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“Panama’s Jewish Community: A Tapestry of Tradition, Leadership, and Enduring Legacy”

Nestled at the entrance of the Pacific Ocean side of the Panama Canal, Panama City stands as a breathtaking marvel. Acknowledged as one of the globe’s most culturally dynamic hubs, it beckons discerning travelers in search of a harmonious blend of profound history, picturesque beaches, exhilarating outdoor pursuits, and a nightlife that rivals renowned party destinations. The cityscape, featuring a seamless blend of ancient and modern architecture, is adorned with contemporary skyscrapers that have risen since the early 2000s, signifying the city’s economic prosperity and unwavering expansion.

Panama City, home to the iconic Panama Canal and a diverse marine ecosystem, presents itself as an enchanting destination, seamlessly merging natural wonders with urban marvels. The tourism board aptly conveys that Panama isn’t just a destination; it’s a transformative journey uncovering profound meanings. Brace yourself for an immersive expedition into Panama’s cerulean waters, cultural opulence, and historical tapestry.

Panama City, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Today, in the heart of Panama City, you can savor exquisite cuisine, explore an array of shopping options, and immerse yourself in a pulsating nightlife. Casco Viejo, the city’s oldest neighborhood, stands as a living testament to Panama’s early vibrancy, when it served as a pivotal trading hub between the New and Old Worlds. This historic district invites visitors to meander through its charming streets and absorb its vibrant ambiance. Casco Viejo, reborn through meticulous rejuvenation, has become an essential destination.

“Panama’s Jewish Heritage: A Tapestry Woven Through Time”

Panama has historically been attractive to Jews, drawing them for various reasons. After the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, many sought refuge from religious persecution, while others were enticed by Panama’s economic stability.

Jewish life in Panama dates to 1501, when conquistadores from Spain and Portugal arrived. Conversos, Jews who covertly practiced Judaism after converting to Catholicism, formed a community. Even in Panama, survival initially demanded pretending to be Catholic. Thirty years later, a hidden synagogue was established, and only after its independence from Spain could Jews openly practice their religion. Jewish immigration to Panama remained minimal until the 1800s, when the Spanish Empire crumbled, and its colonies declared independence. In 1821, as Spanish colonial rule ended, Panama became part of Colombia, leading to the settlement of Sephardic Jews from the Caribbean as well as some Mizrachi Jews from the Middle East and Ashkenazi Jews from Central Europe.

In 1876, Sephardic Jews, mostly from the Caribbean, founded Congregation Kol Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in Panama, which is still in existence.

The Panamanian-Jewish community experienced an initial period of prosperity in the 1910s and 1920s, with the inauguration of the Panama Canal in 1914 and the repercussions of World War I, along with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Ateret Yosef Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The 1930s witnessed an influx of Ashkenazi Jews due to the rise of Nazism in Europe. Most were Romanian, Soviet, and German Jews who found Panama welcoming and economically intriguing. During World War II, the Panamanian Jewish community actively supported Jewish refugees from Europe through financial contributions and assistance.

In 1933, Jews of Syrian origin established Shevet Achim, now Panama’s largest congregation. The Shevet Achim community, often referred to as Sociedad’s, is predominantly of Middle Eastern descent, tightly knit, and committed to preserving Jewish continuity.

The 1940s saw Jews flee Eastern Europe and Syria, establishing separate congregations. Today, the majority of Panamanian Jews are of Middle Eastern descent. Another wave of Syrian and other Middle Eastern Jews arrived in the 1970s, with more emigrating from Israel in the 1990s following the toppling of Panama’s dictatorial regime. The 1990s and 2000s witnessed additional Jewish migration from Colombia, Venezuela, and Argentina, driven by political and economic unrest.

“Panama’s Unsung Heroes: Advocates of Jewish Self-Determination and the Resilience of Panama’s Jewish Community”

In an illuminating interview with David M. Mizrachi, an international attorney, university professor, and author deeply rooted in Panama’s Jewish community, the spotlight is turned on a compelling historical figure, Eduardo Morgan Alvarez. Despite being a non-Jewish diplomat, Morgan emerged as a staunch advocate for Jewish self-determination, leaving an indelible mark on Panama’s Jewish narrative.

Kollel Emet LeYaakov, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Mizrachi delves into Morgan’s pivotal role in the Palestine Commission, a group preparing for the post-British Mandate era. Despite the challenges following the conclusion of the British Mandate on May 14, 1948, Morgan’s unwavering support for the Jewish cause and belief in the importance of Israel’s existence being owed to nations like Panama, Guatemala, and Haiti are emphasized.

“He was pro-Israel throughout his life, a self-taught lawyer with influential connections, including the President of Panama. He leveraged these connections to support the cause of Israel, a story that is still awe-inspiring to this day and meticulously chronicled in his writings,” highlights Mizrachi. Morgan’s remarkable journey continues to resonate as an inspiring and documented testament to his unwavering dedication to the cause of Israel.

