“Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean Meet”
The Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean (UJCL) have just concluded their eleventh annual conference. This was held in Kingston, Jamaica under the auspices of UJCL’s President, Hilda ten Brink. It was hosted by Congregation Sha’are Shalom, the United Congregation of Israelites, Jamaica’s Jewish community.
Some 60 persons attended from overseas to join with the local community to participate in the workshop, lunches, tour and gala dinner dance activities of the conference. The theme for this year’s conference was “The UJCL in the Diaspora: Connecting to Israel”. The workshop presenters came from member congregations aided by representatives from many Jewish organizations such as the WUPJ, MASORTI, WZO, HIAS, MACCABI, JDCLA, ICJW, B’NAI BRITH INTERNATIONAL, WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS, LATIN AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS and TAMAR. Delegates came from congregations in Aruba, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Curacao, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Surinam, Trinidad and of course Jamaica with regrets from Cuba.
Professor Lewis Gordon gave the keynote address on the opening morning with a discussion of who is a Jew today in the Diaspora. The new Israeli Ambassador to Jamaica, Amos Radian, was the guest speaker at the first day’s luncheon. He spoke to the theme of the Diaspora and Israel. Ed Kritzler gave the address on our survival in the New World in the second day’s lunch program. Ainsley Henriques, UJCL Secretary and Hon Secretary of Sha’are Shalom spoke to the history of the Jamaican Jews on the opening evening.
Other significant activities were the Jamaicans hosting of the Cocktail reception at their Hillel Academy poolside, the Oneg Shabbat family dinners for overseas guests, and the Dinner Dance which was celebrated with an amazing Pirate decoration theme. All the guests had Pirate hats and eye patches to add to their regular dress and the chief pirate, David Matalon, was resplendent in full pirate costume. Shabbat services were held in the beautiful Jamaican synagogue on Duke Street, Kingston under the direction of lay reader Stephen Henriques and the Choir led by Dr. Winston Davidson.
The amazing highlight of the conference was the surprise tour of one of the three oldest Jewish cemeteries in the New World. The oldest grave found was dated 1672. This cemetery, named the Hunt’s Bay Cemetery, was the resting place for Jews who fled the Inquisition in the Iberian peninsula and the anti-semitism of northern Europe. They came to Port Royal, the 17th century Entree Port, a desolate sandy spit at the end of what is now known as the Palisadoes peninsula enclosing Kingston Harbour. They sought and found the freedom to worship and pursue their lives without persecution, only restrictions and higher taxation. Here they settled and thrived. The land could not be used for burials so they rowed the departed across the harbour and interred their ancestors in this now isolated cemetery. During the course of the past year Ainsley Henriques arranged for it to be cleared. With the assistance of the Caribbean Volunteers Expedition headed by Anne Hersh and Rachel Frankel, seven other volunteers made their way to spend the week photographing, copying inscriptions, measuring and inventorying this historic site. The entire conference traveled to the cemetery on Friday after lunch, inspected the graves, heard a short set of lectures on the work being done and then holding hands in a large circle recited the Mourners Kaddish. A fitting tribute in a wonderful conference, retiring to Jamaica’s Jewish Heritage Centre and the Shabbat service.
For further information, please visit our website https://www.ucija.org