The History of Jews in Panama

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Wednesday, 01 November 2006 11:11
There is no doubt that Jewish Panamanians have become a driving force in the economy here. In order to see just how influential the Jewish community has become, just look through the yellow pages and count how many Jewish apellidos you can find next to large companies. This success did not occur overnight. Jewish migrations to Panama came in waves with the first coming in the 17th century. They were called Spanish and Portuguese Conversos and had to practice their faith in complete secrecy for fear of their lives. After Independence from Spain in 1821, more Sephardi Jews from Jamaica and Ashkenazi Jews from Central Europe settled in Panama. However, because of the lack of a strong community most of these newcomers intermarried and assimilated with the Catholic majority. Then during the mid 19th Century a far larger wave of Sephardi Jews from the Caribbean and Ashkanazim immigrated from Europe. In 1876 they founded Kol Shearith Israel- the first Jewish community in Panama.

In time, the size of Kol Shearith Israel congregation diminished considerably, but after the construction of the Panama Canal, the new influx of Jews into the isthmus gave new life to the struggling congregation. In 1933, Sephardi Jews from Israel and Syria established a second community and an Orthodox synagogue called Shevet Achim, which is now the largest congregation in Panama. However, due to intermarriage, 1936 Panamanian Jewry was estimated to consist of only 600 people. A third congregation, Beth El, is also an Orthodox synagogue and consists of descendents of a small group of Ashkenazi Jews who arrived in the 1930's to escape Nazi fascism.

Jews have held very high positions in politics within the Republic. Did you know that Panama is the only country besides Israel to have had two Jewish presidents in the twentieth century? Max Delvalle was first vice president of the Republic and later President from 1964-68 and Eric Delvalle Maduro served as president from 1987-1988.

The current wave of Jewish immigration started in the mid-1990's when Israelis started to see Panama as a good place to settle down and invest in business. During this period about 1000 jews moved to Panama. They mostly settled in Panama City, but also scattered around the country in small clusters in Colon, David and the former American Canal Zone.

Most Panamanian Jews are more conservative in their practices. Around 85 percent of households eat kosher, and there are eight kosher restaurants in the country. There are two restaurants at the community center in Panama City, one dairy and the other meat. Near Multi-Centro there is another kosher restaurant called Tel Aviv and another in Marbella called Mukis. Love that name. Sounds like something my grandmother would call me when she`s annoyed.

Darna is another good one with dairy products and fish. While not completely kosher, several businesses cater to the jewish community by providing breads, cakes, cheese, and anything kosher you might need. There is even a kosher supermarket, "Super Kosher." This a 1,500 square meter joint which sells around 10,000 different kosher products made in Israel, the U.S., Europe and Panama. Outside of Israel it´s the largest supermarket of Kosher! Go Panama!

There are three main Jewish day schools that range from primary to high school. The latest to open is the Escuela Isaac Rabin and was created for the Reform community. The other two institutions are orthodox. The oldest, founded in 1954, is the Instituto Alberto Einstein and is orthodox. The third school is the Academia Hebrea de Panama. In total, the schools have an enrollment of over 1,300 students. A Yeshiva is currently being built.

Diplomatic relations with Israel are strong. Panama has consistently supported Israel in the United Nations. Since 1948, 180 Panamanian Jews have emigrated to Israel.

Today thare are three different Jewish communities which are united under the Central Jewish Community of Panama (Consejo Central Comunitario Hebreo de Panama).

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Jews from Colombia and Canada to Panama
written by Dina , September 08, 2008
Shalom to everyone,
My name is Dina living in Toronto...planning to move to Panama...investing there already...love Panama and the opportunity it has given to us the Jews of God...just very happy of seeing how we help at each others.
Please feel free to contact me I will be new there
deycher@yahoo.com Shalom
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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 23:37