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Point of Interest
A section of the exhibition hall at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Jamaica located at 32 Duke Street, Kingston.
In the Jewish Heritage Centre of Jamaica, at 32 Duke Street, Kingston, Ainsley Henriques (left) briefs some of the volunteers from the United States who were in Jamaica last week to catalogue Jewish graves. - Photos by Paul Williams 
On one of the mercantilism storyboards. There is a picture of African people cutting sugar cane. It is to be noted that the Jews were the first to introduce sugar cane cultivation techno-logy in Jamaica shortly after they arrived here in 1530. 
Some of the displays at the Jewish Heritage Centre.
The Jewish Heritage Centre of Jamaica, located at 32 Duke Street, Kingston. 
David M. Sollas was from the Sollas family after whom Sollas Market, immortalised in a Jamaican folk song, was named. Incidentally, the original Sollas Market sold grass for horses to eat, and not food for people. 
Volunteers who were in Jamaica last week to catalogue Jewish graves pore over a birth, death and marriage register at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Jamaica. 
Capturing aspects of plantation life in Jamaica was the Jewish artist Isaac Mendes Belisario. At the Jewish Heritage Centre of Jamaica, there is a section of a wall on which prints of some of his works are affixed. The prints include sketches of John Canoe, a popular character in the annual Christmas parades in which enslaved Africans participated. 

The Jewish Heritage Centre of Jamaica

Paul H. Williams, Hospitality Jamaica Writer

Present-day Jamaicans are the descendants of the people who came here after Christopher Columbus first arrived in 1494.

They were the Europeans, the Africans, the Chinese, the Indians, the Syrians, the Lebanese, etc. There are also the descendants of the Tainos, who were the people living here when Columbus arrived.

The people who came brought with them their own political, social, racial and religious perspectives. Principal among those were the Jews, who were literally driven out of Spain by the Spanish Inquisition. Thus, the heritage of the Jamaican people is a composite of those of the many peoples who came.

Yet, different racial and religious groups tend to observe and highlight their heritage and story in their own way, and separately from the others. A case in point is the Jewish Heritage Centre of Jamaica located at 32 Duke Street, Kingston, where the synagogue, The United Congregation of Israelites, is located.

Fascinating story

The brainchild of Ainsley Henriques, this multipurpose hall was established in 2006.

"Why is it a heritage centre? Because ... when I was a little boy, nobody knew the history of the Jews in Jamaica, and now that I am a little older, I think I know a little bit more. It's been a fascinating story to understand who we are, and it's an interesting story for me ... ," Henriques told a group of volunteers from the United States on Sunday, January 18.

They were in the island cataloguing Jewish graves.

It is a very interesting place, indeed, which helps to tell the social and religious history of the Jews in Jamaica, and their contribution to national development. It consists of archives, a reference library, an exhibition hall, displays, and huge pictures of ministers and past presidents of The United Congregation of Israelites.

Among the presidents are some well-known Jamaicans including David M. Sollas; Stanley Motta; Sir Neville N. Ashenheim; Leslie Roy Mordecai; and Henriques, the current chairman of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.

David Sollas was from the Sollas family after whom Sollas Market, immortalised in a Jamaican folk song, was named. Incidentally, according to Henriques, the original Sollas Market sold grass for horses to eat, and not food for people. Horses were the main form of transport at one point in our history.

Stanley Motta, formerly of Stanley Motta and Company, was a prominent figure in many facets of life in Jamaica. Sir Neville N. Ashenheim was Jamaica's first post-Independence ambassador to the United States. Leslie Roy Mordecai made a significant contribution to the Scout movement, and in 1965, he was awarded the Bronze Wolf, the only distinction of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement, awarded by the World Scout Committee for exceptional services to world scouting.

Among the displays are artefacts from various areas of Jewish life in Jamaica. Among them are a huge scroll of the Torah, and artefacts from the Neveh Shalom Synagogue which was established along Spanish Town's Monk Street in 1704, in addition to a Jewish market, and many Jewish shops. This synagogue was built by Sephardic Jews, and is regarded the first such Jewish synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

The exhibition hall consists of colourful storyboards on which pictures and texts of the various spheres of life in Jamaica to which the Jews have made significant contribution, such as commerce and trade, manufacturing, law, medicine, religion, etc. On them are bits and pieces of very interesting information such as the ones below:

"One of the earliest Jewish doctors was Amos Henriques, who became chief medical officer to the Turkish Medical Corps at the time of the Crimean War ... and Lewis Ashenheim, the first Jew to graduate as a doctor from Edinburgh University, is buried in the Falmouth Jewish Cemetery."

On one of the mercantilism storyboards, there is a picture of African people cutting sugar cane. It is to be noted that the Jews were the first to introduce sugar cane cultivation technology in Jamaica shortly after they arrived here in 1530. Enslaved Africans, some owned by Jews, were put to work on plantations, some of which were owned by Jews, along with slave ships.

Also capturing aspects of plantation life in Jamaica was the Jewish artist, Isaac Mendes Belisario. A section of a wall, on which prints of some of his works are affixed, is in his honour. The prints include sketches of John Canoe, a popular character in the annual Christmas parades in which enslaved Africans participated.

The Jewish story then is tied up with the stories of the other people who came. More about the Jews can be acquired from visiting the synagogue and the memorial garden, located beside the synagogue. In the garden are huge horizontal headstones that were brought there from the site of the first Jewish cemetery in Kingston, established in 1714 between North and Charles streets, and Love and Mark lanes. 

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