Eastern European Jews from Romania and Poland first arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC; formerly the Republic of Zaire) in 1907. Following these immigrants, several Jewish families arrived from South Africa and the Land of Israel. In 1911, Sephardic Jews from the island of Rhodes settled in the Congo. That same year, the Communauté du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi, the Jewish community center, was established.
In 1930, the first synagogue was consecrated in Elisabethville. Most of the Eastern European Jews left in the 1930s because of a severe economic crisis. From 1937, Rabbi Moses Levy had led the Jewish communities of the Congo and Ruanda-Urandi. After World War I and II, however, many Jewish refugees from Eastern and Southern Europe came to the Congo.
Prior to independence, approximately 2,500 Jews lived in the Congo; 50% resided in Elisabethville and about 70 Jewish families were based in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. In the public schools, Jewish children were provided classes in Hebrew and Judaism. In 1960, after DRC gained its independence and the Belgians left the country, many Jews also left, with large numbers immigrating to South Africa and Israel.
Today, DRC has approximately 320 Jews living predominately Lubumbashi. Most of the Jews are of Sephardic descent and speak Ladino, a Spanish-Jewish dialect. There is a synagogue in Lubumbashi that is served by a rabbi. There is also a small Jewish community in Kinshasa called Congregation Israelite. The Jewish community in DRC is represented by the Communaute Israelite du Shaba. There is a Jewish cemetery under the control of the Chief Rabbi of Zaire, Rabbi Levy.
In 1960, the Republic of Congo established diplomatic relations with Israel. The DRC (then Zaire) joined after Arab nations broke relations with Israel under pressure from the Arabs in 1973. A decade later, DRC was one of the first to reestablish relations with Israel.
As the Congo descended into war, relations deteriorated and the last Israeli ambassador in Kinshasa left in 2003. In March 2020, President Felix Tshisekedi announced, “After more than 20 years of inadequate representation, I will name an ambassador in the coming days.” He said Israel was an inspiration. “It teaches us what man can do in such a short span of time when he has drive, resilience and, especially, divine grace and favor.”
Tshisekedi said the ambassador would be posted in Tel Aviv but that a commercial section would be based in Jerusalem. Tshisekedi said he planned to visit Israel and invited Israel to raise its diplomatic and economic presence in the Congo.
Baite Postale No. 931
Embassy of Israel
12 Avenue des Aviateurs
PO Box 8343 KIN 1, Kinshasa
Tel. 243 12 21955
Fax 243 88 45055
Sources: World Jewish Congress;
International Jewish Cemetery Project;
Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy;
Zaire. The Jewish Travelers' Resource Guide. Feldheim Publishers. 2001;
“DR Congo leader to appoint Israel envoy within days, vows closer ties,” Times of Israel, (March 2, 2020).