The Gran Canaria Jewish Community: What now and Where?

Their tiny house of worship, situated on one of the main roads in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, bears not identifying mark. It is part of a plain building, just like any other on that same block

Their handfuls of members quietly and cautiously gather in it on Shabbat and other special occasions to observe their tradition and celebrate their holidays. Though not physically threatened, these people live under a shadow of uncertainty, a nagging reminder of the long and mostly painful history of their people

This is the reality currently facing the Jews of Las Palmas, the largest and most organized Jewish community in Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands located in the Atlantic Ocean west of North Africa. I met with some of them a couple of weeks ago and the story they unfolded  left me distraught and concerned.Paul, Monty, ValerieFrom left to right: Dr. Paul Brami, Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks, Monty  . Emergui, Valerie Amram. (Photo taken by B.I.)                                                                                                                                                                  Most of present day Jews of the Canary Islands are newcomers; primarily from Morocco and other North African countries. They moved there for commercial reasons during the early sixties of the last century, at the end of the French and Italian colonial period

 Jews, however, are not new to the Canary Islands. The first wave of Jewish immigration to these islands dates back to the end of the fifteenth century. Those were mostly “New Christians” also known as “Crypto Jews”  *  who were forced to abandon their faith and adopt Catholicism while remaining firm and devoted to Judaism during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. They came to these remote islands in search of new havens after their expulsion in 1492

The second wave of Jewish immigration to these Islands was mostly of rich Portuguese Jews of higher social class. It dates from the first part of the seventeenth century. The peace treaty between Spain and England, signed in 1604, gave rise to the trade of wine and sugar from the islands and drew many Crypto-Jews from Lisbon, Bordeaux and Amsterdam. This second group of Jewish immigrants was able to defy the Spanish and Portuguese not only by continuing to preserve their Judaism in secret but by marrying “Old Christians” who ended up converting to Judaism. Moreover, many individuals, who were part of the “Old Christians,” sought to disengage and liberate themselves from the grip of the Catholic Church, joined these communities and converted to Judaism

Unfortunately for these Jews, the Inquisition soon caught up with Canarian Islands and lasted three centuries. That brought a bitter end to Jewish life in the archipelago for the next one hundred years until the influx of Jews from North Africa in the middle of the twentieth century

The few members of the Jewish community that we met in Las Palmas are not aware of any remaining descendants of Crypto-Jews on the Islands. One of them, though, did share with us that his late wife who was a physician used to visit communities in the remote area of San Mateo and learned that some of its inhabitants light two candles every Friday night. No one could tell her why

The modern Jewish community of Las Palmas and other smaller, less organized such communities of the Canarian archipelago, are not suffering or being persecuted as their predecessors were. However, they undoubtedly face new and difficult challenges

 One of these hardships is the growing anti-semitism. The old traditional religious one is still occurring and practiced by some members of the Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, in recent years, members of the Jewish community have also  as in many other places around the globe, been subject to and harassed by political anti-semitism, a by-product of the Israeli – Arab/Muslim conflict and the brainwashing efforts of their well oiled propaganda machine. It is not uncommon to meet residents of the Islands who, when asked what a Jew is, respond by saying: “It is one who murders Palestinian children….” It is not surprising, therefore, that many Jews here live in mistrust and uncertainty

Lastly, like many other communities in the Jewish world, the numbers of this one are also dwindling due to immigration and assimilation. Their inspiring and brilliant rabbi is ninety four years old and there is no one who could take his place and ensure the continued cohesive fiber of the community

Will Gran Canaria be one day added to the growing list of places where there once was a Jewish community? Only time will tell

        I * It is noteworthy to mention that Crypto-Judaism pre-dates the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. It was during the Al-Mohavid invasions of Spain that Jews were forced to become Muslims pushing them to become Crypto-Jews who escaped to Christian districts in search of protection from Muslims (See Roth’s History of the Jews

About the Author
Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks is an English teacher and a pro Israel advocate. She lives in Israel and has recently published her first novel, "On A Wing From The Holy Land."