A Jamaican Jewish Familiy History

By Marilyn Delevante
Jews resided in Jamaica from before the English conquest in 1665. The Hunts Bay cemetery is very old; and is in fact the oldest cemetery of any denomination in the island. Tombstones have been found there dating back to 1672.
Many of our ancestors are buried there.
I do not find cemeteries to be sad places. Especially not Hunts Bay cemetery. There I feel a close link with those Jews who fled from the dangers of the Spanish Inquisition and made a life for themselves here

in Jamaica and other the Caribbean Islands.
The Jews that inhabited Port Royal chose Hunts Bay, four miles across the Kingston Harbour as a suitable place for their cemetery. They had to row the deceased from Port Royal to Hunts Bay where they disembarked, carried the body of their loved ones a hundred yards from the “Bay’ to the burial ground (Beth Haim). The last burial to take place there was in 1819.
Many people in Jamaica, and several other countries can trace their ancestry to one or more of those that are buried in this cemetery.
In searching through those ancient tombstones you will find one dated 1711, with the name Jacob Brandao, it has inscriptions in Portuguese and Hebrew, with a few words in English around the periphery.….I had no idea of what these inscriptions meant, and I had to get them translated!
What I did know was that the name BRANDAO was a Portuguese name, and also that it had come to be known as BRANDON here in Jamaica. I also knew that my mother’s grandmother was a Brandon. Her name was Judith Hadassah Brandon. Judith’s daughter Gladys married Vernon Henriques.
Many of you that will read this story will have some connection to the Brandon family.
The really exciting part is that the descendants of Jacob and Isaac Brandon can be traced right up to the present time….13 generations!
The descendants of Jacob & Isaac are numerous, and are active members of Jamaican Jewry today. Relatives of the Jamaican Brandons reside in Panama, Australia, Cayman, the United Kingdom, Africa, the USA and Canada, numbering in the thousands and very often not even being aware of each others existence.
Jacob and Isaac were the sons of Abraham Brandao who was born in London in 1640, and died in 1712. He belonged to a Portuguese family who fled to escape the terrors of the Inquisition. Jacob was born in Port Royal, he died when he was 46 years of age (1665-1711) and is buried in the Hunts Bay Cemetery.. The translation of the Portuguese inscription on his tombstone reads: ‘Tomb of the blessed and honoured Jacob Brandao…May his unfortunate death serve as a pardon for his sins’. Translation of the Hebrew inscription reads: ‘The burial of the honourable gentleman, Rabbi Jacob Brandao…he died in his righteousness’. The title of Rabbi, clearly denoting that he was one of the leaders of the Port Royal Jewish community.
Jacob married Rachel they had two children, Ester (1705-1759) and Joshua.
Isaac Pereira (1666-1740) was born in Port Royal, but went to live in Kingston. He is buried in the old Kingston cemetery, his tombstone has been re-laid in the Memorial Garden at Duke Street. The inscription reads:
Tomb of the blessed, honoured, modest, elderly gentleman, Isaac Pereira Brandon whom God chose to gather up for himself on Shabbat at 7o’clock at night on the 6th (Rosh Hodesh) of Adar, 5500, corresponding to 23rd February, 1739, at the age of 73 and one half years.
M[ay] H[is] B[lessed] S[oul] E[njoy E[ternal G[lorry]
There follows a verse in Spanish:
Sleeping, peaceful, resting,
An example of virtue,
His soul in eternal glory,
May it enjoy tranquility through the ages.
Isaac married Rebecca Lopes Pereira, from Mile-end in London in1696. She was born in Spain, and died in Kingston.
Isaac and Rebecca had a son Moses buried in the old Kingston cemetery, his tombstone has been re-laid around the perimeter of the Orange Street cemetery.
Their son Moses (c1698-1732) died age 33years; he married Abigail (c1723-1767) who died aged 44 years. Their son Abraham (died 1813) married Judith (died 1828) their son Manassah Brandon died in1838 in Jamaica. George Manassah (1823-1872) married Rebecca (c1790-1874), whose daughter Judith Hadassah Brandon was born in 1862. Her date of death is unknown. She married Abraham Simons in Panama in 1886. Their daughter was Gladys Simons.
Family of Gladys and Vernon Devereaux Cohen Henriques :
Gladys Zillah Simons of Jamaican Jewish parentage was born in Panama and married Vernon Cohen Henriques of Jamaica, the parents of Verna Cohen Henriques.
Vernon and Gladys had six children, Daniel the eldest died in infancy. Verna Elaine Cohen was next, and she outlived all her siblings. She died in 2004 at the age of 96 years. Yola her sister came next; followed by Vernon Jr., Rudolph and Samuel, all of whom lived and died in Jamaica..
Their offspring include families in Toronto, Canada, London, the United States, and even Cameroon.
The grandchildren of Vernon and Gladys are too numerous to mention, but there are a large number in Jamaica; while those in other countries maintain close links with Jamaica. All these children are 13th generations removed from Abraham Branado, born London in 1640.

