As I listen to the news about Puerto Rico and hear what they are going through due to Hurricane Maria, I find myself thinking about my mother’s family (the BOTT’s). All of her sisters and brothers left Poland in the late 1920’s. Most settled in Nassau, Bahamas. I always found it fascinating how they managed to go from their mostly Jewish town in Poland to the Bahamas with so few Jews. Somehow they managed and even thrived. In fact, they were instrumental in building a shul in Nassau. As I reflect on my mother’s family in Nassau, I have been studying up on the Jews of Puerto Rico. Here is what I learned…Jewish immigration to Puerto Rico began in the 1400’s. Although they could not openly practice Judaism since it was prohibited as a result of the Spanish Inquisition, Jews still managed to settle there as “secret” Jews (Marranos or Crypto-Jews).
The first larger group of Jewish immigrants came to Puerto Rico in the 1930s and 40s as they were escaping Nazi-occupied Europe. Most settled in San Juan (the Capital) where they created the first Jewish Community Center of Puerto Rico. The second immigration of Jews happened in the 1950s, following the Cuban Revolution. So many of Cuba’s Jews had to leave and many of them went to Florida (Miami) and to Puerto Rico. The first shul in Puerto Rico was established in the 1950’s, Shaare Zedeck, and by 1970 they had hundreds of members.
Puerto Rico has the largest Jewish community in the Caribbean, and is the only Caribbean Island in which all three major Jewish denominations are represented. San Juan has three synagogues. I heard that there is even a Satmar Community on the Island. There are some Puerto Ricans who are actually descendants of Jews who were forced to convert during the time of the Spanish inquisition and Spanish rule and although they were raised and lived as Christians, there are some that still preserve some Jewish tradition.
I was so proud, but by no means surprised, to also learn that the Jews of Puerto Rico have contributed so much in various areas of culture, business, banking, education, music and entertainment.
It is so sad to see how the people of Puerto Rico are suffering. So many still do not have electricity and they are severely short of water, food, medicine, medical care, etc. etc. etc. Let us pray for the Jewish community of Puerto Rico and all the people of this beautiful Island as they are struggling to survive and to rebuild.
I would like to take this time to remind you that our YIDDISH CLASSES will take place on Monday evenings, October 30th, November 6th and November 27th at 8PM. We will laugh until we PLATZ and we will KIBBITZ so much, as we learn A BISEL, laugh A BISEL and definitely NOSH A BISEL. I can’t wait to see you there!
The dates for our LEARN TO DAVEN program will be announced soon. I know how much many of you love to sing during the services, now you will have the opportunity to learn how to lead a service. This will be a special time we can share together!
Our GALA CONCERT will take place in the Spring. Date to be announced shortly.
See you in Shul.
Cantor Sol Zim