More Than Just a Rock

Gibraltar's vibrant Jewish community

When most people think of Gibraltar, the vision of the Prudential ad comes to mind, but Gibraltar is more than just a rock.

This tiny southern European extremity is located less than nine miles from Africa and less than 15 miles from Morocco, on the strait connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Phyllis at the Rock of Gibraltar
Phyllis at the Rock of Gibraltar | Larger

Though small in size, approximately two square miles, the country has a vibrant Jewish community, four synagogues, three Jewish day schools, a kosher restaurant, Jewish Home for the Aged, two kosher bakeries, a mikvah and even a Kollel where six rabbis spend the day studying Torah.

The Kollel is paid for by the Jewish community, according to Solomon Levy, the president of the community.

Solomon Levy in synagogue
Solomon Levy in synagogue

Approximately 200 Jewish families make their home in Gibraltar, which are affectionately called "Momy" by many of the townspeople.

Illustrating the closeness of the Jewish and the Christian communities in the city, Levy said: "The money for our Jewish Home For The Aged was built with money from a non-Jew. We get along splendid with our Christian neighbors," Levy said.

In 1753 there were 600 Jews on Gibraltar. The Jewish presence in Gibraltar continued with little interruption until World War II when all civilian residents were evacuated to Madeira, Tangiers and England.

Levy said his ancestors have lived on the Rock for 250 years. And Levy said what keeps him here is the family life.

"We have a wonderful family attitude. At lunch you close you office and go home and see your family. On Passover we all get together. Even some members of my family who live elsewhere come home to Gibraltar for the holidays," Levy said.

Rachel Beniso Cohen has lived in Gibraltar all of her life. If you walk down the main street in Gibralter, you will see Cohen's Camera Centre shop at number 207.

Cohen's Camera Shop
Cohen's Camera Shop | Larger

"The main thing about Gibraltar is that the Jewish community gets on so good with people of all religions. The Jewish people are respected by the rest of the community," Cohen said.

Standing in front of Benamor LTD Luggage and Handbag Shop at number 153 is David Benamor. He works in his father shop during a vacation holiday for Passover.

"Gibralter has wonderful family life. The closeness of the community is what I like bet about Gibraltar," Benamor said.

Benamor store
Benamor store | Larger

Gibraltar's 200 Jewish families, mostly Sephardic, but some Askenazic, rotate worshipping in the country's four synagogues.

"We pray at one for three months and then go to another one for another three months. We have two minyans and a mincha-marviv every day," said Levy.

There are about a dozen Jewish stores in Gibraltar and all of them are closed on the Sabbath, according to levy.

"No Jew faces death alone in Gibraltar," Levy said. "The Jewish community of Gibraltar has a free service called Hebrrat Guemilut Hassadim. When someone is alone and near death, we sit with him or her and say the Shema before they pass away. Fifty volunteers perform this service to the community's ill."

Nefusot Yehuda synagogue
Nefusot Yehuda synagogue | Larger

There are 180 children in the Jewish schools in Gibraltar. From the ages of 11 to 18, girls and boys go to separate Jewish schools. The four synagogues are Orthodox and most of the members of the Jewish community are observant Jews, according to Levy.

Gibraltar's largest synagogue is Nefusot Yehuda. It is located at 65 Line Wall Road. The synagogue has rich interiors with marble columns, crystal chandeliers and rich mahogany floors and seats. You will need an appointment to visit there. The phone number is 72606.

Barbary Ape
Barbary Ape | Larger

There is a cable car which takes visitors to the top of the Rock where the Barbary Apes hang out and where tourists can get a magnificent view of the city. There are also cave tours with tunnels where gun emplacements once stood and a gun museum.

However, the main tourist attraction of Gibraltar is Main Street's shopping, where many shops feature jewelry, watches, perfumes, liquor and luggage.