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jewish gilbraltar

The Actual Jews of Gibraltar
Bland mentions "our Jews," and a word may be said here on this element in the population. There are some who hold there is reason to believe that some Jews were here when the British arrived, but it is only certain that early in the eighteenth century Jews from Barbary were in Gibraltar and remained, despite many Spanish endeavours to obtain the exclusion of Jews and Moors by the Treaty of Utrecht and subsequent agreements.

Mr. A.B.M. Serfaty in his most interesting work on the Jews of Gibraltar tells us that the ancestors of the Jews of Gibraltar were the Jews of Spain, the Sephardim who were expelled from that country by order of Isabella and Ferdinand. Some of these Jews went to Portugal, others fell into the hands of pirates, while others went to Morocco, only to suffer from brigands and savages. Those who went to Portugal were persecuted, and a number went to Holland.

Another group found a home in Leghorn, whence some came to Gibraltar.
In 1655, we find Spanish Jews forming a community in England, and the next stage in the story is when the British took the Rock in 1704. Art. 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht was to prevent residence or entry into the town of Gibraltar by Jews and Moors, but, as has already been stated, we needed provisions and building materials. The sultan of Morocco, after the Siege of 1728 agreed in 1729 to sign a treaty with Great Britain. The First Clause says: "That all Moors and Jews subject to the Emperor of Morocco shall be allowed a free traffic to buy and sell for thirty days in the City of Gibraltar, or Island of Minorca, but not to reside in either place, but to depart with their effects, without let or molestation, to any part of the said Emperor's dominions". It is obvious that Jews and many others seem to have stayed beyond the thirty days limit! Incidentally, it would appear that Jews were helping the British garrison during the first siege of Gibraltar in 1727.

After 1728, the Jews began to build houses, but the owning of property in Gibraltar by any others than Protestants from England was a very major problem. The author of "How to capture and govern Gibraltar" says that "no sooner was the place in the possession of the British than the Englishman, foreigners, rich Jews and Moors flocked thither from all quarters. Spaniards got into the town in great numbers - men, women and children". He goes on to say that instructions were sent from England to encourage the Protestants by allowing them house-room at any easy rent but to discourage "Papists, Moors and Jews."

There is no doubt that early Governors did everything to encourage Englishmen and Protestants to develop the
commercial life of Gibraltar, leaving the Genoese to be camp followers, and the Jews to act as porters and hawkers. The Jews and Genoese were to be tolerated so long as they did not aim too high!

The future of the Jews of Gibraltar seems to be in question. Over the centuries, the Rock of Gibraltar, the outcrop of land dominating the narrow strip of sea between Spain and Africa, has played an important military role. What's less well known is that this historic garrison has been home to a well established Jewish community which over the years made a tentative return from North Africa after its expulsion from Spain in 1492. But the numerical decline has meant that the future for the Jews of Gibraltar is far from certain.This report from Sylvia Smith begins with Abraham Beniso, a cantor at one of the Rock's four Synagogues.

Abraham Beniso: The actual enclave was preserved as a Jewish enclave or conversus enclave for a number of years only. The Jews were then expelled back into Spain and then they joined the wave of expulsion from Spain of the entire Jewish population.

Sylvia Smith: Why did the conversus want to come here, I mean if they'd converted to Catholicism, why would they want to leave Spain?

Abraham Beniso: There were different levels or tiers of Catholics. That is, the Catholics who were born Catholics and then those who had converted under force, under pressure, to Catholicism, and then they remained to a very large extent second tier Catholics. They also keep certain of the Jewish rituals and they are trying at the same time to hide those rituals from the rest of the population.

Sylvia Smith: The Jewish presence in Gibraltar is on an altogether footing now. The need for secrecy has disappeared and as Abraham showed me around the Synagogue, he pointed out the place where one of Gibraltar's most celebrated Jewish citizens used to sit during services.

Abraham Beniso: I'll show you the seat of the late Sir Joshua Hassan, who was the President of this Synagogue, and he was at the same time the Chief Minister of the House of Assembly, and prior to that he was the Mayor of Gibraltar, and he was like that for 45 years. Now this was an elected post, it wasn't that he himself asked, and he was elected by the non-Jews.

Sylvia Smith: Sir Joshua was one of the Jewish community's most successful public figures, but there are many other Jews who today are well accepted in political circles. In Gibraltar, Christians, Jews and Muslims live in very close quarters, yet they've transcended many of the problems that bedevil other parts of the world. Because Gibraltar's a garrison town, Maseb Balilo, Honorary Registrar of the Jewish community in Gibraltar, says that civilians get on together irrespective of religion.

Maseb Balilo: All sectors of the civilian community were second class citizens in colonial Gibraltar, where the military were the first class, and I think that is why perhaps to support each other, the different sectors of the community backed each other and put up a common front to reply to the inequalities.

Sylvia Smith: By the 19th century, the Jewish community had moved to the forefront of civilian affairs, and at that time made up a third of the population, almost 2,000. Now numbers have dwindled, not because Gibraltar itself is suffering economically, but because young Jews have to go abroad for higher education, many to Britain. Levy Atiar says few return.

Levy Atiar: We're trying on the one hand to keep all the institutions running, and on the other we're finding that our numbers are decreasing through death on the one hand, and on the other because people go to university and do not come back to Gibraltar.

John Cleary: That report from Sylvia Smith of the BBC's World Service That's it from us for today. Thanks to Lyn Gallacher and John Diamond.

The Religion Report is broadcast Wednesday at 8.30am, repeated at 8.30pm, on Radio National, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's national radio network of ideas.

extract from the book “The Gibraltarian”

By Dr H W Howes

The Jews of Gibraltar

Jewish Gibraltarian or Gibraltarian Jews?
Changes in the Social Identity of Gibraltar’s Jews

In 1995 the Gibraltar Museum opened a special wing which celebrated the emergence of a Gibraltarian identity. However Gibraltar’s Jewish community went unrecognized. Why this exclusion from the Museum’s narrative? I will argue that external and internal factors require consideration. First, the transition from a colonial to an independent society, influenced by a socialist and national movement, also transformed the meaning of citizenship, ethnicity and religion. Whereas before, Gibraltarians were defined predominantly as colonial subjects, nowadays political loyalty to the place become more important. In this process Sephardi Jews, mainly a merchant community and politically allied with the conservative opposition, became successively excluded by nationalist discourse. Second, a power struggle within the Jewish community between a liberal elite and an orthodox group, was decided in favor of the latter. The Jewish community became identified both internally and externally with religious orthodoxy. Both processes led to a gradual segregation and exclusion of the Jewish community, reflected in the Museum’s narrative.

by Prof Dr D. Haller, Berlin

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