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American Jews Get Lesson On Jamaican Jewish History

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Consul General of Jamaica to New York, Geneive Brown Metzger recently partnered with the America Jewish Committee (AJC) Westchester Chapter for “An Evening celebrating the History and Culture of Jamaica’s Jewry.”  The event, held at the offices of the Consulate General in New York, sought to bring attention to the rich and historical significance of the Jamaican Jewish community.
The idea was conceived approximately one year ago, when  the Consul General met with the AJC’s Diplomatic Outreach Team with a view to drawing attention to the Jamaican-Jewish Community and to interest them in seeing Jamaica as a destination of choice for their vacations.  The event drew about a hundred of New York’s movers and shakers from the American Jewish Community who ate from a Kosher/Jamaican menu which included Jerked Chicken, cocktail patties, rum punch and tropical fruits.
Commenting on the event, the Consul General said “our culture is so rich, our land so abundant, and our people so talented.  I aim, as Consul General, to let the world know who we truly are.  I was gratified by an attentive and engaged audience.”
Making presentations at the event were Jane Gerber, Professor of History and Director of the Institute of Sephardic Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).  She spoke on “The Silent Beginnings of the Jews of Jamaica while Eli Faber Professor Emeritus of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY elaborated on the early Jews of Jamaica 1665-1830s.  Stanley Mervis a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Center of CUNY specializing in Jewish history, spoke on the limits of Jewish communal identity in early 20th century Jamaica.  Special guest was Jamaica’s own Ainsley Henriques who updated the participants on “Contemporary Jewish Society in Jamaica”.
Professor Gerber is an authority on Jewish history and author of more than one hundred books, articles and reviews including The Jews of Spain, which won the National Jewish Book Award in 1993.  She has also written the yet to be released The Portuguese Jewish Diaspora in the Caribbean as well as the Cities of Splendor in the Shaping of Sephardic History.
Eli Faber is the author of A Time For Planting (the first in the five-volume series entitled The Jewish People in America); Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight); and many articles and book chapters in other works devoted to American Jewish History.
Mervis’ dissertation is entitled “The Rise of the Modern Sephardic Family: Spanish-Portuguese Society in the British West Indies, 1670-1820” and explores the evolution of Jewish identity in eighteenth-century Jamaica and Barbados.  He has worked extensively in Jamaican archives utilizing eighteenth-century wills, manumission records, and newspapers.  He is currently an adjunct lecturer in the history of departments of Hunter College and Cooper Union.
Ainsley Henriques, a prominent Jamaican Jew is a historian, genealogist, and leader of the Jewish Community in Jamaica. His family settled in Jamaica in 1740.  Ainsley is President and Director of United Congregation of Israelites. As Chairman of the Jamaican National Heritage Trust, he led the planning Committee to host the 5th annual Convention of the Union of Latin American and Caribbean Congregations in 2003; and in 2006, led the development and opening of the Jewish Heritage Center to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Jews of Jamaica.  In 1997, he initiated the Archaeological Dig on the Neveh Shalom Synagogue site (1704) in Spanish Town.  He also initiated and managed the clean-up and maintenance of the historic Hunt’s Bay Cemetery (17th & 18th century) and has since coordinated the Caribbean Volunteers Expedition’s work on cataloging Jamaica’s Jewish Cemeteries, an ongoing project.

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