Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. I, Nos. 3-4 / Winter 1997-98
Jamaica Synagogue and Jewish Cemetery

Jamaica Synagogue Ruins & Jewish Cemetery to be Protected, Rebuilt

A new organization, the Neveh Shalom Institute, has been founded to protect the Jewish remains of Colonial Jamaica. The Institute intends to acquire the site of the former Neveh Shalom Synagogue, founded in 1693 by the Jews of Spanish Town and the adjacent cemetery site. Both sites, located at the southeast corner of Monk and Adelaide Streets in Spanish Town, were sold to the government in 1943. Ruins of the synagogue are still visible, as are some gravestones at the cemetery. For now, permission has been given to lease the sites to the Neveh Shalom Institute.

The synagogue site was purchased by the original congregation on August 11, 1704, and a synagogue reminiscent of London's Bevis Marks was constructed. Additional land was purchased and the adjacent site was used as a cemetery. There were 86 burials in the 18th and 19th centuries and only one in the 20th century. The gravestones were removed from their original locations and were attached to a northern wall sometime during this period. Preliminary investigations indicate that most are intact. At some point the synagogue site was enclosed by a brick wall, the north and west sections of which still exist. The south and east foundations of the synagogue can be seen. Rubble from the collapsed walls of the structure fill a depression that was once the basement.

Plans call for an architectural study to be carried out by the Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions and the Caribbean School of Architecture. An archaeological study will be carried out by the University of the West Indies and the Archaeological Society of Jamaica under license from the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. The Nevah Shalom Institute will be assisted in the project by the Spanish Town Heritage Preservation Commission. Objectives include recovering information on the construction and architecture of the building and recovering artifacts associated with the Jewish presence at the site. The dig will be extended to include pre and post Jewish occupation levels - including potential Spanish Colonial and pre-Columbian (Taino) components.

According to the Institute's Director Ainsley Cohen Henriques, plans call for the cemetery site to become a memorial lawn and park with the tombstones cleaned, repaired and replaced on the lawn. Corners dedicated to Jamaican Jews, the Poet Daniel Lopez Laguma and composer Sir Frederic Hyman Cowen, will be established. During the project's second phase, the synagogue will be reconstructed to house the Institute and serve as a community study center. An Executive Board of the Institute is in formation.

For more information contact Ainsley Cohen Henriques, Director, Neveh Shalom Institute, 58 Paddington Terrace, Kingston 6, Jamaica W.1; tel. (876) 928-9777 / fax (876) 927-4369; email mhenriq@uwimona.edu.jm.

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Updated: 23-July-98