Meyer Harroch

‘Shevet Ahim: Uniting Panama’s Jewish Community’

Shevet Ahim Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide
Shevet Ahim Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The New York Jewish Travel Guide recently had the privilege of sitting down with Rabbi David Perets, Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish community of Panama at Beth Shevet Ahim, to delve into the vibrant tapestry of Jewish life in Panama. In this exclusive interview, Rabbi Perets sheds light on the rich history, unique dynamics, and challenges facing the community, offering a glimpse into the heart of Panama’s Jewish experience.

Rabbi Perets, a seasoned figure within the community, traces his journey from Venezuela, where he served as a Rabbi in a Moroccan community, to Panama. The warmth and unity of the Sephardic community at Beth Shevet Ahim drew Rabbi Perets to make the important decision to move to Panama. His seamless transition into the community reflects not only his familiarity with Latin American culture but also the welcoming embrace of the close-knit congregation.

Shevet Ahim Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The roots of Shevet Ahim synagogue stretch back to 1933, when a diverse group of individuals, including Jews from Morocco, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Jerusalem, converged to establish a space for worship and camaraderie. Their shared vision and resilience laid the foundation for what would become one of Panama’s most prominent Jewish communities. Over the years, the community has evolved, welcoming new members from Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Uruguay, enriching its cultural tapestry with each new addition.

Today, Shevet Ahim boasts a membership comprising a wide spectrum of age groups and demographics, with initiatives tailored to engage every member. From specialized synagogues for youth to programs promoting intergenerational involvement, Shevet Ahim epitomizes inclusivity and cohesion within the Jewish community of Panama. With approximately 3,000 families as part of its fold, Shevet Ahim remains a beacon of tradition and unity amidst Panama’s Jewish population of 15,000.

Central to the ethos of Shevet Ahim is the legacy of Rabbi Sion Levy z’l, whose teachings on conduct and mutual respect continue to guide the community. Despite differences in religious beliefs, members stand united in their commitment to prayer, support, and shared traditions, exemplifying the strength of their bond.

Kollel Emet LeYaakov, New York Jewish Travel Guide

In navigating the landscape of Jewish practice in Panama, Rabbi Perets highlights the dynamics between Reform and Orthodox communities, acknowledging challenges faced by the former in integration. However, he underscores the strong bond between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, emphasizing a sense of familial unity and inclusivity that transcends cultural differences.

A notable challenge within the Jewish community pertains to conversions, compounded by the absence of a Beth Din and stringent religious regulations. Despite these hurdles, Rabbi Perets and the community offer support through avenues such as the Beth Din, addressing critical issues and providing guidance to those in need.

As Panama’s Jewish community continues to evolve and thrive, Shevet Ahim stands as a testament to the enduring values of unity, tradition, and support. Through its rich tapestry of history and inclusivity, Shevet Ahim illuminates the path forward for Jewish communities in Panama and beyond, embodying the timeless spirit of Am Yisrael.

Ateret Yosef Synagogue, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Beyond its religious significance, Shevet Ahim serves as a cultural hub, hosting events, lectures, and celebrations that celebrate Panama’s Jewish heritage. The synagogue’s architecture, adorned with intricate designs and symbols, reflects a blend of Sephardic traditions and Latin American influences, serving as a physical manifestation of the community’s identity.

Moreover, Shevet Ahim’s commitment to social responsibility extends beyond its walls, with members actively participating in charitable initiatives and community outreach programs. Whether through food drives, educational initiatives, or medical assistance, the community exemplifies the Jewish values of tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and chesed (kindness).

Looking ahead, Rabbi Perets envisions a future where Shevet Ahim continues to thrive as a vibrant center of Jewish life in Panama. With a focus on youth engagement, interfaith dialogue, and community empowerment, Shevet Ahim aims to build bridges across diverse communities while preserving its rich cultural heritage.

As Panama’s Jewish community navigates the challenges of the modern world, Shevet Ahim stands as a beacon of resilience, unity, and tradition—a testament to the enduring spirit of the Jewish people. Through its unwavering commitment to faith, community, and inclusivity, Shevet Ahim inspires and uplifts all who pass through its doors, embodying the timeless values of Am Yisrael.

For more information:

Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel, and New York Jewish

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About the Author
Meyer Harroch is the founder and travel writer of the prestigious New York Jewish Travel Guide, a digital Jewish travel publication established in 2013 that promotes Jewish travel, Jewish heritage destinations, international hotels, dining, and airlines, as well as tourism. Also, Meyer publishes the New York Jewish Parenting Guide, the New York Jewish Guide, the New York Jewish Chamber of Commerce, and the New York Jewish Event Guide.
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