Located in northeastern Peru, Iquitos is the largest city in the world not accessible by road. It is also home to a small but active Jewish community, which, after experiencing a brief renaissance, has now dwindled to about 20 percent of what it was ten years ago, mostly due to emigration to Israel. Ryan Schuessler writes:
The city’s first Jews came to Peru from Morocco, part of [an influx] of immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia who followed the 19th-century rubber boom in the hopes of making a fortune in the rainforest.
At the time, Iquitos’s economy was booming: the world’s voracious demand for rubber quickly transformed a remote village into an industrial boomtown filled with mansions adorned with hand-painted ceramic tiles from Portugal. Riverboats and barges were loaded in the city’s ports, and sent down the Amazon to the Atlantic and on to Europe.
The Jewish community saw another boost in the early 1900s, when growing anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe drove Ashkenazi Jews to the New World. . . . But by the 1920s, plantations in Malaysia and Sri Lanka had undercut Amazon rubber producers, and the boom went bust.
Many immigrants left Iquitos, and by the mid-20th century the capital city Lima became the center of Peruvian Jewish life. Smaller communities across the country moved to the capital, where there were synagogues, rabbis, and Jewish schools. Iquitos was the only community outside of Lima that managed to hold on.