Panama is known for having a rich blend of people from many countries, religions and backgrounds. Much of this diversity can be attributed to the construction of the Panama Canal. The Jewish community in Panama is quite large and the population has had a very distinct impact on the country.
The first Jews to settle in Panama were Spanish and Portuguese, and were forced to practice in secret. At that point in time the Jewish population was quite small, so many Jews married non-Jews and assimilated. The Jewish community in Panama grew during the construction of the canal and during the 1930’s when many came from Nazi dominated Europe.
According to the World Jewish Congress there are now about 10,000 Jews living in Panama. Most live in Panama City but there are smaller populations in Colon and David. The majority of Jews living in Panama are traditional in their practices and the vast majority keep kosher and observe Shabbat.
There are a handful of synagogues in Panama as well as Jewish day schools. Panama City is home to quite a few fabulous kosher and dairy restaurants as well as a giant supermarket, Super Kosher, located in El Cangrejo, a predominately Jewish neighbourhood. Super Kosher is reportedly the largest kosher supermarket outside of Israel.
Many of Panama’s Jews run shops in the Free Zone in Colon, and there are also many well respected Jewish developers in Panama. The majority of business owners at the Free Zone are Jews and Arabs and it’s amazing to see how few problems exist between the two groups. These business savvy families are some of the wealthiest people in the country. Panama is also the only country outside of Israel that has had two Jewish presidents. In the 1960’s Max Delvalle was elected president after representing the country as first vice president. His nephew Eric Delvalle was president of the republic in the late 1980’s.
Since Panama was colonized by Catholic missionaries, it’s remarkable how consolidated and devout the Jewish population remains in Panama. Catholic Panamanians respect this for the most part as well. Anti-Semitism exists on some level in Panama, but no more so than throughout the rest of the world.
Photo Courtesy of www.thepanamanews.com
|Written by Rebecca Tyre|
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