12 January 2012

The Jews of the Bahamas

This year marks 520 years since Christopher Columbus, became the first to eye the New World. Perhaps more importantly to those with Jewish ancestry is this year also marks 520 years since the first Jew set foot in the New World. That piece of history belongs to Luis De Torres, who served as the interpreter for Columbus, when they arrived at San Salvador.

De Torres was obviously an educated man who was credited with being fluent in many languages, including, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. At the time of the voyage he was officially a Catholic, having had to hide his Jewish life because of the fear brought on by the Inquisition. That fear most likely played a great role in his leaving with Columbus.

Even with the arrival in the New World in 1492, the Bahamas were not truly settled until the early 1600's when the British settled the Islands. The 1700's were a time when not a large community of Jews were there, but those that were tended to be successful residents of the Islands.

The largest groups of Jews to arrive in the Bahamas, didn't do so until after the first World War, when Nassau became home to Jewish families from Eastern Europe and the British Isles. As more Jews came to call the Bahamas home, community's spread north toFreeport. Today, the Jewish population probably doesn't exceed 300 or so, however they do have there own synagogue.

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