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April 01, 1983 - Image 10

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-04-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

It

iiq

10

Friday, April 1, 1983

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

JUNKETS! JUNKETS!

Changing Politics of Jamaica Bring Jewish Exodus

FOR QUALIFIED PLAYERS
VEGAS, TAHOE, An. CITY, ETC.

By CHARLES HALEVY

There are ghosts in
Jamaica, many islanders
say, and some of these
ghosts are Jewish.
The Jamaican Jewish
community itself is only a
ghost of its former incarna-
tion. Where once they num-
bered in the thousands —
probably, 6,000 at their
peak — today only about
250-300 Jews live on the is-
land, some 50 of whom are
temporary residents such as
Israeli diplomats or em-
ployees of multinational
companies.

Many Jews left Jamaica
during the last decade; not
due to anti-Semitism, which
hardly existed, but because
of fears that the Michael
Manley government was
going to turn the Carribean
paradise into another Cuba.
Manley's democratically
elected successor, Edward
Seaga, has largely erased
those fears, but few Jews
have again uprooted them-
selves to resettle in
Jamaica, despite the tropi-
cal climate, palm trees,
abundant sunshine, tur-
quoise water and white
sand beaches.

SMAR
CHARTER TO
LAS VEGAS
H.M.H. & F.

Those who remained
on the island continue to
live well and free, but
many are assimilated, in-
termarried, elderly or a
combination of all three.

(Copyright 1983, JTA, Inc.)

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"The Jews of Jamaica
were killed with kindness,"
says Leslie Ashenheim, a
director ofJamaica's largest
newspaper, the Gleaner.
"There is so little prejudice
here that intermarriage
and assimilation naturally
followed. 'Things have been
made too easy for us, so
there's no need to be
cliquish."
Ashenheim himself is
part of Jamaica's rich
Jewish legacy. His brother,
Sir Neville Ashenheim, is a
former Cabinet Minister
and leader of the Senate,
while the late Joseph
Ashenheim was one of the
incorporators of the Gleaner
when it was sold in 1897.
"Jewish families have
always been active in the
Gleaner," says Leslie
Ashenheim, pointing to
such Gleaner founders as
Jacob and Joshua De Cor-
dova (the former also a
founder of Waco, Texas),
and others named Myers,
Nathan and Delgado, all
Sephardic Jews.

Why has Jamaica been
so good to its Jews? Many
feel that the answer goes
back to Columbus, who
discovered Jamaica and
had it given to him by the
king and queen of Spain,
as his personal fiefdom.

Some scholars, including,
Nazi-hunter Simon Wie-
senthal, believe that Col-
umbus himself was Jewish,
a Marrano. Most scholars
concede that some of Col-
umbus' crew were Marranos
and that his interpreter,
Luis de Torres, was baptized
just before Columbus sailed
in 1492.
Whatever his religion, it
is a fact that Columbus
never permitted the Inquis-
ition to taint Jamaica, thus
preventing anti-Semitism
from poisoning this
paradise. Jews who tour
Jamaica will realize this by
seeing the friendliness of
the natives and also by
sampling the remnants of
Jewish life and culture.
The synagogue in Kings-
ton, the capital, where over
90 percent of Jamaica's
Jews live, is located in a
neighborhood that has seen
better days. The United
Congregation of Israelites
contains much beauty, his-
tory and tradition. Its floors
are covered with sand, a

custom found perhaps in
only six other places in the
world: in synagogues in
Curacao, Peru, Surinam,
Amsterdam, Panama and
St. Thomas in the U.S. Vir-
gin Islands.

The sand harks back to
several Jewish motifs,
according to Ernest De
Souza, a layman who is
the "acting rabbi" of the
community. "It reminds
us," says De Souza, "of
the first Tabernacle,
which was in the wilder-
ness, and also of the
promise God made to Ab-
raham — that his decen-
dants would be as
numerous as the stars in
the sky and the sand by
the sea."

A more sinister explana-
tion, De Souza points out, is
that the sand was placed on
the floor to remind the wor-
shippers of the time when
they were Marranos. Forced
by the Inquisition to convert
to Christianity, many Jews
secretly conducted religious
ceremonies in sand-filled
cellars.

