December 17: Simon Bolivar and the Jews
Simon Bolivar, Latin America’s great liberator, declared independence from Spain for the Republic of Gran Colombia (in today’s Venezuela) on this date in 1819, after years of military struggle. In 1812, after the first stage of his revolt in Venezuela had failed, Bolívar took refuge with two of his sisters on the island of Curaçao, which was controlled by the Dutch (and was a key hub of their slave trade) and had a small, thriving population of Sephardic Jews, refugees or the descendants of refugees from the Spanish Inquisition. Jewish lawyer and merchant Mordechai Ricardo made two houses available for the Bolívars; one of the houses, an octagonal building by the sea, is preserved today as the Octagon Museum in Curaçao. Brothers Richard and Abraham Meza also helped Bolivar finance his fight against Spanish power, and several Jews fought in Bolivar’s army during the war. Ties between the Jews of Curaçao and the newly freed Venezuela increased when the land’s new constitution established religious freedom.
“. . . And the Jews there [in Curaçao] are well loved, because the people say that they give charity, the best of charity, the beautiful alms . . .” —José Martí