Shalom Life | December 04, 2014

Shalom, Jamaica: A Jewish Culture Guide

Jews have resided in the paradise that is Jamaica for half a millennium. In 1494, a Marrano (also known as Converso, a Jew that was forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition) accompanied Christopher Columbus to the island as his interpreter.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: July 16th, 2013 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Jamaica


Kingston, Jamaica

Jews have resided in the paradise that is Jamaica for half a millennium. In 1494, a Marrano (also known as Converso, a Jew that was forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition) accompanied Christopher Columbus to the island as his interpreter. Spanish colonization of Jamaica lasted from 1494 until 1655, when British captured the island. During this period, many Portuguese Jews settled in Jamaica, with the first substantial group arriving in 1530 to settle in the then capital of Spanish Town.

After the British conquest of 1655, the Jewish community in Jamaica flourished, largely because the English colonizers neither persecuted nor limit their travel. King Charles II even granted Jews citizenship, in 1660. As a result of this equality, the Jewish community in Jamaica flourished during the latter part of the 17th century. Jews, mainly of Sephardic descent, flooded into the country. The first synagogue was erected in the city of Port Royal.

However, after the devastating Jamaica earthquake of June 7, 1692, like much of the infamous city, said synagogue was destroyed. Consequently, the Jewish community purchased a plot of land in Spanish Town to build another synagogue. After the death of Charles II, Jamaican Jews began facing increasing persecution and discrimination. From the last decade of the 17th century, into the 18th century, restrictions were placed on the Jewish community, culminating in being deemed second-class citizens in 1700. Yet, regardless of the discrimination, the Jewish community expanded and flourished throughout the 18th century, with synagogues being erected throughout the island.

Find out more about Jewish culture in Jamaica on page 2!

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