The Jews Of Jamaica Are Not Dead, Just Dwindling

The Jewish people, while small in number, have spread to the four corners of the earth during their long and troubled history, having been exiled from their land twice.

And while most people expect to find Jews in America or Israel, there is still a small but proud community in Kingston, Jamaica, which has been in the country for many generations.

One American tourist, a former Hebrew teacher, Melissa Solomon, who visited the Sha’are Shalom synagogue in Kingston recently, spoke to reporters about how it felt to be a Jewish tourist there.

She explained, “I had to see this temple for myself. I thought, ‘Jamaica, too, has Jews?'”

Back in the good old days, namely the 1800s, Jews were more prominent in Jamaica, which had during that time eight synagogues and around 2,500 Jews living there.

Nevertheless, migration and assimilation dropped that number to a dwindling 200 Jews, with only one synagogue remaining in the country.

The leader of the Jewish community in Kingston, Ainsley Henriques, said that while the customs of Jamaican Jews were based mainly on the Sephardic rite, with Jews from Spain, lately it has taken on more liberal British and American Reform movement practices.

As Henriques said to reporters, “Regardless of what happens in the future, I want people to always know that Jews were indeed here.”

Jane Gerber, director of the Institute for Sephardic Studies at City University of New York, said, “Jewish tourism is lively, serious and always searching for new destinations… It may help the fragile community in Jamaica in its strong desire to persist.”

Nevertheless, due to the fact that Kingston is considered an unsafe place to live, many people stay away from the city.

Ellen Paderson, who runs a Massachusetts travel agency called Bar Mitzvah Vacations, said, “Kingston has a reputation of not being so safe, so people are nervous to travel there.”

While most people in Jamaica are Christian, some have converted to Judaism, like 18-year-old Mickel Hylton, who said, “Judaism speaks to me. I hope to be a Jew until the day I die.”