The Jewish community in Kingston Jamaica is flourishing under its new leader, Rabbi Dana Evans Kaplan, the synagogue's first ordained rabbi in 40 years.
Rabbi Kaplan was brought in to Kingston's Shaare Shalom Synagogue in September 2011. Coming from Temple B'nai Israel in Albany, USA, Rabbi Kaplan has revived Kingston's community with a successful education and conversion programme. Having completed his doctorate thesis on the subject of conversion, Rabbi Kaplan has been instrumental in allowing those interested in converting to do so properly.
The Jamaican Jewish community has a rich history of conversion and immigration. Many 'Conversos', Jews forced to convert to Christianity around the time of the Spanish Inquisition, came to Jamaica during the 1400s and 1500s. Following British colonisation in 1655, Jews were free to visit or settle in the country.
In recent years many Jamaicans have discovered their hidden Jewish genealogy and subsequently decided to convert back to the religion of their ancestors. Under Rabbi Kaplan, the synagogue's beit din has interviewed 15 people and admitted 14, including three who will probably have a formal conversion later this year.
Carol Lawton, whose family has lived in Jamaica for over 150 years, says the classes have allowed him "to reconnect deep with my Jewish heritage which will better enable me to pass on our traditions to the next generation to come…It's not just the class, but I think with a rabbi in the community, we'll see a coming together, as it was very fragmented the last 30-plus years."
Today, the Jamaican Jewish community, including Rabbi Kaplan's congregation, is led by the umbrella body the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica (UCIJ), created in 1921. Its 200 members are mostly located in Kingston, with some residing in Port Antonio and near the resorts Mockingbird Hill and Goblin Hill villas.