The Kingston synagogue,
which attracts about 100
worshippers on holidays
and special occasions, is
Conservative with a mix of
Reform. Talit and kipa are
worn, but an organ is used,
too.
Women are becoming
more prominent in the con-
gregation; not only can they
be called up to the Torah for
an aliya, but recently the
synagogue's first woman di-
rector was elected and in-
ducted into office. This may
not be due so much to milit-
ant feminism as it is to the
recognition of the fact that
more women than men
come to services.

"The community needs
a full time rabbi," says De
Souza, an open and ge-
nial man who fully enjoys
his role in the commu-
nity. However, he con-
cedes, attracting a rabbi
to a small, out of the way
congregation can be dif-
ficult.

Jamaican Jews aren't the
only ones who would like to
see a rabbi settle on the is-

land. The local university
and theological schools
would avidly welcome a
rabbi, if only to gain a guest
lecturer.

If a rabbi did decide to
move to Jamaica, however,
he or she would have to be a
vegetarian or not too con-
cerned with kashrut, as the
community does not have a
kosher butcher. For Pesach,
says Geoffrey de Sola Pinto,
a Sephardic Jamaican, the
community imports matzot
and wine and adds a dis-
tinctly local flavor to the
charoset by substituting
naseberries for apples.
There are other items of
interest in Jamaica, of
course, but its two treasures
are its people and its cli-
mate, the latter evoking an-
cestral memories of Eden
and the former providing
their own sunshine.
Friendly, open and hospita-
ble, Jamaican Jews wel-
come visitors and are eager
to share their oral history of
the island's Jewish commu-
nity.

KEEPING THE
DREAM ALIVE

By Don McEvoy

PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL REBOUNDS

S

o seldom do my predie-
lions bear any resell -) -
blance to subsequent reality that
when I do hit the target I reel I have
the right to boast a bit..
Last October, in thl., aftermath of
the massacres in the Palestinian
camps in Lebanon, many of Inv close
acquaintances. Jews and goyim alike,
were deeply distressed over the ap-
parent erosion of American support
for Israel. ,
• It mattered not that this atrocity
was conducted by representatives of
the Lebanese Phalangist armed forces
and not by Israeli soldiers. It mat-
tered not that the terror of Palestinian
camps followed immediately the end
of seven years of PLO occupation of
Lebanon during. NA'hiC11 tens of
thousands of Lebanese had been
murdered.
Israel had assumed militan' control •
and in the CVCS of our nation's press
Israel was held responsible for the
tragic events in the two camps,
though not one Israeli soldier had
been directly involved.
The High Holy Days N.N•ere marked
by deep anguish and soul searching
in synagogues and temples - across
America. Many Christian supporters
of Israel were saddened and shocked.
Public opinion polls clearly indicated
that support for Israel in this country
was ebbing- away.
But in Israel the people were
demanding a lull ;Ind impartial in-
vest4.,Tation . So great wa s the p u bli c
pressure that the government lOund it
impossible not to agree. Seldom. if
ever, in human history was there
such a spontaneous public response

of a nation holding itself 1(1 an ethical
stt.indard of highest morality than was
exhibited by the people of Israel in
that NVOC11.11 moment.
Those in this country whO cared
most deeply for Israel's survival •Nv•re
despondent over ‘vhai they \vere
reading and. hearing, , both in the
public media and private conv ,..‘rsa-
tion.
,
At that tame I,was saying to any
who would listen: '`Don't panic.
American public opinion is a very
mercurial thing. It is responding
momentarily to ayery great trauma.
But within six months it will be back
up to pre-Lebanon War levels. There
is simply too deep a commitment to
Israel within the American people to
be washed away by this current tide.
In fact, I believe that the citizens of
this country will be so heartened by
the moral excellence Of Israel in the
deliberations Of their ONA. 11 internal
panel Of inquiry - that WC may come
Out of this with a stronger base of sup-
port than ever before."
One high official at the American
Jewish Committee told MC that he
would give almost anything to be able
to believe what I N.vas saving. but he
simply could not so believe.
Tluu makes it doubly gratifying to
read the latest poll just released by the

American Jewish Committee \vhich
shows that by early February

American support !Or Israel had re-
bounded to pr•-Lebanon levels.

(Don McEvo y is Seni or Vice Pr(..,ideni of
!/e National Conference of Christian., and
Thc opinions expressed are his own.)

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