Jewmaica

The Jerusalem Post * Feb 4 2010* by PAUL M. FOER, KINGSTON * http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Features/Article.aspx?id=172223

On a warm January evening, I am seated in a synagogue with doors and windows open to the palm trees outside. Such a scene might take place in the US only in Hawaii or Florida, but it is even odder that my feet are resting on a sand-covered floor as we welcome Shabbat. It’s not the typical service which I am used to and it’s not just because of the tropical surroundings, nor is it because of the hazan’s place on a stepped-up platform in the middle. Neither is it simply because of the balcony above or because of some of the melodies and chants are unfamiliar to me. But behind the wooden doors on the bima, Torahs rest in the ark, and despite the tropical surroundings and the unusual atmosphere, at least to me, the Torahs are the clear reminder that though somewhat different from my perspective, this is a synagogue.

Among the many synagogues that may have existed at one time or another during the past 2,000 years, only a few disappeared due to earthquakes and hurricanes. Although this is the only remaining synagogue in Jamaica, where I came for a conference on Caribbean Jewry, and its cultural roots go back to the late 15th century, the present structure that houses the United Congregation of Israelites goes back only about a hundred years. Sha’are Shalom (Gates of Peace) was rebuilt in 1912 after the 1907 earthquake destroyed the 1888 building. The first synagogue in Jamaica was built in Port Royal in the 17th century, and in nearby Spanish Town a synagogue was built in 1704.

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