Malta, a European island nation located in the Mediterranean Sea, is one of the world's smallest yet most densely populated countries. The history of Jews in Malta may date back more three thousand years. Today, the Jewish community of Malta numbers approximately 500.
- Early History
- Famous Visitors
- Jewish Place Names
- Expulsion (1492)
- Intelligent People
- Coming of the Knights
- Jewish Heroism
- Rebirth of the Community
- Relations with Israel
The history of the small Jewish Community of Malta goes back to the arrival of the Semitic Phoenician settlers almost three thousand five hundred years ago. It is believed that they were accompanied by Israelite mariners from the seafaring tribes of Zevulon and Asher.
At the time in the city of Tyre lived Princess Jezebel, who in 906 BCE married the Jewish Sultan Omris Ohab. After this marriage relations between the Jews and the Phoenicians grew so warm and cordial that they began to sail the seas and occupy various lands together. Some of them stayed in our islands.
We have evidence that at the time the Phoenicians were occupying Malta, the first Jews landed on Gozo and there they left behind the first signs of their presence. You can find this near the inner apse of the southern temple of Ggantija in Xaghra, one cannot fail to notice that on the ground under your feet is scratched the first Jewish evidence on Gozo.
This Jewish evidence is an inscription in the Phoenician alphabet, discovered and made known in 1912 by Ms N. Erichson and Ms. R. Cleveland. This inscription is in two lines and has ten words: seven in the first line and three in the second. Translated this inscription reads: "To the love of our Father Jahwe."
On the other hand the discovery of carved menorahs (candlesticks with seven branches) and Hellenistic inscriptions in a number of Jewish catacombs at Rabat and Tabja attests to a community living here in Grecian and Roman times.
The most renowned Jewish visitor to our islands was none other than St. Paul, a Jew from Tarsus, who lived in Malta for some three months. Making Malta famous with the Christian world and bringing the new religion to the inhabitants.
One of the most remarkable figures in Medieval Jewish history, Avraham Ben Shmuel Abulafia, lived for many years in Malta, to be exact on the small rocky isle of Comino. Born in Saragossa, Spain, in 1240, Abulafia, visionary and prophetic cabbalist, proclaimed himself the Messiah and predicted the messianic era would begin in the year 5050 (1290). Abdulafia dreamed of dissolving the differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
On the day between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), 5040 (1280) he set out to Suriano to convince Pope Nicholas III to heed his ideas and ease the suffering of the Jews. His efforts ended with the Pope sentencing him to death by fire.
With the pyre prepared, the pope suddenly died of a heart attack and Abulafia was subsequently freed. He settled in Malta, where he wrote many cabalistic, philosophical, and grammatical works, including Sefer Ha'ot (Book of the Sign), many mystical essays on prophetic cabbalism and his greatest book Imre Sefer (Goodly Works). He died some time after 1291.
Mdina seems to have harbored an important Jewish community until the expulsion edict of 1492. During the Muslim occupation (870 - 1090) under the rule of the Abassid and Aghlabide caliphates, members of the Jewish Community are known to have served as civil servants and one was even elected to the highest rank of Vizier.
When the Normans seized the archipelago, in 1090, there was a mixed population in our islands, consisting of Muslims, Christians and Jews. From 1091, the Jewish community of Malta's history, now integrated with nearby Sicily, can be clearly traced. For example, in 1240, according to the Abbot Gilberts report to the Emperor Frederick II, there were in the Maltese islands.
47 Christian Families and 25 Jewish Families
Whilst in Gozo there were 200 Christian Families and 8 Jewish Families
This makes a total of approximately 250 Jewish persons. Although the majority of the population up to 1249 was still Muslim. In 1282, the Maltese islands became a Spanish possession.
That the Jewish Community prospered there is no doubt, their number increased and this is evidenced by the nominations of the new bishop of Malta at the time.
In 1370, Francesco Papalla (the new bishop) from Messina was elevated to the dignity of "Custos Rotellea," so that he would follow more closely the orders and commands of Frederick II, that of "Contra Judeos ut in Differentia Vestium Et Gestorum Discernatur." This order was well laid down by Bishop Papalla, as he was able to order Jews (as Frederick desired) to wear a "Red Badge" on their clothes, and all Jewish men had to remain unshaven to distinguish them from Catholics.
