immigrant Jewish Moroccan or Ashkenazic fathers enticed to Amazonia by the 19th-century rubber boom. Haunted by a Jewish legacy of which in fact they know very little, these "Jews," who appear throughout the book in quotation marks, are not accepted as such either by Lima's Jewish community or by the State of Israel. Having entered into the lives of his subjects, Segal conveys a feeling for their conflicting Catholic/Jewish/Amazonian identity. He sets forth a paradox: these modern "marranos" are obsessed by the desire to be Jewish in an ambience that, while friendly, provides no support for the beliefs or practices of Judaism. In enthusiastic, irritatingly repetitive prose, he supplies a marginal note to the growing literature on the question of "who is a Jew?" Unfortunately, Segal is unable to harness his emotional energies to power his analysis. Self-indulgent rhetoric takes the place of a credible intellectual stance. Segal refers to himself continually throughout the book as a scholar, but in a final chapter he retreats to a sophomoric attack on the discipline of scholarship. Segal found a mission, the Iquite~no "Jews" have found their storyteller, but the scholarly work remains to be done. J. L. Elkin; University of Michigan