Having served as Panama’s deputy education minister, Morgan was appointed as Panama’s alternate ambassador to the United Nations.  This intellectual was recognized for his enduring pro-Israel stance. You can acknowledge this in a concise documentary produced by the Israeli Embassy in Panama, conveniently available for viewing on YouTube.

Mizrachi further underscores Panama’s unique status as the only country globally with two presidents who were members of the Jewish community: Max Delvalle Levy-Maduro and Eric Arturo Delvalle Cohen-Henriquez, both associated with the congregation Kol Shearith Israel. Max Delvalle Levy-Maduro, a practicing Jew, served as Vice President of Panama and assumed the role of interim president when the incumbent president temporarily vacated the position. His nephew, Eric Arturo Delvalle, who was also elected Vice President in the 1980s, served the remaining term for over two years following his predecessor’s resignation. This historical context emphasizes the significant impact of Jewish leaders on Panama’s political landscape.

“Rabbi Sion Levy Z’L: Architect of Transformation in Panama’s Orthodox Jewish Community”

Delving into the rich tapestry of Panama’s Jewish community with Mr. Mizrachi also unveiled the transformative legacy of Rabbi Sion Levy z’l. This influential figure emerges as one of the key architects of Panam’s Orthodox Jewish Community, which has experienced not only numerical growth but also a profound shift towards heightened observance of Jewish traditions.

Beth El Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Under the guidance of the late Rabbi Sion Levy, z’l, may his memory be a blessing among the just, the community underwent a significant transformation characterized by a renewed dedication to religious observance and a strengthened connection to Judaic rituals. His enduring impact reverberates through the community’s unwavering adherence to commandments, creating a legacy that continues to shape Panama’s Orthodox Jewish landscape.

The narrative unfolds as Rabbi Sion Levy z’l stands as a central figure, molding the community’s identity and fostering a spirit of unity. His leadership becomes a cornerstone in preserving and perpetuating the rich heritage of Jewish traditions in Panama.

“Jewish Resilience and Rich Heritage: Thriving in Panama Today”  

Exploring Panama’s present-day narrative, the nation proudly houses the largest Jewish community in Central America, boasting approximately 15,000 vibrant members. This dynamic community actively engages in various spheres of Panamanian society, even ascending to esteemed positions, including the presidency.

A distinctive aspect of Panama’s Jewish community is its resilience against antisemitism, with Mizrahi underscoring the peaceful and tolerant nature of Panamanians. The predominantly Christian country, encompassing both Catholics and evangelicals, showcases a profound alignment with Jewish causes and Israel. Rooted in shared Judeo-Christian values, this cultural cohesion fosters a harmonious relationship, making Panama an exceptional haven for Jewish life.

“Harmony in Faith: The Diverse Synagogues and Kosher Landscape of Panama’s Jewish Community”

A visit to Panama will unveil the religious diversity within Panama’s Jewish community as three synagogues, representing different denominations, create a vibrant tapestry of faith. From the Orthodox-Sephardi Shevet Ahim, with its numerous synagogues, Mikvaot, and educational institutions, to the Orthodox Beth El and the Reform Kol Shearith Israel, each contributes to the rich mosaic of Jewish religious life.

Shevet Ahim Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

While in Panama, dive into the thriving kosher scene that defines Panama’s culinary landscape. With almost 90% of Panamanian Jews observing kosher dietary laws, the country boasts over 40 kosher restaurants and two full-service kosher supermarkets. Explore how Shevet Ahim’s Kashrut certification for local products has transformed Panama into a burgeoning tourist destination and experience the cultural richness and religious harmony that define Panama’s Jewish community.

“Panama: A Harmonious Haven for Jewish Life and Immigration”

Panama remains a compelling choice for Jewish immigrants, given its prominence as an international business hub and its overarching culture of tolerance. The Jewish community in Panama is known for its stability and open acceptance of many religious and cultural traditions. Jewish immigrants, particularly those from Venezuela, sought refuge and were drawn to the country’s economic stability.

“Rising Commitment and Resilience: The Evolving Landscape of Panama’s Jewish Community”

Rabbi Laine, the chief rabbi of Beth El’s Ashkenazi synagogue, observes a significant rise in the number of families dedicated to observing Shabbat. He attributes this resurgence to a heightened interest in Torah study and religious exploration, fostering a communal atmosphere of inclusivity. Rabbi Laine underscores that increased participation in religious study not only strengthens individual commitments but also cultivates a closer-knit community, promoting unity among its members.

Synagogue Punta Pacifica Bet Max Ve Sarah, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Regarding the current demographic shifts in Panama’s Jewish population, Rabbi Laine acknowledges a change since the onset of COVID. Prior to the pandemic, there was a consistent growth in the Jewish community, with individuals relocating from various parts of the world. However, the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown has had an impact on this tendency. Despite the challenges, Panama’s thriving economy sets it apart from other Latin American countries, attracting new residents. While some families returned to Israel due to the pandemic, the overall impact was relatively minor, with approximately 10 to 20 families moving post-COVID. Despite these shifts, the Jewish community remains stable, and Panama continues to be an attractive destination for Latin American Jews seeking refuge from political and economic instability in their home countries.