In 1390, a number of Gozitans Catholics and Jews were taken as slaves after Tunisian corsairs launched a sudden attack on the island of Gozo. Among the captives were six poor Jewish persons. There were a certain Machullaf or Micallef, Sadum or Sajdum, Coftura, Jakobb, David and Sabbeus.
These six Jews, because of poverty, had to remain in captivity as slaves for at least 13 years. The fact that they were not extradited during those 13 years in slavery, does not mean that there were no initiative to free them.
In fact, three years after being captured as slaves, the Jewish Community of Trapani was able to collect a sum of money for their freedom. Yet in spite of this, for reasons unknown, the six unfortunate Jewish slaves were not freed. Another appeal to free them was attempted later on by Moses Mason who pleaded with King Martin I for their freedom. The King offered 300 Doubloon if their freedom would be met. Whether these six poor Jews were released or not remains a mystery.
In 1393, the Bishop of Malta, Bishop Giovanni De Pino from Catalan was nominated as "Bishop Rotellae" for the Maltese islands. King Martins attitude towards the Jews was sympathetic; in fact, in 1400 he pardoned all Jews on these islands and ordered the Bishop and his inquisitor not to meddle in the Jews affairs in Malta and Gozo. Consequently, the Jews of our islands began to make a lot of progress.
In fact, in 1403, they were able to lend the Viceroy the sum of 30 ounces of gold to equip militarily a new galley. In 1435, we have indication about a certain rich Jew called Mose` Arnocrani living in Gozo near the church of St. Paul.
In the same year (1435) the Universita demanded the abolition of a tax which was due to be imposed on the Jews. This was well appreciated by the Jewish Community in Malta and Gozo, since the Universita released them from the tax burden, and as time passed the relations between the Jewish Community and the Maltese grew cordial and a certain Gozitan Jew named Xilorun was chosen as an ambassador of the Maltese Deputies to the court of Sicily.
Relations between Jews and Maltese had not always been so happy; however, since the islands were dependencies of the Aragonese crown, Jews had been officially expelled from them in 1492, and their property confiscated:
It appears from a notarial deed of 2 June 1496, that the monastery of St. Scolastica had just been founded...The monastery was then occupying what had once been the synagogue of the Jews that had been expelled from the island only four years earlier. The monastery of St. Scolastica eventually moved to Birgu.
Jewish Place Names
During the early part of the middle ages, the Jewish population of Mdina constituted roughly a third of the inhabitants of that city. Where they were regarded as citizens, occupying a comfortable position, having fields and properties in the countryside. To a lesser extent this also holds true for the smaller community of Jewish inhabitants of Birgu, the port. In both Mdina and Birgu one can still find reference to the Jews stay in our islands. At Mdina one finds the place where the "Jewish Silk Market" was and there is a Jews Gate and Jews sally port in both towns. At Birgu one can also find "Jewry Street", whilst at Zejtun there is "Jewrys square". Whilst at Valletta there is to this day a place known as "Jews Sally port" very near to where the Jewish Slave prison was to be found. We also still have "Jewish Caves" at BinGemma and "Jewish Caves" at Xatt il-Qwabar as the wharves of Marsa were previously known by.
In neighboring Gozo, they lived mostly in the suburbs of the Citadella, the small capital of this island primarily rural and poorer that its larger sister island of Malta. But in none of the islands did they live confined in Ghettos or enclosed neighborhoods. but their houses were situated next to those of Christians. This all changed later on.
The presence of the Jewish Community on the island of Gozo is also indicated by the number of nicknames or names which still exist. For instance, "Ghajn Lhudi" (Jews Cave) near Wied Sansun Samsons Valley), "Wied Sansun" (Samsons Valley) itself, "Ghar Lhudin" (Jewish Fountain), and "Misrah Lhudi" Jews Square. About Ghajn Lhudin we know that it existed at Xaghra, but there is no evidence exactly where it might have been.
Further names such as "Wied il-Gharab" in the areas around Xlendi, - that up to 1555 was still know as "Wied il-Lhudi" (Jews Valley) and the hill know as "Ta Gordan" - are a good testimony of the Jewish Communitys presence in Gozo.
Old Jewish notarial manuscripts written in the colloquial Maltese of those days but using the Hebrew alphabet from the XV century preserved in the Cathedral library of Mdina confirm the above.
When compared to other Catholic lands, for long periods during the Middle Ages the Jews of Malta, who had settled here from Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa and Spain, lived a fairly independent and prosperous life.
Although some Jews held prestigious posts, such as Avraham Safardi, the islands' Chief Physician, (a profession monopolized by the Jews of Malta at that time) and Xilorum, a diplomatic envoy to the court of Sicily others were agricultural land owners and import-export agents, Whilst the majority were shopkeepers and itinerant merchants.
There were times when the community at large was subjected to restrictions. Yet a degree of tolerance and privilege also prevailed. Jews in prison for civil debts were allowed home for the Sabbath and Holy Days. On Friday nights Jews were exempted from carrying mandatory torches, a precaution required of all citizens to protect the island against surprise attack after dark. Whilst Jewish communal elections were conducted with no outside interference by the local authorities.
The Expulsion (1492)
This situation changed in the second part of the15th century, when the religious authorities, of Spanish origin, worried about the joint ownership of certain houses inhabited by the Jews next door to the churches, appealed to the Spanish throne to do something about the Jews. This reaction developed with the rise on the throne of Spain of Ferdinand d' Aragon (1479).
The Inquisition struck the Jews and the Moslems who still lived the archipelago.The decree of expulsion was signed in Palermo on June 18, 1492. It gave three months to the Jews of Sicily and Malta to leave the country (or else to convert to Christianity and forfeit 45% of their possessions). In Spain, they were considered with suspicion, as well as the Moslems in the midst of which they lived and also spoke their language.
In Palermo, the local government sent a protest to the Spanish sovereigns making the point that if one expelled the Jews of the kingdom, where they were many and commercially active, in particular in Malta and Gozo, the economy would be adversely effected and the islands would be depopulated.
A rather significant number of Sicilians Jews accepted the edict proposed by the Spanish royalty and converted. The Maltese historian Profs. Godfrey Wettinger thinks that, on their side, it would be astonishing that no Maltese Jew succumbed to this temptation. In fact, in the years which followed the application of the decree of expulsion, Malta counted several tens of conversos whose names were found in the files.
The surnames of our archipelago carry the trace of this heritage; thus, Attard, Ellul, Salamone, Mamo (name of first independent president of Malta) and Meli would be names of Jewish origin. It appears that Azzopardi, a very widespread name in Malta, would mean Séphardi (One who originated in Spain (Sefarad).
Among the intelligent Jewish families living in Gozo was the popular Safaradi family, a well respected family on the island not only for goodness but also for its intelligence. In fact, in 1446, the family Safaradi boasted two doctors, one was Bracone Safaradi and the other was the already mentioned Rabbi Abraham Safaradi. The latter was a famous doctor paid from Mdina (the ancient Capital) in Malta.
Bracone was also famous as a doctor, and later on he was nominated a Deputato of the "Dienchele Joshua Banartini" for Malta and Gozo to execute the "Mosaic Law." Evidence of this nomination of Bracone is the following (edited) letter:
But proof exists that this Safaradi family continued to take care of all the Jewish Spiritual interests in Gozo. In 1485, apart from being a Rabbi (Teacher), Abraham Safaradi was also nominated by the Viceroy as the most preferred Jewish person in the islands in Medicine and for the interpretation of Mosaic Law. Apart from being a doctor, Abram Safaradi served also as a well known public notary up to the expulsion of the Jews from the Maltese islands in 1492.
Coming of the Knights
To defend the archipelago threatened by the Ottoman Turks, Charles V of Spain offered Malta to the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (1530). Remembering the relatively liberal policy followed by the Knights towards the Jews of Rhodes, many of the (Jewish) Sicilians "conversos" as the forcibly converted Jews were known - who kept the Jewish religion at home but outwardly appeared acted as Catholics - decided to settle in Malta.
After their installation in Malta, the Knights who had a fleet of galleys, launched out, like the Turks, in the taking of hostages and their release against ransom. The Jewish merchants, who were about the only ones to ensure their risk and dangers the exchanges between two banks of the Mediterranean, were particularly aimed.
During the reign of the Knights of St. John, the only Jews (with a few exceptions) who lived in our islands were slaves. A prison to hold these Jewish slaves had been built with this intention in Valletta. The Knights waged continual maritime warfare, hardly distinguishable from piracy, against the Moslem powers. Seaports were raided and their inhabitants carried off.
Shipping was preyed on indiscriminately, captured vessels being brought to Malta, and crew and passengers sold into captivity. Throughout the rule of the Knights, which lasted until they capitulated to the French in 1798, the islands were thus a last European refuge of slave traffic and slave labor.
The victims were any persons, of whatever standing, race, age or sex, who happened to be sailing on the captured ships. Jews made up a large proportion of the Levantine merchant class and were hence peculiarly subject to capture. Because of their nomadic way of life, disproportionately large numbers were to be found in any vessel sailing the Eastern ports.
They also formed a considerable element in the population of the Moslem ports subject to raids. So, soon after the establishment of the Knights in Malta, the name of Malta begins to be found with increasing frequency in Jewish literature, and always with an evil association.
The islands became in Jewish eyes a symbol for all that was cruel and hateful in the Christian world. Whatever the truth of the contemporary rumor that the Jews financed the great Turkish siege of Malta in 1565, certainly they watched with anxious eyes and their disappointment at its failure must have been great. "The monks of Malta are still today a snare and trap for the Jews," sadly records a Jewish chronicler at the end of his account of the siege. A messianic prophecy current early in the seventeenth century further expressed the bitterness of the Jewish feeling, recounting how the Redemption would begin with the fall of the four kingdoms of "ungodliness", first amongst which was Malta.
A typical capture, and one of the earliest mentioned in Jewish literature, is related in the "Vale of Tears" by Joseph ha-Cohen: "In the year 5312 (1552), the vessels of the monks of Rhodes, of the order of Malta, cruising to find booty, encountered a ship coming from Salonica, wheron where seventy Jews. They captured it and returned to their island. These unhappy persons had to send to all quarters to collect money for the ransom exacted by these miserable monks. Only after payment were they able to continue their voyage."
In 1567, large numbers of Jews, escaping to the Levant from the persecution of Pius V, fell victims to the Knights. "Many of the victims sank like lead to the depths of the sea before the fury of the attack. Many others were imprisoned in the Maltese dungeons at this time of desolation," writes the chronicler. It was not only those who went down to the sea in ships over whom the shadow hung. Of the Marranos (Crypto-Jews) of Ancona who fell victims to the fanaticism of Paul IV, thirty-eight who eluded the stake were sent in chains to the galleys of Malta, though they managed to escape on the way.
After arriving in Malta, the captives were only at the beginning of their troubles. A very graphic account of conditions is given by the English traveler, Philip Skippon, who visited the spot in about 1663:
The slaves prison is a fair square building, cloisterd round where most of the slaves in Malta are obligd to lodge every night, and to be there about Ave Mary time. They have here several sorts of trades, as barbers, taylors &c. There are about 2,000 that belong to the order, most of which were now abroad in the galleys; and there are about three hundred who are servants to private persons. This place being an island, and difficult to escape out of, they wear only an iron ring or foot-lock. Those that are servants, lodge in their masters houses, when the galleys are at home; but now, lie a-nights in this prison. Jews, Moors and Turks are made slaves here, and are publickly sold in the market. `A stout fellow may be bought (if he is an inferior person) for 120 or 160 scudi of Malta. The Jews are distinguihd from the rest by a little piece of yellow cloth on their hats or caps, &c. We saw a rich Jew who was taken about a year before, who was sold in the market that morning we visited the prison for 400 scudi; and supposing himself free, by reason of a passport he had from Venice, he struck the merchant that bought him; where-upon he was presently sent hither, his beard and head were shaven off, a great chain clappd on his legs, and bastinadod with 50 blows.
The mechanism of release was not always simple. The Jew was rarely as rich as he was reputed to be, but his reputation for wealth was greatest precisely were he was least known. The usual price standard of a slave was tended, therefore to disappear whenever a Jew was concerned.
He was worth not his value but whatever could be extorted from his brethren ransom degenerated into blackmail. Fifteen centuries earlier, the rabbis of the Talmud had realized that this was a case in which it was necessary to turn for once a deaf ear to suffering, lest a premium be put on the enslavement of Jews. They ordained, accordingly, that no captive be ransomed for more than his economic value. This was a rule to obey which was hard for Jews, " compassionate sons of compassionate sires," and generally the price paid for a Jew was higher by far than that of a Moslem. On occasion, the Jews were mercilessly exploited.
The owner of one Judah Surnago, a man of seventy-five whose value in the open market was negligible, was unable to obtain the sum which he demanded in ransom. Thereupon he shut him up naked in a cellar for two months, giving him nothing to eat but black bread and water. The old man came out blind and unable to stand.
While waiting for their repurchase they were allowed to work downtown to make ends meet. They could sell in the streets, but before evening they had to return to the prison. This absence of community made up did not prevent the English writer Christopher Marlow from publishing, in 1590, the Jew of Malta, a topic close to the Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare, evoking a Jewish rich person of Malta. According to Prof.. G Wettinger the Jews then present at Malta, prisoners for the majority, who as we said could devote themselves occasionally to trade, could not arrive to the point to constitute a fortune.
In her history of the Order of St. John, Claire-Eliane Engel comments that during the Great Siege, 'les juifs de Malte avaient ete d'une loyaute au-dessus de tout eloge' [the Jews of Malta had behaved with a loyalty above all praise].
In the last days of St. Elmo, the Grand Master allowed one final volunteer force to attempt to force their way to the relief of the doomed fort. Anyone who went on such a mission faced certain death, but nevertheless two Jews of the island chose to join the relief expedition, although in the event the boats carrying the would-be volunteers were unable to get past the Turkish cannon and were forced to turn back to Birgu. We must also not forget Joseph Cohen, a Jewish slave who was also a tavern keeper in Valletta. Who overheard Muslim slaves conspiring against the knights in his tavern. The mutiny was to start with the murder of the Grand Master. With great peril of his being found out by the conspirators, he gained an audience with the Grand Master and told him what he had overheard. For his loyalty he was set free from bondage and a house (Monte di Pieta) in Merchants street, Valletta awarded to him in recognition.
Rebirth of the Community
The year 1798 was a blessing for the Jewish nation living in Malta! On the road to Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte seized the archipelago and applied the laws of the French Republic, i.e. equality and the abolition of slavery.
Finally the Jews became free men in our islands. No longer did they have to wear the shameful, distinguishing round red circle on their clothes nor if they so desired could they no longer shave their beards.
The community of the Jews of Malta could reconstitute itself again as freemen.Nothing changed in this respect when two years later the English drove out the French. Indeed Valletta became an important stopover on the road of to the Middle and Far East. Several Jews from Gibraltar immigrated to Malta and established business concerns. They were soon followed by Jews coming from North Africa and other Mediterranean cities. The inventory of the surviving old cemetery of Kalkara, created in 1784 by a donation from the Jewish community of Leghorn in the suburbs of Vittoriosa for the Jewish slaves who died in the islands, is revealing. Two studies on the three surviving Jewish Cemeteries of the community of Malta conducted by Derek Davis, and Lawrence Attard Bezzina, show that many of the residents who died in the archipelago originated from Gibraltar, London, Dubrovnik (Ragusa), Tunis, Tripoli, Ragusa (Italy), Lisbon and Turkey. By 1881, most of the Jews of Malta were British.
During World War II, Malta was the only country that did not require Jews fleeing Nazi Europe to have a visa. Consequently, Malta rescued thousands of Jews from persecution. Since the 1950s, Israel and Malta have had friendly poltical and economic relations.
In 1998, the number of local "Maltese" Jewish families who identify themselves as Sepharadim (coming originally from Spain), as against the Ashkenazim (coming from Eastern Europe) do not exceed about thirty families, reduced sometimes to one or to two individuals, generally old. Most are Polypots speaking several languages. The Ashkenazim are people installed here for a few years, the time of a contract with a multinational. Some are refugees, Lebanese Jews, factory owners, tradesmen, British pensioners. They meet once a month for the celebration of the Shabbat - there are then fourteen or twenty men . They celebrate the Jewish festivals. And they hold a communal seder (celebration of Passover) in a hotel every year. Malta's Jews bring in a shochet, ritual slaughterer, from Jerusalem; and when a boy is born in the community a mohel is brought in from Rome.
The community boasts of three Jewish cemeteries in Malta. The oldest, that of Kalkara, goes back to the XVIII century. Then next door to the " Turkish cemetery " with a very ornamental entrance, the small current Jewish cemetery, in the suburbs of Marsa, which dates from the middle of the last century. The third is the neglected cemetery at Tal-Braxja overgrown by grass, is found desecrated by unscrupulous builders and MSU employees who dump empty Pepsi bottles and other garbage on top of this sacred ground.
The inscriptions are in Italian for the oldest - perhaps there was nobody to write in Hebrew. On the other hand, the most recent ones are in Hebrew. Some, which date from the First World War, are in French: dedicated to the soldiers fallen at the time of the war of the Dardanelles. In these holy grounds lie side by side Jews who escaped from concentration camps, from Budapest or from Tunis, Oran or a German village. It is in this Jewish ground, away from the promised land, that they met their destiny.
Today most visitors to this sun-drenched island-republic inevitably find their way to the imposing, fortress-like Co-Cathedral of St. John in the heart of the baroque-style capital of Valletta. Under the gilded buttresses and orange vaulted ceiling, visitors gaze in awe at the high altar overlaid with lapis lazuli, marble and bronze; they marvel at the opulence of the religious art treasures - frescoes, tapestries, masterwork paintings by Caravaggio and Preti. In this grandiose church, erected by the Knights of St. John in the sixteenth century, scarcely a foot of space remains unadorned by a painting, wood carving or sculpture.
Few visitors to Malta, however, ever found their way to another house of worship, a few minutes away from the world famous church of the Order of St. John or as they are better known the Knights of Malta.
Inside an unobtrusive apartment house on narrow St. Ursula street, Valletta, in an unmarked ground floor flat, simply furnished with several rows of straight-backed chairs, was a synagogue. A minyan (Jews pray in a congregation of at least 10 Adult males over 13 years of age) drawn from Malta's hundred or so Jews gathered here every first Shabbat of each month for morning service and on holidays.
Saturday morning at the synagogue on St. Ursula street - the atmosphere was always welcoming and intimate. When any worshipper arrives he / she is greeted warmly by the congregants already inside.
While a lay reader (the community has no serving rabbi) chanted familiar prayers at the makeshift bima in the center of the patterned tile floor, the shammas (beadle) - eighty + British-born Stanley Davis, a veteran resident of Malta and holder of an OBE (order of the British Empire) for social and humanitarian service on the island, bustled about, offering siddurim (prayer books), and arranging aliyot (one a male is called up to read from the Torah Scroll) . Joe Reginiano and myself took it in turns to open and close the blue and gold velvet curtain at the Holy Ark. George Tayar, the genial sefardi community president, whose famous rabbinic ancestors settled in Malta some 200 hundred years ago from Libya, now sadly gone, always invited me to sit alongside him.
In late morning, after we had chorused the closing lines of Adon Olam, to the Scottish rolling of Daniel Miller, a table magically appeared laden with wine, delicious home-made pastries and savoury snacks, prepared by a trio of hospitable ladies. In between bites of fruity strudel and sips of Italian or Israel kosher wine everyone recounted recent gossips.
George Tayar could be seen proudly pointing out to some Jewish tourists that the "born again" congregation was not only now blessed with several enthusiastic and knowledgeable lay readers, but boasted among its members a several converts to Judaism and a devout family of nine, the Ohayons. The father - Avraham has recently been elected as the president of the community, replacing the much loved George Tayar. He would start recounting how the community had been without a synagogue for several years after the old premises at Spurs street in Valletta, were torn down to construct a new roadway. During the interim, Holy Day services were held in the Israeli embassy at Ta' Xbiex. The Maltese Government, through some coercion by the Attard-Bezzina family who had good political contacts with the Labour Government (One was speaker to the House of Representatives, Acting President of the Republic and later Plenipotentiary Ambassador to several European countries), was helpful in ultimately locating a new site. The congregation sold one of its venerable Torahs to the Jewish Museum in New York, to acquire funds for furnishing the new synagogue (at St. Ursula street). After several years of faithful joyous service, which ushered in a few Bar Mitzvahs and the only Bat Mitzvah (to my memory) and two Brit Milahs in its short existence as the Jewish House of worship, this small apartment has sadly been evacuated. No not by a pogrom - Heaven forbid - but due to the state of disrepair of the adjacent building. Sadly, the Maltese Jewish community is again without its beloved synagogue and community center. Representations with the government at the highest level have been made and promises by Government ministers made that the synagogue will be re-built.
The country's President Dr. U. Mifsud Bonnici has graciously put pressure on the government and offered his help but (so far) nothing has been done.
Jewish Life in the Maltese islands still goes on albeit at a smaller pace.
Last February (on the Jewish feast of Tu BeShvat) a tree planting ceremony was conducted for the first time in one of Malta's newest towns, Fgura, where, together with the Malta-Israel Cultural & Friendship Society and the Fgura local council, sixty-three palm and olive trees and several oleanders were planted in the newly refurbished Reggie Miller town square cum garden. In honor of this, Fgura's Local Council named the garden, "The Jewish Community Grove," and a suitable marble plaque has been erected. The importance of this occasion is that for the first time ever the small Jewish community has been official recognized as an ethnic minority in our country.
Relations with Israel
Israel established friendly relations and cooperation with Malta even before the latter achieved independence in 1964. In the late 1950's the leader of the Maltese Labor Party, Dom Mintoff, tried to mediate between Israel and Egypt, albeit unsuccessfully. In 1966 an Israel embassy was established with a resident chargé d'affaires, while Israel's ambassador in Rome also serves as nonresident ambassador to Malta. Israel experts assisted in the development of dairy, poultry, and afforestation projects.
In April 2005, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo signed a bilateral cooperation agreement in the fields of health and medicine. The agreement encourages the exchange of information and experts for the purposes of study and consultation, the exchange of information about international congresses and conferences, the sharing of medical bibliographies, and so on.
In October 2013, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat made the first ever official visit to Israel by a Maltese government leader. Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Muscat looked to strenghten bilateral relations between the countries in the energy and health sectors.
Sources: Cecil Roths The Jews of Malta; Hecht, Esther, "The Jewish Traveler: Malta". Hadassah Magazine. December 2005; The Slave Community; Derek Davis The Kalkara Cemetery; Lagumina Bros. Codice Diplomatico dei Giudei di Sicilia; Profs. Godfrey Wettingers Joseph Ha-Cohen, Vale of Tears. Dipt. Ta l-Eduk. Grajjiet Malta l-ewwel ktieb Lawrence Attard Bezzinas The Jewish Community of Malta The Tal Braxja Jewish Cemetery Il-Komunita Lhudija ta Malta Ic-Cimiterji Lhud gewwa Malta The Jewish Catacombs The Jewish Slave Community Claire-Eliane Engel History of the Order of St. John; Jewish Community of Malta; Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved; Malta Star (October 15, 2013)
C. Roth, The Jews of Malta (1931; = offprint from JHSET, 12 (1928–31), 187–251); S. Assaf, Be-Oholei Ya'akov (1943), 107–15; Roth, Mag Bibl, 113; idem, Personalities and Events (1961), 112–35.