The history of the Jews in Panama is similar to Jewish history in other South and Central American countries. Conversos (Jews who publicly recanted the Jewish faith and adopted Christianity under the pressure of the Spanish Inquisition) came to the region with Spanish settlers, but, in time, became indistinguishable from the rest of the population. In 1821, after Panama, as part of Colombia, separated from Spain, there was an influx of Sephardic Jews from Jamaica and Ashkenazic Jews from Europe. However, they did not develop a cohesive community.

In the 1850s, as the Panamanian railroad crossing from Atlantic to the Pacific was completed, more Jews came, and this time a community took hold. Panama’s first congregation, Kol Shearith Israel, was founded in 1876 in Panama City. In 1890, Kahal Hakadosh Yangacob opened in Colon. Two further waves of Jewish immigration led to the opening of two more synagogues in Panama City. Shevet Ahim was built by the large community of Syrian Jews who arrived in the 1930s. Eastern European Jews fleeing the Nazis opened Beth El later that decade. Today, there are approximately 15,000 Panamanian Jews, mostly in Panama City, but also in Colon, David, Chitre and several other cities.

Jews have found success in Panama and have been accepted by the country, so much so that twice Jews have held the office of President, although the first time it was a technical presidency. Max Delvalle Levy-Maduro (1911–1979), Vice-President from 1964–1968, was inaugurated as Acting President on April 8, 1967, while President Marco Aurelio Robles Mendez attended a week-long summit. As per Panamanian law, Maduro’s nephew, Eric Arturo Delvalle Cohen-Henriques (1937–2015), assumed the Presidency from the Vice-Presidency after the President with whom he was elected was forced to resign. He served from 1985 until 1988, losing his office after he tried to remove the infamous Manuel Noriega as head of the military.

Today’s Treat is in honor of Panama’s separation from Colombia, which took place on November 3, 1903.

Copyright © 2021 NJOP. All rights reserved.