THE ROCK OF GIBRALTAR

Thursday, November 14, 2013

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gilbraltar.jpg

A 200 million year old limestone rock, at the southernmost end of Spain, became the Peninsula known as the Rock of Gibraltar.

In tiny Gibraltar, 6.5 square kilometers in all, there is culture, history mystery and a vibrant present. With a population of a small town, it's home to 28,000 people, of which 700 are Jewish. There has been a considerable Jewish presence in Gibraltar for over 650 years, prosperous, influential and politically active. Despite short periods of anti-Semitism during the Spanish Inquisition, it's considered the most integrated community outside of Israel.

Gibraltar boasts 4 synagogues, the oldest of which is Shaar Shamayim, a.k.a. The Great Synagogue. The other three are still functioning every Sabbath and holidays.

Several Jews served there in important Government positions, Particularly, Sir Joshua Hassan, who served as Chief Minister of Gibraltar for two separate terms. Solomon Levy served as Mayor of Gibraltar from 2008 to 2009. The city maintains 5 kosher institutions, a Jewish primary school and two secondary schools, with separate girls and boys religious high schools. There's even a Mikvah, a kosher coffee house.

Despite having only 700 Jewish members of the local community, their infrastructure could easily satisfy 2000 or more people. Gibraltar&rsquos largely Orthodox and Sephardic Jewish community has grown substantially in the past decade, increasing its rolls by 25 percent in just the last three years. The Jewish primary school now has a record 140 pupils and recently added a floor of modern classroom space with the help of government funding. Along the way, the community has become more religiously observant and, many say, more insular.

There is also believed to be a substantial population of Israelis in Gibraltar who generally don&rsquot affiliate with the wider community.

Fueling the growth in part are soft loans of 10,000 pounds ($15,500) repayable over 15 years that were issued by the community to attract newcomers, who arrive mainly from England and Spain. Many, like Jo Jacobs Abergel, who moved here from Leicester, England, are married to native Gibraltarians. Now a mother of three, Abergel laughed as she spoke of being somewhat of an anomaly among Gibraltar&rsquos Jewish women, most of whom cover their head and don't wear trousers.

According to the community members, the place feels like one big family, getting together for smachot and chagim as well as for sad occasions. The formal language spoken in the community is Llanito, a mix of English, Spanish with a sprinkling of Hebrew.

The Kosher Cafe Verdi Verdi, opened by a new comer from Israel is chic and elegant enough to belong on the upper West side of Manhattan.

Gibraltar&rsquos largely Orthodox and Sephardic Jewish community has grown substantially in the past decade, increasing its rolls by 25 percent in just the last three years. The Jewish primary school now has a record 140 pupils and recently added a floor of modern classroom space with the help of government funding. Along the way, the community has become more religiously observant and, many say, more insular.

Also the two largest stores in the open air plaza, filled with boutiques and shops, are the Jewish owned Cohen and Massias Jewelers and the S.M. Seruya Perfume outlet.

There are no non-orthodox synagogues in Gibraltar and there's a slight concern that lately the line between the Jews and the rest of the populace has been drawn a bit too tight.

It serves a purpose of avoiding assimilation and being comfortable in one's Jewish heritage.

- Helit Eidelstein





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