Jewish Life in Panama

by Alberto Tawachi

Being born and raised in Panama has been a blessing. A small country in the middle of the Americas, Panama is home to 3,5000,000 people from many races including white, mestizos, blacks, Asians, as well as indigenous groups. Although most Panamanians practice Catholicism, others practice other streams of Christianity, as well as Judaism, Islam and Buddhism. Panama also has strong cultural communities made up of people from different countries, such as the Chinese, Italians, Greek, Spanish, Israeli and Indians, among others.

Although the Panamanian Jewish Community is only 12,000 people, it is one of the few Jewish communities in the world that keeps growing. Aside from the fact that in Panama freedom of worship is both legally and culturally respected, there are other factors that I feel have contributed to this growth. Jewish community leaders and Rabbis have worked hard to put the conditions in place to nourish and sustain this growth. In Panama there are three main congregations, two of them Orthodox and one Reform and they all have either built or are building new synagogues over the last ten years. In under 30 years, four new Jewish schools have opened – up from one 50 years ago. There are more than ten kosher restaurants and two kosher supermarkets for such a small population. It is easier to get after-hours education in Jewish studies for people of all ages. Finally, there have always been strong ties between the Governments of Panama and Israel, which is evident through the many cooperative programs in place. All of the factors above have made it possible for Panamanian Jews to strengthen their Jewish identity and their religious traditions.

From a professional standpoint most members of the Jewish community work in commerce and trade, in companies that sell products to other Latin American markets. However, there are prominent lawyers, doctors, bankers and other professionals. Panamanian Jews have been actively involved in matters connected to running the country. Currently, there are two Jewish ministers in the President’s cabinet.

Given the current conditions of the country such as high economic growth, continuous international integration and freedom of worship, I expect the Panamanian Jewish Community to grow and to continue to contribute to other Jewish communities worldwide.

Alberto Tawachi is a young entrepreneur who was born and resides in the city of Panama. He is one of the founders and current President of the Harvard Club of Panama. He has a Bachelor’s degree in international relations and a Master’s degree in public policy.