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18 January 2011

Jews of Panama

As I have continued the extraction of the synagogue records from St. Thomas, I am finding many families that have arrived in St. Thomas from the country of Panama. These families, such as the Levy Maduro, Piza and Delvalle's are more of those that have given the Caribbean such a rich Jewish history.

The first Jews to arrive in Panama were Spanish and Portuguses Conversos, who like many others were forced to practice their Judaism in secret. This only began to change in 1821 when Panama became attached to Columbia at the end of colonial rule. The first Jews to arrive were a few Sephardic families from Jamaica and Ashkenazic Jews from The Netherlands. The first Jewish Congregation, Kol Shearith Israel, was founded in 1876.
Following the completion of the Panama Canal, Jewish migration into Panama increased, however it was not until 1933 that a second Congregation was established. Jews from Syria and Israel established that congregation, Shevet Achim and built a synagogue. A third synagogue, Beth El, was established by Jews who had fled Nazi Germany.
Today, the Jewish population of Panama was less than 10,000, mostly located in Panama City. An interesting fact is that Panama is the only country other than Israel, which had 2 Jewish Presidents during the 20th Century, Max Delvalle and Eric Delvalle Maduro.
Those who were recorded in the records of St. Thomas, will be able to be found in the Knowles Collection- Jews of the Caribbean after the next update.

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