The urgency of the plight of Nicaraguan Jews was emphasized on Monday morning when Henry Carrillo, a father to three small children, and one of a group of 69 Jews attempting to make aliyah, was assaulted and then kidnapped on his way to synagogue.
Carrillo was on his way to morning prayers, wearing a white shirt, black pants, and a white kippa. He was carrying his prayer book and tallit (prayer shawl). After prayers, he did arrive home. His wife knew immediately that something was wrong since they had made plans to go to the hospital with one of children who is sick with pneumonia. His cell phone was turned off and it was impossible to call him. The situation became clear a few hours later when his mother was contacted by a cell phone message containing photos of her son, beaten but still alive, and a demand for $2,000.
“He was clearly identifiable as a Jew so he may have been kidnapped for that reason,” Rabbi Nisim Makor, head of Machon Kibutz Galuyot, an organization helping the community, told Breaking Israel News. “There is also a group called the Kendalls who dress in white shirts so it could be that he was kidnapped by their enemies. But the situation is so bad with violence of the most extreme sort ruling the streets, that his kidnapping might be a case of random violence.”
Rabbi Makor helped the family raise money for his ransom but they were only successful in raising $1,200, which the kidnappers grudgingly accepted. Carillo was released to his family. In the meantime, there was another unsuccessful attempt at kidnapping a Jew from the community.
Pidyon Shvuyim (ransoming captives) is one of the most important mitzvoth (Torah commandments) Jews are required to perform, and the responsibility falls on the community as a whole.The Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law compiled by Rabbi Yosef Karo in 1563 states, “Every moment that one delays in freeing captives, in cases where it is possible to expedite their freedom, is considered to be tantamount to murder.”
Requests to process their aliyah from the Jewish Agency were denied though Isaac Herzog, the incoming head of the agency, has promised to help facilitate the process. Herzog, unfortunately, will not begin his term until the beginning of August.
About three months ago, eight members of the community applied to make aliyah. As the situation in Nicaragua deteriorated, many more joined and a total of 80 individuals applied for assistance in their aliyah process. Eleven people chose to flee to other countries of refuge rather than risk waiting for their aliyah to be accepted. Sixty-nine people are still waiting for their aliyah process to move forward.
Much of the difficulty is due to poor relations between Israel and Nicaragua, which have always been strained. Nicaragua suspended political ties between the two countries in 2010 in response to the Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli commandos killed Turkish nationals – who were supposed to be unarmed – when trying to violate the blockade of Gaza. Though diplomatic relations were restored in May 2017, Nicaragua is a close ally of Iran. President Ortega is a long-time opponent of the U.S. and his ire at the superpower is frequently focused on its closest ally, Israel.
Many of the people in the community grew up believing they were Jewish. Others knew that they were descended from Bnei Anousim (Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions in the 15th and 16th centuries). To formalize their identities as part of the Jewish people, they began the process of converting to Judaism in 2011. Since that time, 160 individuals have completed the conversion process and are recognized by the Conservative movement. The community built a mikveh, necessary for conversion and for Jewish family purity, and a synagogue where they conduct religious activities.
The political situation in Nicaragua took a drastic turn for the worse on April 18, when protesters took to the streets in opposition to President Daniel Ortega. The government reacted violently and more than 200 people have been killed in the last two months.