Centuries of Jewish life

Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer Celebrating a milestone!

Members of the gathering sing psalms during the thanksgiving service for the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in Jamaica, and opening of Jamaica Jewish Heritage Centre.

The United Congregation of Israelites celebrated the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in Jamaica on Thursday November 9, marking a significant milestone in the history of a storied people.

Though some Jews can trace their history in Jamaica as far back as the time of Columbus’ arrival, their legal settlement did not come until years later. Jews arrived in Jamaica mainly from Portugal and Spain at first to flee the persecution brought on by such events as the Spanish Inquisition. But, the island being under Spanish rule, they feared the inquisition would spread. With the take-over of the English in 1655, aided by some of these ‘marranos’ or ‘secret Jews’, their presence became more overt. By 1830, when the last discriminatory laws against Jamaica were repealed, the Jews had finally found a place where they could practise their beliefs without fear.

It is with this background that the members of the local Jewish community were joined by some of their brothers and sisters from abroad in the Synagogue Shaare Shalom on Duke Street to celebrate the milestone. Custos of Kingston, Canon Weeville Gordon representing the Governor-General and Transport Minister Robert Pickersgill who represented the Prime Minister, both lauded the Jewish community for their contribution to Jamaica. They marvelled at the number of sectors that those of Jewish descent have influenced; and how those individuals have enriched the lives of all Jamaicans.

Jewish Heritage Centre

The United Congregation also used the occasion to formally open the Jamaica Jewish Heritage Centre also located on the grounds of the synagogue. The centre holds various artefacts, literature on the history of Jews from their arrival to the present. There is also a small gift shop where you can make memorabilia your own.

The premiere authority on Jewish culture, Ainsley Henriques, said it was a special night for everyone not just Jews and marvelled that despite of our different beliefs we were drawn together “by community, by friendship, by service to each other…and by just being human.”

He encouraged people of all ages to visit the centre to learn about the Jewish heritage and challenged everyone to show “how we created a nation not just out of many, one, but out of many cultures, one culture. These will be the paving stones on our national road to peace.” A lignum vitae tree was planted as a symbol of life and hope for future generations.

Guests included: German Ambassador Volker Schlegel; Mexican Ambassador Leonore Rueda; Dr. Omar Davies and wife Rose; Argentine Ambassador Jose Pino; Maurice and Valerie Facey; Audrey Marks and Wallace Campbell.

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