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Coro

CORO

CORO , colonial city of Venezuela whose streets still preserve the characteristics of the epoch. It is the capital of the Falcón State, with a population of 244,341 inhabitants (2004). The city was recognized by unesco as a Cultural Patrimony of Humanity in 1993. It is considered the cradle of the Venezuelan Jewish community.

Even though the government of Nueva Granada bestowed upon the members of the Nación Hebrea the right to settle in the country in 1819, granting them their religious freedom, it was not until the years 1823–24 that the first Jews from Curaçao started to strike roots in Coro. David Hoheb and Joseph Curiel were soon followed by the families Senior, Henríquez, Capriles, Dovale, Maduro, López Fonseca, De-Lima, Correa, Castro, Da Costa, and others. All of them were of Sephardi origin and maintained intensive commercial ties with Curaçao and the West Indies.

The almost immediate economic success of this group aroused the envy and jealousy of the inhabitants of Coro, causing a wave of anti-Jewish outbursts in 1831 and a spree of riots, looting, and destruction of businesses and homes in 1855. Terrified, 168 Jews fled to Curaçao and made a claim against Venezuela demanding indemnity and the punishment of the guilty. Following an arrangement, they returned to Coro in 1859 and continued their activities in import-export and finances, achieving a high level of economic success and participation in the public and political life of the city, which helped bring about important changes in the region. Gradually the Jews became prominent in science, public health, journalism, finances, politics, and culture. Most of these Jews were Freemasons and Liberals. David *Curiel was among the founders of the first Masonic lodge in Coro.

By the end of the 19th century, however, the absence of a spiritual leader, intermarriage, the loss of liturgical elements and of the Hebrew language, and the assimilation of symbols of Catholic religiosity contributed to the erosion of group's identity. As a testimony to this prosperous community there remains in Coro a small room, restored in 1997, where Jewish worship was celebrated from the middle of the 19th century, and the cemetery that was founded in 1830 and is still in use. It was restored twice, in 1945 and 1970, and contains 175 graves. The first belongs to Haná Curiel, an eight-year-old girl who died in 1832, and the last to Sara Celinda López Fonseca, buried in April 2000. The cemetery, with its Angels' Corner, manifests unequivocally a process of cultural transference. Due to its exceptional characteristics, the municipal and regional authorities granted it the status of Cultural Patrimony in 2003, and in 2004 it was declared a Historic Monument of the Falcón State.

In homage to Elías David Curiel (1871–1924), one of the greatest falconian poets, the Elías David Curiel Biennial of Literature has been celebrated since 1998. Alberto Henríquez (1919–1990) collected in his residence valuable paintings and artistic objects which he bequeathed to the Miranda University and which are exhibited in the museum and gallery that bear his name. The Fundación del Patrimonio Cultural Hebreo Falconiano preserves the Sephardi cultural heritage and maintains the Salomón Levi Maduro Vaz Library. Of this first community established in Venezuela, the brothers Herman and Thelma Henríquez were the only two Jews living in Coro in 2004.

bibliography:

I. Aizemberg, La Comunidad Judía de Coro 1824–1900. Una Historia (1983); J.R. Fortique, Los Motines Anti-Judíos de Coro (1973); J. Carciente, Presencia Sefardí en la Historia de Venezuela (1997); B. de Lima. Coro: Fin de Diáspora (2002).

[Jacob Carciente (2nd ed.)]

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