27 August 2007

Jamaica: History and a few hurricanes

Planning a family reunion?

A JTA story indicates that choosing the Caribbean during hurricane season might not be the best location. Hurricane Dean hit the Alberga family (from the UK, Canada and Cameroon) as they gathered in Jamaica for their annual visit to their ancestor's birthplace.

There's also information on the history of Jews in Jamaica and the current 200 members of the tribe who live there.

In 2006, Tony Alberga, who now lives in Toronto, co-authored "The Island Of One People," a history of the Jews of Jamaica, with his sister, Marilyn Delevante. She is among the last 200 Jamaican Jews, the dying embers of a community that was founded by Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century.

At its height in the 1880s, the community numbered more than 2,500 and there were at least eight synagogues. Only Shaare Shalom in Kingston remains active, but the last rabbi left the island in 1978.

In 1849, eight of House of Assembly's 47 members, including the speaker, were Jewish. Parliament meetings were cancelled on Yom Kippur that year.

In 1882, Kingston's great fire destroyed both Ashkenazi and Sephardi synagogues. Some were rebuilt and again destroyed in the 1907 earthquake, while the Montego Bay synagogue was destroyed in the 1912 hurricane.

In 1988, when Hurricane Gilbert battered Shaare Shalom on erev Rosh Hashanah, congregants gathered in the synagogue with the sand floor, welcoming the new year under umbrellas. A traditional feature of Spanish-Portuguese synagogues, sand-covered floors date to the Inquisition, when worshippers footsteps were muffled by the sand. Shaare Shalom was built by Alberga's grandfather and his brothers.

Read more here.

In January, Tracing the Tribe reported on sources for searching Jewish records in Jamaica, including name lists and photographs. Read more here.

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