RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Venezuela’s Jewish community has certified the authenticity of a 200-year-old mikvah, or ritual bath, found in 2013 during restoration work on a museum.
The president of the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Venezuela, Omar Vielma, said the finding in Coro near the Alberto Henriquez Museum marks a precedent to preserve the site as the first Jewish settlement in the country. Vielma said he expects to find more artifacts.
“The certification is essential for this finding to gain legal support aiming at, in the near future, being named part of Venezuela’s official cultural heritage,” said Vielma, who was present for the certification on Monday.
Archaeologists and anthropologists have noted the unique design of the mikvah and said it was used by the Jewish inhabitants of the area, the Correo del Orinoco newspaper reported.
The finding in Coro, the capital of the Falcon state in western Venezuela about 200 miles from Caracas, has been catalogued by the Institute of Cultural Heritage as an example of diversity of the archaeological heritage of the site, which was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.
The Jewish community was given the land where the mikvah was discovered. The site had been damaged by torrential rain and flooding in 2010.
The mikvah will become a study object in the curriculum of the school of anthropology at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and will be added to the country’s national registry for cultural heritage.
Venezuela is home to some 9,000 Jews, down from some 25,000 in 1999. Many Jews left, mainly for Florida and Israel, due to a deteriorating financial and social climate, along with a growing anti-Semitic environment established under the Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro regimes.