From the Houston Jewish Herald Voice Newspaper
Learn Modern History Of Jewish Jamaica From Rabbi’s Personal Experiences
Published• Thu, Jun 04, 2020
The community is invited to participate in a Jewish Jamaican Zoom presentation on Thursday, June 11, at 10 a.m. Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan, the rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Sun City, Ariz., will present, “Jamaica Rabbi: My Experiences Among the Jews of Jamaica.” The presentation will introduce the Jewish community of contemporary Jamaica, a diverse group of people whose ancestors settled on the island during the Spanish period in the mid-1600s. In summer 2011, Rabbi Kaplan became the first rabbi in Jamaica in 33 years. Her new community was the United Congregation of Israelites, who worshipped in the Shaare Shalom synagogue in Kingston, Jamaica. It was led predominantly by Portuguese Jews, whose ancestors had escaped from the Inquisition in the 1500s. These ancestors had fled Portugal for Amsterdam, where they had returned to Judaism, just as the family of Baruch Spinoza had done. Many Jews then settled throughout the Caribbean, not only in Jamaica but in Suriname, Barbados, Nevis, St. Thomas, Curacao and other key trading cities. Once the British conquered Jamaica in 1655, Jews who had been living secretly on the island were allowed to openly practice their religion. They built a synagogue in Port Royal, known as the wickedest city in the West, until it was destroyed in an earthquake on June 7, 1692. The Jewish community spread throughout the island; there are 26 Jewish cemeteries throughout the country. By the time of Rabbi Kaplan’s arrival, the majority of the Jewish community was in Kingston, the political and economic center of the country. The synagogue – the only one remaining in the country when Rabbi Kaplan arrived in 2011 – was a large white building, originally constructed in 1885, destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1907 and rebuilt in 1912. Rabbi Kaplan will describe some of her experiences working with the diverse Jewish community that she found not only in Kingston but throughout the country. Rabbi Kaplan will describe her time working not only with synagogue members but with individuals with long-buried Jewish ancestors, as well as Jamaicans with no previous exposure but a great deal of interest in Judaism. To attend this presentation, email Justin@hcrj.or.