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Jamaica is blessed in terms of religion, says member of Jewish community

Published:Saturday | January 9, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Ainsley Henriques (right) and Rabbi Yaakov Raskinof Chabad Jewish Centre of Jamaica.


Citing the peaceful coexistence of people of varying religious persuasions in Jamaica, a member of the Jewish community here believes that Jamaica is blessed in terms of religion.

Ainsley Henriques, Honorary Consul of Israel and a member of the United Congregation of Israelites, one of the oldest Jewish communities in Jamaica, said this situation allows all religions practised here to be celebrated here.

"In Jamaica, we've been fortunate that all religions respect each other and so we have peace; and we wish for peace on all other nations," Henriques told Family and Religion, while in Ocho Rios recently.

"Unfortunately, what we're seeing around the world today is not so much peace - too much mayhem, too much confusion, too much hate and too much killing. So I think we have to recognise that in Jamaica, we're really a blessed land and a blessed people, so from that point of view, all Jewish and Christian and Muslim holidays here are to be celebrated."

two official holidays

There are two official holidays in Islam, Eid al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, with the first being celebrated at the end of Ramadan. Jews and Christians celebrate significantly more holidays.

Jamaica is regarded as a Christian country, mostly, and is reputed to have one of the highest church-per-square-mile density ratio in the world.

Scores of different denominations, led by traditional and more popular names such as Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses, Assemblies of God, Church of God of Prophecy, Moravian, New Testament, United Church, among others, worship each week.

Other religious practices of note on the island include Rastafarianism, Islam, Judaism, among others.

There has been no known conflict between groups practicing religion on the island.

Instead, Christians, Rastafarians, and Jews have contributed significantly to the development of Jamaica, in their respective ways.

However, while the contributions of Christians, in an area such as education, and Rastafarians, in terms of music and culture, are well publicised, the same cannot be said of the contributions of members of the Jewish community.

Jewish involvement in Jamaica dates back to more than three centuries and their contribution to the country has been tremendous.

Henriques, seemingly trying to downplay the significance of this, explained: "When you live in a place you contribute to it, to the development of it, and you're comfortable with your neighbours, you make a life that is something you can be proud of and I think the Jews that came to Jamaica, my ancestors, contributed to that type of life and I am happy to say that many Jamaicans today are actually contributing to making our country a safe place for us to live."

Jewish families, with surnames such as Henriques, Matalon, Ashenheim, Alberga, Myers, DeLisser, DeSouza, DePass, Melhado, DeCordova, Hussey, among others have played significant roles in the areas of commerce, industry, and education.

Jewish contributions

Three important contributions would have been made by Jacob and Joshua DeCordova, who cofounded The Gleaner in 1834; Rudolph Henriques, who was architect of the Ward Theatre, built 1912; and the founding of Hillel Academy in 1969 by the Jewish community, as a non-denominational, independent, coeducational, multicultural institution.

"We have contributed because we know that if we can reach out to the development of our country, of the community in which we live, that's a sense of pride," Henriques added.