A Rabbi’s View On Sabbath

By Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan. Originally posted on jamaica-gleaner.com March 21, 2011

There has been a great deal of debate about the Sabbath in Jamaica recently. Recently, ‘Religious Hardtalk’ featured Baptist minister Everald Allen talking to host Ian Boyne on the proper interpretation of what is called in Hebrew, Shabbat. Allen argued that the ‘old covenant’ is obsolete, with Boyne, while agreeing on that point, arguing that the Sabbath is perpetual. Responding in The Gleaner, Devon Dick (‘Debating the Sabbath’, Thursday, March 10) refers to the subgroup of early Christians who insisted on the validity of the Mosaic Law, including Shabbat observance. What is missing from this discussion is a contemporary Jewish perspective.

The Sabbath is a central feature in modern Jewish religious life. Some would argue the central feature. To this day, the members of Shaare Shalom Synagogue in Kingston gather on Friday nights and Saturday mornings to worship God and honour the Sabbath. Zionist thinker Ahad HaAm is credited with the often repeated truism that more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews. By this he meant that the observance of the Sabbath was the critical observance for the maintenance of Jewish fidelity to the covenant, which remains in force to this day.

Breaking down the Sabbath

In Jewish tradition, God creates the world in six days. Modern Jewish interpreters understand these ‘days’ in a symbolic manner, rather than 24-hour units. On the seventh day, God ceased working, blessing the day and declaring it holy (Genesis 2:1-3). The Sabbath is a celebration of creation, an imitation of God’s own day of rest, as well an everlasting sign of the divine covenant with the Jewish people. In the book of Exodus, Adonai says to Moses, “Speak to the Israelite people and say: ‘Nevertheless, you must keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I, Adonai, have consecrated you. You shall keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you.’” (31:12-14)

Jamaican society has become increasingly fast-paced. Whereas once ‘island time’ predominated, today Jamaicans are finding themselves bustling around virtually without stop. In an era of globalisation, we are subject to the same social and economic pressures as everyone else. In dramatic contrast, the teachings of Judaism on the Sabbath emphasise value in rest, reflection, study and tradition. Shabbat is a day of peace, indicated by the greeting ‘Shabbat Shalom’, meaning ‘May you have a peaceful Sabbath’. We achieve a sense of peace by stopping as many weekday responsibilities as practical and possible.

The Sabbath is, of course, one of the Ten Commandments, a section of the Torah which has great religious import. In the first version of this text, which appears in the book of Exodus, God tells the Israelites to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”. (20:8) The text continues, “For in six days Adonai made Heaven and Earth and sea – and all that is in them – and then rested on the seventh day; therefore, Adonai blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (20:11)

Off target regarding Israel

Unfortunately, Reverend Dick published a follow-up column (Thursday, March 17, ‘God did not write Ten Commandments with fingers’), which jumps from a discussion of anthropomorphism in the Torah – the question of whether the Torah’s use of physical imagery to describe God should be interpreted metaphorically – to a sudden and entirely disconnected attack on the State of Israel’s security policies. Living on an island with no enemies in proximity, it may be hard for Devon Dick to understand the terribly difficult political situation in which the Israelis find themselves.

Judaism is not a proselytising religion, and so Jews do not feel that other Jamaicans need to convert in order to go to Heaven. Nevertheless, there are many great insights in the Jewish tradition that can provide religious inspiration for people of any and all faiths. The concept of the Sabbath can provide us with a model of how to balance work and rest, study and reflection, activity and peace.

