Jews of Gibralter
by Alex Archer
This year we spent our Summer Holidays on the Costa del Sol in Spain. There’s not much Jewish history in sunny Spain, so the family thought they were going to get away with the obligatory shul visit or two.
But it was not to be….
There’s a saying that goes along the lines of 'If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain'. So in keeping with this…..the Rock wouldn’t come to the Archers, so the Archers went to The Rock.
And what a Rock it is. Armed (groan) with their newly acquired SisterSquads@WPS wristbands, and instructions from their Simcha Squad BigSis to take the bands somewhere interesting, the Archer sisters, with their Mum and Dad just a few feet away, led the way!
We set off early in the morning to travel the 100km to the border. We needed to get there before the traffic jams set in….after all, we had heard the news and knew that the Spanish and the Gibs were angry with each other and there was mayhem trying to cross the border.
But we got to La Linea – the Spanish town next to Gibraltar, parked our car and simply walked through. There was a half hour traffic queue to drive past Customs, but the Spanish won’t let you insure their hired cars to take into Gibraltar, so we didn’t join that queue!
We walked across the airport runway…sorry didn’t stop for a picture of that….and we were back in good ol’ Blighty, that little corner of England in the sun.
We organised a Mini Bus tour and were soon on our way. The first viewing stop was magnificent… or so we thought – we hadn’t seen the rest. Anyhow, we stopped at the Pillars of Hercules and looked out to the Strait of Gibraltar and the entrance of the Mediterranean. As we reboarded the bus, the Guide handed us our tickets for the attractions we were going to during the tour. I looked at the ticket in amazement.
“Stop” I cried, “there’s more here and we want to see it!” There on the ticket… in black and white…. was the name of the ticket office. We were based at The Jews Gate. I unloaded the family. “Where’s the cemetery?” I demanded.
300 years ago, when the Spanish handed Gibraltar to the British under the Treaty of Utrecht, they may have forgotten to incorporate a return date in the contract, but they certainly didn’t forget to stipulate that there were to be no Jews! The Jews were expelled, but 5 years later, Britain was at war again with Spain. Spain had invaded Sicily and upset the arrangements made at Utrecht. Gibraltar, once again cut-off from supplies from Spain, readmitted the Jews to ensure supplies from Morocco.
But then there was a problem. The Jews who had come to Gibraltar were of Sephardi origin and when they bury their dead, they lie the stones down rather than having them upright in the manner accepted by most other groups. Even the Spanish would spot that! So the Jewish cemetery had to be located away from the rest. There is a theory that as the Spanish had stipulated that Jews could not reside or have their dwelling in the Town of Gibraltar, the plot chosen was actually akin to being no man’s land or perhaps even Spanish territory!
The oldest Jewish graves in Gibraltar are to be found here, the earliest known dating back to 1746. The cemetery was closed a century later, on 6th May 1848.
Now the family were feeling that we were onto the more usual sightseeing – things of Jewish interest, it was time to move on. This time we stopped at St Michael’s cave. Here you find the most amazing stalactites and stalagmites, combined with a large cavern of excellent acoustics where concerts are held.
Not satisfied with this location being the most obscure for spotting wristbands – we must move on. The minibus took us higher up the rock. The views are phenomenal. How many SisterSquads@WPS wristbands come this close to the top of The Rock?
Sister Squad Recruitment Drive
I don’t know which Big Sis discussed the recruitment drive with Isabel, but I think she took you just a bit too serious. She really has taken this up with maximum enthusiasm! I’m just pleased she didn’t put her hands up, otherwise the Squad’s top recruiter may have suffered from stolen SisterSquads@WPS wristbands syndrome!
Of course you can’t go to British Gibraltar without a visit to the Barbary apes. A popular belief holds that as long as the apes exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule! However most of us just go to see them and take photos, not pick them up and cuddle them! Perhaps this picture qualifies as having the wristband photographed with a celebrity.
We travelled on, our next stop being a visit to the tunnels created by the British Military throughout the centuries. Whilst these are something to visit and be hugely impressed, they are of little Jewish interest. However the one picture we did take from within was of the City cemetery.
On the left, there is a rectangular section which is the “new” Jewish cemetery. With every other religion, the Jews are now fully accepted within the Gibraltarian society.
No tour, or indeed article would be complete without a visit to the synagogue. In Gibraltar there are four. Although I made numerous efforts from England to arrange a tour, unfortunately my emails, phone calls and voicemails went unanswered. We still decided to visit all four to see if we could get in. We were unsuccessful. Outside one of the shuls, a gentleman explained that the person who carries out the tours is unfortunately unwell and no doubt this is why no one had returned our calls. We wished him well, but this didn’t deter the sister squadettes.
Just in case the wristbands needed to visit places of religious interest, Charlotte and Isabel took them to all four. Here are the photos to prove it.
And finally to finish with a point of interest…The Line Wall Synagogue, pictured below, was built on a garden which a Jewish merchant had bought for the purpose of building the shul. It was opened for worship in March 1799. The old palm tree in the Courtyard is all that remains of the garden in which the synagogue was built.
Moroccan influence prevailed amongst the community and a number of its members decided to build a new synagogue which would revert to the old Dutch customs and order of service. The interior was gutted by fire in the early years of the 20th century, and was rebuilt by an Italian architect. This building is therefore, a mixture of styles, Dutch outside and Italian inside.
I hope you enjoyed our tour through Gibraltar. We certainly had a wonderful day. Anyone thinking of following in our footsteps should certainly try to organise a tour of the synagogue. You can find all the contact details easily on the internet. Hopefully the guide recovers soon and can walk you through some of these wonderful old buildings.
© All pictures reproduced with the kind permission of sister squadettes Charlotte and Isabel Archer
Come along to the SisterSquads WPS shabbat morning squads for girls.