“Panama’s Jewish Community: Flourishing in Commerce, Education, and Hospitality”

Most of Panama’s Jewish population is concentrated in its bustling capital, Panama City, where individuals are actively involved in various sectors such as construction, finance, tourism, textiles, and international trade. Notably, Jews in Panama have achieved significant commercial success, particularly within the Colón Free Trade Zone, exporting goods across Latin America. Although there hasn’t been a substantial surge in Israeli immigration to Panama, Israelis are well integrated into the community.

Panama City is home to five Jewish day schools catering to students from primary to high school levels. Reflecting the diverse Jewish traditions in Panama, these schools include the Isaac Rabin School affiliated with the Reform community, as well as other institutions like the Alberto Einstein Institute, the Hebrew Academy of Panama, Magen David Academy, Talmud Torah, and Gan Yeladim, all associated with the Orthodox community. An impressive 98% of Jewish children in Panama attend these Jewish day schools.

Albert Eistein Institute, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Responding to the community’s growth, the hospitality industry has established numerous hotels in Jewish neighborhoods or within a short walking distance of synagogues and kosher restaurants. Rabbi Laine succinctly outlined the reasons behind Jewish immigration to Panama as twofold: a robust and engaged Jewish community and a growing economy. Furthermore, the increase in anti-Semitism in nearby countries, particularly Venezuela, has played a role in motivating Jewish migration to Panama.

Beyond its Jewish community, Panama offers more than just the renowned Panama Canal. With a rich cultural tapestry and the production of some of the world’s finest and most expensive coffee, Panama stands as an enticing destination for those seeking a kosher and Jewish community with strong ties to tradition.

“Discovering Panama City: Must-See Attractions and Experiences!”

Panama presents a diverse array of land and sea adventures. From day trips to the rainforest to extended stays at beaches and resorts, exploring native Indian villages, and joining excursions to the picturesque islands along the northern Atlantic or southern Pacific coasts of Panama, the options are plentiful.

In essence, Panama caters to the needs of kosher travelers, offering an abundance of kosher food, a favorable climate, and a thrilling range of experiences.

Panama Canal:   A one-of-a-kind and unforgettable experience

The Panama Canal, a renowned global attraction, is a must-visit in Panama and is recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. With a history of over 900,000 vessels passing through, it serves as a crucial shortcut for 71 countries, contributing 6% to global commerce and generating over $4 billion annually. Jaime Roble Aguillar, a seasoned guide at the Panama Canal Visitor Center for 26 years, shared insights with the New York Jewish Travel Guide. The canal spans fifty miles, operating 24/7 and requiring an average transit time of ten hours. Jaime highlighted that the side with the highest traffic is sailing toward the Atlantic.

Panama Canal, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Elaborating on the intricate fee structure, Jaime emphasized that charges depend on factors like vessel size, cargo, and route. Fees range from $1,700 for a private yacht to $1.2 million for larger vessels, adhering strictly to International Maritime Organization guidelines. While revenues steadily grew since the 1990s, the canal experienced a 3% decline during the COVID period.

Jaime shared an intriguing anecdote, illustrating the competitive nature of the canal business. When a shipping line can’t wait for its turn, a bidding process ensues, sparking a chain reaction of competitors offering higher fees, ultimately boosting revenue for the Panama Canal. Make sure to add this tour to your list of must-visit experiences.

Exploring Panama’s Kosher Delights: A Culinary Journey

Discover the rich kosher culinary scene in Panama through our featured article on “Panama’s Kosher Culinary Gems: Aria, Aroma, Lula Casco, and Yoss Burger.” Delve into the unique flavors and experiences offered by these establishments.

Seaside Serenity: Kosher BBQ Retreat at Playa Escondido Resort & Marina

Escape to luxury at Playa Escondido Resort & Marina, a hidden gem just a short two-hour drive from Panama City. Indulge in powdery-white sands and turquoise waters as Go Beyond presents an exclusive day featuring a kosher BBQ. With meticulous attention to detail, this secluded paradise promises a perfect day, blending pristine surroundings with impeccable service.

Casa Viejo, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Casa Viejo: A Historic Charmer in Panama City

Casco Viejo, or Casco Antiguo, unfolds as a favorite neighborhood in Panama City. Nestled in a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site dating back to 1673, this charismatic area boasts lively plazas, brick-paved streets, and colorful mansions. Explore vibrant art galleries, savor diverse cuisine, and don’t miss LULU, a renowned kosher restaurant. Casco Viejo invites leisurely walks, history immersion, photo opportunities, and vibrant nightlife experiences.

 

Plan Your Kosher Panama Adventure

Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide.com, and New York Jewish Guide.com.

For all the details and to organize your kosher trip to Panama, connect with GOBEYOND at +1 (332) 203-6014 or visit gobeyond.pa/en and panamayeshivaweek.com.

To book your stay at the Sortis Hotel, Spa & Casino, Autograph Collection, or any other hotel in Panama, just get in touch with Go Beyond, your trusted local Jewish travel agency, via info@gobeyond.pa or +1 (332) 203-6014.

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