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Special to the JTA the Jews of Haiti

According to the cold statistics, there are only 45 Jewish families in Haiti, but the dynamics, the people, the will to survive as a community is an untold but easily discovered story by those who take some time out from enjoying this excellent vocation spot to look beneath the surface.

True, there is no synagogue, though there once was one 200 years ago. True, there is no official rabbi, though one flies in from Miami occasionally for Bar Mitzvahs and weddings.

But this is one of those Jewish communities in the world where the Israel Embassy helps Jews live as Jews, and remain as Jews. Here, Israel indeed plays a vital role in providing ties to 150 Jews in this heart-of-the Caribbean-country of more than five million.

It is the Israel Embassy, located at of 8 Berthe St., which has become the focal point of Judaism in Haiti. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services are held at the Embassy as well as the Purim ball, Chanukah party, the Passover seder and the Israel Independence Day celebration.

“In effect, I am the rabbi,” said Ambassador Zvi Loker, a veteran Israeli diplomat and scholar who was born in Yugoslavia. In an interview, Loker said that there are more than 150 persons who come to services during the High Holidays.

HAITI IS LOYAL TO ISRAEL

Even for a diplomat, the Ambassador warmly cites the friendship of Haiti towards Israel. It voted for Israel in the partition vote of 1947; it voted against the Arab-Soviet-sponsored Zionism/racism resolution; and it has an embassy in Jerusalem.

“Haiti has been loyal to Israel,” Loker declared, adding, “We are looking for friends wherever we can find them.” He said that the Haitians like Israel “for they say we were brave in war against numerous adds and they have a sympathetic interest in us.”

Israel, of course, is well known here for the agricultural development of the Jewish State. For years, Israel’s agricultural experts have been coming to aid this underdeveloped country. Israeli experts have helped Haiti with terracing and improved agricultural methods. This is but one more example of how the Jewish State assists other nations, and the Haitians have not forgotten it. Haiti is beginning to make headway in economic development and outside cooperation is desired.

To the Israelis and those who come here, Haiti’s tantalizing tastes and smiles, its warm sun, its French and Creole flavor and flier give the appearance and feeling of being in a large country, rather than an island. It is the size of Maryland and contains more than 10,000 square miles replete with cool mountains and varied scenery.

ISRAELIS VISITING HAITI

Besides the diplomats and the agricultural experts, there are even a few Israelis who live here and who have married Haitian Jews. Some in the community read the international edition of the “Jerusalem Post” and even a few copies of the Hebrew daily, Mooriv” circulate here. Hebrew is in evidence in some shops. This writer saw the Hebrew word, “Shalom,” prominently displayed in the “Shalom Art Gallery,” makers of batik and located in the garden suburb of Petionville.

Albert Silvera, owner of the luxurious El Rancho Hotel, noted that besides many American Jews visiting Haiti, there have been some Israelis staying at his first-class establishment, including, he said, Ruth Dayan.

It is the Israel Ambassador, however, who is the focal point even of inquiries to future development of Jewish tourism to this country. He related how Orthodox groups from the U.S. have approached him for information about this exotic spot in the Caribbean in order to bring kosher food, as well as ritual arrangements to Haiti.

Jewish leaders told this writer that Haitians welcome Jews. “There is no such thing as a Jewish problem, they added, David Bigio, a Jewish leader here, described his country: “No crime, no violence, no drugs, no kidnapping, peace in the streets.”

It was in the 1930’s and 1940’s that the Jewish population reached its peak, about 300 persons. Now, there are less, but the community here will survive. “Our roots are too deep,” Bigio said, quickly adding, “there is Jewish life in Haiti; the Jewish community is alive.”

(Tomorrow; Part Two)

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