JAMAICA

JAMAICA, an island in the Caribbean, an independent state. Christopher Columbus (Colon) visited Jamaica on his second voyage (1494) but landed there on his fourth (1503) and took it in the name of the Spanish crown. He was nominated governor   of the lands he had discovered. His son, Don Diego Colon, inherited his father's titles and was nominated viceroy and admiral of the lands his father found. Upon his death (1525) Carlos V bestowed the title Marquis of St. Iago de la Vega (a Jamaican city today called Spanish Town) to his son Don Louis Colon. The title was inherited by his sister Isabella Colon who was married to a Portuguese nobleman of the house of Braganza. Under her son, Portugallo Colon, crypto-Jews from Portugal were permitted to settle in Jamaica (1530). Under their tenure the Colon-Braganza family impeded the installation of the tribunal of the Inquisition in Jamaica. Upon the occupation of Jamaica by the English general Veneable and Admiral William Penn (1654), they were welcomed by the "Portugals." The "Portugals" were of Jewish origin and slowly began returning to Judaism. In the new capital founded by the English, Port Royal, the Jews were joined by their brethren from Amsterdam, Bordeaux, and Bayonne. In 1662 Jews came to Jamaica from Brazil, in 1663 from England, and in 1664 from British Guiana. Their numbers were strengthened in 1673 by Jews arriving from Surinam with the English evacuees forced out by the Dutch occupation. Jews met with immediate success in the sugar cane and cocoa plantations they founded, and in Port Royal they developed an impressive commercial center, owing to their proficiency in the Spanish language, trading with Spanish America. They formed a community and allegedly built a synagogue. Josiau Hisquiam Pardo, from a prominent family of Salonikan haham s, arrived from Curaçao and was hired as chief haham. From the mid-17th century until the earthquake of June 7, 1692, most Jews lived in Port Royal, and though no historian mentions a synagogue there in that period, one may well have existed and been destroyed. Bryan Edwards, in his History Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies on the West Indies (3 vols., London, 1793–1801), wrote, "The Jews enjoyed almost every privilege possessed by the Christian whites except…," and here he enumerated the civil disabilities still in force against them. He continued, "They have the liberty of purchasing and holding lands as freely as other people and they are likewise allowed the public exercise of their religion; and I have not heard that Jamaica has any reason to repent of her liberality towards them." The violent earthquake of June 1692 was followed by a tidal wave that completely destroyed the city of Port Royal, and Spanish Town then became the capital. The Jews moved to it as well as to newly built Kingston, to Montego Bay, and to spots all over the island. A Spanish-Portuguese congregation was founded in Spanish Town in 1692 and the synagogue Neve Shalom was established in 1704. One of the most important hahams was Jeoshua Hisquiau de Cordova who served there from 1753 to 1797. A German-English synagogue, Mikveh Israel, existed from 1796 to 1860. Of 876 white inhabitants at the end of the seventeenth century, 350 were Jewish. In 1900 Neve Shalom was abandoned. As more Jews settled in Kingston, communities formed. In 1744 the luxurious synagogue Sha'ar ha-Shomaim was erected and in 1787 the English-German congregation founded Shaare Yosher synagogue. The two buildings were destroyed by fire in 1882. The synagogues that replaced them were toppled in the great earthquake of 1907. In 1912 The United Congregation of Israelites rebuilt Shaare Shalom, which is in service to this day. One of the main conditions for the unification of all communities in Jamaica is that "the Sephardi ritual is to be maintained except for taking out the Scrolls of the Law which will be Ashkenazi." Some of the Torah Scrolls are more than 300 years old, the synagogue's floor is covered with sand, and the hymn "Bendigamos" is sung in Spanish on Sukkot. The service is partially Conservative, partially Reform and parts are sung in English. There are 23 Jewish cemeteries dispersed all over the island. The local government levied special taxes on the Jews. These taxes were repealed by order of King George II in 1739. The Jewish question became highly controversial in Jamaica. Citing the British Parliament's Act of 1740, the Jews demanded full political enfranchisement. The community, however, was not unanimous in the matter, and all applications for votes on the part of the Jews were refused without exception. They did, however, received full civil rights on July 13, 1831, owing to the persistent efforts of the leader Moses Delgado. As a result, in 1849 eight of the 47 members of the House of Assembly were Jewish and the House adjourned on Yom Kippur; in 1866 their number reached 13. The number of Jews in Jamaica between 1700 and 1978 were as follows: 1700–400 Jews, out of a total of 7,000 whites; 1881–2535 out of 14,432; 1957–1,600 out of 13,000; 1978–350. In 2004 there were about 280 Jews in Jamaica. The following are among the most prominent figures in the history of Jamaican Jewry: Daniel Lopez Laguna (1635–1730) who, after being arrested and tortured by the Inquisition, managed to escape to Jamaica where he translated the Psalms into Spanish in poetic form; Isaac Mendes Belisario (b. 1790), a brilliant artist who painted the customs of the black slave population, their culture, and folklore; the de Cordova family: grandsons of Haham de Cordova – Jacob and Joshua – founded the newspapers The Daily Gleaner, considered the best overseas English newspaper, and The Texas Herald and founded Waco, Texas; Jorge Ricardo Isaac (1837–1895), born in Colombia to a Jamaican Jewish father, wrote the novel Maria, Columbia's national novel, considered a masterpiece in all Latin America. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.A.P.M. Andrade, A Record of the Jews in Jamaica from the English Conquest to Present Times (1941); M. Arbell, The Portuguese Jews of Jamaica (2000); F. Cundall, "The Taxation of the Jews in Jamaica in the 17th Century," in PAJHS, 31 (1928), 243–47; S. and E. Hurwitz, "The New World Sets an Example for the Old: The Jews of Jamaica and Political Rights, 1661–1831," PAJHS, 48 (1958–59), 37–56. (Benjamin Schlesinger / Mordechai Arbell (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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