I stumbled upon a fascinating story from the Wall Street Journal about Jews in Jamaica, and how the government wants to attract tourist using the Jewish history angle.
"No matter that Jamaica has just one synagogue and no rabbi, or that its Jewish community is down to around 200 people. It was once home to a Jewish pirate named Moses, according to one account.
A global economic downturn and "ferocious" competition from Mexico, says Jamaican tourism director John Lynch, mean that every traveler counts these days. Jamaica's Jewish history, he concedes, has "been a well-kept secret."
Read the full story here, and also make sure to watch the video embedded in the article. As it turns out, Jamaica was a destination for Jews fleeing the Inquisition, and at one point it had a thriving Jewish community, one of the largest in the Caribbean. The current Jewish population is only around 200, but the tourism bureau hopes the sand-floor synagogue, one of very few in the world, could be a tourist attraction.
While reading, I noticed that two different people in the article, including a Jamaican Jew and a Jewish pirate, both have the surname Henriques, which is of Portuguese origin. So I looked it up, and the full story of the Jewish pirate is completely fascinating: Moses Cohen Henriques, a Portuguese Jew, allegedly aided Dutch captain Piet Hein in one of the biggest heists in history, capturing Spanish ships in Cuba with silver and gold worth around US$1 billion in today's currency. It gets better! Then, Henriques headed to Brazil, where he established a pirate colony on an island off the coast. In 1754, when the Dutch took over Northern Brazil, he left Brazil to join pirate Henry Morgan in his adventures.
There's a lot more where that came from in Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, which is going on my to-read list.
While I'm not sure how much luck Jamaica will have with this "attraction," it's certainly an interesting idea, one that could definitely be adopted in Recife, home to one of the oldest synagogues in the Americas and a former thriving community of Dutch Jews that later established the first Jewish community in New York. The temple is simple but beautiful, and there's also a small museum in the synagogue. But the city itself could do more to promote its former Jewish heritage as a cultural destination, and it could use Jamaica's experience as a model, since I think Pernambuco actually has an even larger and more complex Jewish history.