Jamaican Jewish History
Introduction to Jamaica:
Sprinkles of Jamaican Jewish History continue to be a part of the Jamaican Jewish Culture for more than 400 years. It’s quite fitting that Jamaica’s motto is “Out of many, One People.” The island of Jamaica is the third largest island in the Greater Antilles (Island groups in the Caribbean Sea) and located in the Continent of North America. The island is 4,240 sq miles, 90 miles South of Cuba and 593.3 miles from Miami Florida.
Jamaica gain independence from the British on August 6, 1962 but are still a Common Wealth Country of Britain with Queen Elizabeth as Head of State. But, because Jamaica is a sovereign state, Jamaica has the full right and power to govern itself without any interference. However, as long as Jamaica remains a monarchy of the Queen and like any other Common-Wealth Country, they will have democratic vote for their sovereign leader who reigns but does not rule.
The capital of Jamaica is Kingston but Spanish Town was the original capital dated back to the early 1500s. After Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain in 1494, soon after, Spanish Settlers moved from the North Coast Area on the island (Discovery Bay – St. Ann’s Bay) to Spanish Town. It is believed that since France prohibited Jews as inhabitants in their country from the late 1300’s, Jews has been settling in Jamaica since the 1600’s.
Jamaican Jewish History Presence:
With more Jews force out of Spain, Jamaica became a place of safety for the Jewish population. The Jews became merchants and traders on the island. By the 17th century, a synagogue was built in the town of Port Royal. After the earthquake of 1692 in Port Royal, the new synagogue was built in the capital, Spanish Town. The synagogue was called Neveh Shalom and it was completed in the early 18th century.
The Jewish population was thriving and several more synagogues were built across the island. The Neveh Shalom (Habitation of Peace) and the Ashkenazi (Hope of Israel) were the original two built in Spanish Town in 1704 and 1796 respectively. For the next 100 years, Jamaican Jewish History was strong. In 1872, Jamaica capital was moved to Kingston and two congregations were formed. In 1885 an earthquake destroyed the original Sha’are Shalom synagogue.
However, the structure was reconstructed by the Henriques Brothers in 1912 and today it still exists. In 1921, the congregations came together as the United Congregation of Israelites. The congregation continues to exist today in its original form. In fact the floor at Sha’are Shalom is still covered with sand which goes back to the days of the Spaniards, when the Jews had to keep their prayers low. They have also established the Hillel Academy Prep school, a museum of Jamaican Jewish History next to the synagogue and a Jewish home for the poor in Kingston. The school Hillel is named after the famous Jewish religious leader.
The Jewish Synagogue in downtown Kingston was the first Jewish Synagogue that extended their hands to Louis Farrakhan in promoting friendship between Jews and Moslems. The meeting was organized by Ainsley Henriques, past president and historian of the congregation of Israelites in Jamaica. During Minister Farrakhan speech he was thankful to been invited and hoped the Jews in America will better understand him.
Through Jamaica Jewish Tours, Anna Ruth Henriques a 10th generation Jamaican Jew, keep the passion of Jewish Historian Ainsley Henriques; and continued the teachings of Jamaican Jewish History. Today, Anna organized personalized tours and share her 400 years of knowledge on Jewish history.
Jamaica is the island in the sun with the motto, “Out of many, One People.” Jamaica, known for the birthday place of Reggae singer Bob Marley, some of the best beaches in the Caribbean and also where many cultures meet; Well, the trace of the Jamaican Jewish History bares its roots since the 1500s and their cultural heritage carry on their long legacy on the island. As they say in the Jewish culture, Shalom to all.