web analytics
September 1, 2014 / 6 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Securing Our Future Through Historic Jewish Communities

Kaplan-060112

Since becoming the first ordained rabbi in Jamaica in thirty-three years, I have been working tirelessly with my community to build a Jewish future on this tropical island. Every Jewish community wants to survive and indeed thrive, but there is a particular importance to the preservation and development of the world’s small, history-rich Jewish communities.

As I see it, our collective Jewish future depends on it.

Before I explain my reasoning, let’s briefly review the momentous – but often overlooked – history of our community in Kingston, Jamaica.

The Jewish community of Jamaica traces its origin to Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, who came to the Caribbean in order to escape from the Inquisition. In most cases they originated from parts of Spain that bordered on Portugal. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued an expulsion decree on March 30, 1492, the Jewish community was given exactly four months to liquidate their affairs and leave the country. Those who fled to Portugal were forcibly converted in 1497. Because the Inquisition was not introduced in Portugal for several decades, many Jews in Portugal continued to practice their religion quietly.

In 1536 the Inquisition reached Portugal and Conversos began to leave. The Portuguese held their first auto-da-fe in 1540. This obviously frightened our ancestors, who made discreet attempts to plan their escape. Slowly, Portuguese Jews made their way to a number of cities that had or developed Converso communities. Amsterdam was the largest of these communities. From Amsterdam, they pursued business opportunities in the Caribbean, settling in Port Royal or later, Spanish Town and Kingston. We can trace our current community back to Neveh Shalom Synagogue, which was founded in 1704, but our roots go back even further.

There are similar communities throughout the Caribbean and Central America, including Willemstad, Curacao; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Suriname. Each of these communities still conduct services on a regular basis. Preserving these and other historic Jewish communities is critical for a number of reasons.

First, the fact that the Jews were the original Diaspora needs to be emphasized at a time when various other communities are discovering their own Diasporas. This can help build strong bonds between various national groups, allowing us to share common experiences with those who may not have obvious connections to the Jewish people. This would, of course, promote tolerance, which is always “good news for the Jews.”

Second, the experiences of the Jewish people in virtually every corner of the globe over the course of hundreds and, in many cases, thousands of years is part of the narrative that needs to be told to those who are legitimately asking questions about Jewish existence and Jewish history.

Whether in Israel or in various parts of the Diaspora, we need to be able to explain to skeptics that we have survived seemingly unending persecution and numerous expulsions and have nevertheless maintained our commitment to our people and our religion.

This narrative needs to be preserved and enhanced in actual living terms, and not just through books and museum exhibits. We must be able to tell the story of our peoplehood and be able to demonstrate living examples of that history.

Finally, when individuals travel the world looking for adventure and existential meaning, it is important that we “surprise” them with Jewish history and living, breathing Jewish tradition. Visitors are beside themselves when they discover that the Caribbean island they are exploring not only had a historic Jewish community but has living indigenous Jews who continue to gather together for communal events.

In my short time here, I have met and interacted with numerous individuals and groups who come searching for the Jamaican Jewish community in an effort to discover their own Jewish identities. Some of those who seek us out come away with a new perspective on life and a revitalized commitment to their Jewish observance. In a way, we are like a living exhibit from the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv.

Over the past seventy years there has been a dramatic contraction of the Jewish Diaspora. From a large and diverse population spread out among most of the countries of the world, we have concentrated ourselves in a handful of countries, living mostly in a couple of dozen large urban regions. This is quite an unfortunate demographic trend.

It is unfortunate for historical reasons – we no longer exist as living entities in most of the geographical regions where so much of our history was made – and it is unfortunate for political reasons – we need to be able to demonstrate that we are not just a marginal ethnic group living almost entirely in the United States, France, England, a handful of other Western countries and, of course, Israel.

Our strength as a people derives from our diversity. That diversity is a direct consequence of our dispersion. The tragedy of the Holocaust was not just the loss of so many millions of lives but the destruction of so much of Jewish culture. That Jewish culture was tremendously variegated, not only from country to country but even within different regions of the same national unit. Likewise, the ingathering of the exiles, a process that brought many of the Jews living in Arab countries as well as Holocaust survivors to Israel has had the unintentional result of ending magnificent cultural effervescence in countries around the world.

We need to devote more time and resources to cultivating Diaspora communities, whether in Kingston, Jamaica or other relatively obscure corners of the world. These communities are an underappreciated resource of Judaism that can serve to inspire alienated Jews today as well as help us preserve much needed cultural diversity and ensure a brighter Jewish future.

Dana Evan Kaplan (www.danakaplan.com) is the rabbi of Shaare Shalom Synagogue in Kingston, Jamaica and teaches Judaism at the United Theological College of the University of the West Indies. A widely published author, he holds a Ph.D. in American Jewish History from Tel Aviv University.

About the Author: Dana Evan Kaplan (www.danakaplan.com) is the rabbi of Shaare Shalom Synagogue in Kingston, Jamaica and teaches Judaism at the United Theological College of the University of the West Indies. A widely published author, he holds a Ph.D. in American Jewish History from Tel Aviv University.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Securing Our Future Through Historic Jewish Communities”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Smoke rises near Quneitra Crossing as it seen from the Golan Heights, August 27, 2014.
Fighting at Quneitra
Latest Indepth Stories
0.5-Shekel-hatasham-RJP

The War projects to lower Israel’s 2014 GDP 0.5% but will have little influence on foreign investors

The_United_Nations_Building

It is in the nature of the Nations of the World to be hostile towards the Jewish People.

champions

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are actually fighting to “liberate Jerusalem and all Palestine.”

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

More Articles from Dana Evan Kaplan
Kaplan-060112

Since becoming the first ordained rabbi in Jamaica in thirty-three years, I have been working tirelessly with my community to build a Jewish future on this tropical island. Every Jewish community wants to survive and indeed thrive, but there is a particular importance to the preservation and development of the world’s small, history-rich Jewish communities.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/securing-our-future-through-historic-jewish-communities/2012/05/31/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: