Congregation Kol Shearith Israel – the oldest synagogue in Panama - celebrated its 140th anniversary on May 9, 2016 with an overflow crowd of members, friends and well-wishers from around the world. Dignitaries in attendance included Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, Israel’s Ambassador to Panama Gil Artzyeli, as well as dignitaries and members of various religious groups in Panama.
Kol Shearith (Hebrew for “Voice of the Remnant of Israel”) was founded in 1876 by the descendants of Spanish-Portuguese (Sephardi) Jews who originally fled the Inquisition. The Congregation has played an important role in the creation of numerous organizations and institutions of great value in Panama, such as the Fire Department, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Technological University of Panama.
President Varela applauded the contribution of the Jewish community – currently 15,000 strong - whose presence in Panama dates to the middle of the 19th century. "The Jewish presence in Panama was born out of a commitment to the fate of this small nation, and that heritage has been enriched throughout the history of the country to the present day,” the President told the enthusiastic crowd.
"I would like to greet with respect and emotion all families that make Kol Shearith Israel, while thanking on behalf of the people and the Panamanian society all the contributions and commitments you made and will continue to make for this country,” Varela added.
“During the 140 years that this congregation celebrates, its members and the rest of Panamanian society can testify that you have been able to work and prosper in peace, always in harmonious coexistence with the rest of Panamanians and other nationals, without prejudicing your beliefs and your social and religious practices, while enjoying a climate of complete freedom and respect.”
“With respect and admiration I offer these 140 years of coexistence and prosperity we celebrate, in a free and democratic country, which appreciates the rich cultural heritage of the Jewish people and sharing with you visions, dreams and hopes.”
Panama is the only country outside of Israel that has had not one but two Jewish presidents in the twentieth century: Max Delvalle Maduro (Vice President 1964-1968; President April 1967) and Eric Arturo Delvalle Cohen-Henriquez (Vice President 1984-1985; President 1985-1988).