Dana Evan Kaplan is the rabbi of Temple B’nai Israel in Albany, Georgia, and an adjunct associate professor at the Seigal College of Jewish Studies. Email feedback to and

The Meaning Of The Holocaust For J’cans

By Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan, Originally posted in The Gleaner April 19, 2012

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Known in Hebrew as Yom HaShoah, it is observed as a day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Nazi genocide carried during World War II. In addition, the Nazis murdered millions of other people of different nationalities and backgrounds. It is a day of sadness for Jamaican Jews who remember their co-religionists who were exploited as slave labourers, murdered in mass shootings and systematically killed in gas chambers in extermination centres.

This day of commemoration is of significance not only for Jews but for all people of conscience. In Jamaica, we celebrate our country as being out of many, one people. We rightfully take pride in being inclusive, of embracing the ‘other’, opening our hearts and minds to our neighbours, our friends, and also those we do not yet know. Intolerance has not found fertile soil in our land and for that we are grateful.

It is important to understand the way that intolerance can lead to persecution, and in the case of the Holocaust and, unfortunately, a number of other even more recent cases, mass murder. The Holocaust was a singular event of such a magnitude that it is scarcely possible to conceptualise it, much less to comprehend its meaning.

Nevertheless, we must try to understand what happened and why.


The word Holocaust has been used in English to refer to large-scale massacres, but since the early 1960s has referred specifically and exclusively to the genocide of the Jews by Nazi Germany. The biblical Hebrew word Shoah means calamity and became the standard Hebrew word for the Holocaust already in the 1940s. What is astounding is how the entire German state apparatus became involved in the killing process.

The German Ministry of the Interior checked birth records to find out who had even one quarter Jewish blood. The German Ministry of Finance oversaw the confiscation of Jewish property. The post office delivered the denaturalisation notices depriving German Jews of their citizenship and then later delivered the deportation orders sending those same people, many of whom had served the country loyally in World War I, to their deaths in concentration camps.

The Nazis believed in eliminationist anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. Anti-Semitism was manifested in many ways, beginning with subtle social discrimination and escalating into violent mob attacks until it culminated in mass murder. We hopefully learned the hard way that hating any person for their very existence is something we need to avoid at all cost. What may seem to be harmless prejudice today can turn into viciousness and wanton destruction tomorrow.

The Holocaust has dramatically changed how Christians view Jews and Judaism. Many Christian ideas and images provided the background in which European anti-Semitism developed, making it that much easier for the Nazis to dehumanise the Jews and then murder them. Shockingly, few voices were raised in protest. As Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander writes, “Not one social group, not one religious community, not one scholarly institution or professional association in Germany and throughout Europe declared its solidarity with the Jews.”

Severe punishment

Relatively few individuals were willing to hide the Jews in Germany and other European countries. One reason was that the Nazis threatened severe punish-ment for anyone caught helping Jews in any way. In Poland, for example, the punishment for assisting a Jew in any way was death. Nevertheless, if average people had protested just a few years earlier, the Nazi barbarians would never have been able to get to that stage. We learn that evil must be confronted sooner rather than later. Turning a blind eye to horrible deeds based on hateful ideology is unlikely to bring about a just result.

Fortunately, all religious and ethnic groups in Jamaica coexist in peace and harmony. We need to build on this tradition of respect and tolerance to learn how to view each other as caring human beings. We need to build on this tradition of respect and tolerance to learn how to repair the world, taking the difficulties that we face as individuals and a society and responding in a positive and constructive manner. We need to build on this tradition of respect and tolerance to encourage love and brotherhood and sisterhood, engaging all Jamaicans in a healthy and constructive process of getting to know each other so that we can work together for the betterment of all.

In commemoration of Yom HaShoah, we will recite a special prayer at our Friday night services tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Synagogue. At this service, His Excellency German Ambassador Josef Beck will address the congregation on how contemporary Germany has grappled with the legacy of the Holocaust and what we can learn from this terrible campaign of persecution and mass murder. His talk is part of a broader process of truth and reconciliation which brings Germans and Jews together to talk openly about what happened and to try to map out the way forward. Nothing will bring back the millions who were lost but we can honour and remember them with dignity free of hate.

Dana Evan Kaplan is a rabbi. Email feedback to and .