Life on The Rock: Meet Gibraltar’s Jewish community

Life on The Rock: Meet Gibraltar’s Jewish community

Despite differences over religious practice and Brexit worries, Gibraltar’s Jewish community enjoys a harmonious existence


MARLENE HASSAN NAHON, Independent MP in the Gibraltar Parliament, 41

My father’s family came to Gibraltar from Minorca more than 200 years ago.

My mother grew up in Tangier when it was a Spanish colony. I studied at Manchester University – every Gibraltarian student is offered a grant to study at a British university. Gibraltar’s communities are a microcosm of the world, where different religions and cultures live side by side.

The Jewish community is vibrant, although it has become extremely Orthodox in recent years after an Orthodox study centre was set up some years ago. Our cuisine has Moroccan, Spanish and Portuguese origins. On Shabbat, we eat orisa, a beef and saffron stew, which stems from Morocco.

Our prayers have a distinctive melodic intonation. It’s a proud community, but we are concerned about Brexit. We need a fluid frontier with Spain, otherwise it will have a devastating impact on our economy.



My family has been here since 1740. We are originally from Toledo in Spain, but my family fled to North Africa after the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

The Gibraltarian Jewish community is like one big family, but I grew up here in the days when the frontier with Spain was closed under Franco and it felt very claustrophobic at times. We have some strong Sephardi traditions, such as adafina stew: there is one type made with beans and another with chickpeas.

Gibraltar is a diverse culture of Christians, Catholics, Muslims and Hindus and we all get along. But the uncertainty over Brexit is affecting everybody.

Thousands of Gibraltarians have houses on the Spanish side of the border, as housing is much cheaper there. Will they have the right to live in Spain in the future?


LEVI ATTIAS, Barrister, ventriloquist, magician, singer, 62

My family is from Morocco, but has been in Gibraltar for more than 100 years. Members of the community often go to Morocco to visit the graves of rabbis and I go to visit the shrine of one martyr, Sol Hachuel. I am observant – I lay tefillin every day – but I’m not strictly Orthodox.

I was secretary of the Jewish community here for four years and had two years as the vice president.

These days, the community doesn’t participate as much in Gibraltar’s secular life. I think that’s wrong. We are part of Gibraltar and should contribute to its society. Non-Jewish Gibraltarians of my generation are familiar with Judaism: I have non-Jewish friends who wish me “Shabbat shalom”.

However, younger Gibraltarians don’t know about our religion because Jewish children don’t integrate with non-Jewish children so much.

It creates ignorance about what Jewish life is about.


ESTRELLA ABUDARHAM, Runs Abudarham kosher store, 58

We’ve begun importing Ashkenazi traditions over the past 20 years (when a wave of Ashkenazim came to settle on the Rock).

I like to say we are ‘Ashkefardis’! I run a kosher grocery shop that has been in my husband’s family since the 1800s.

My family on both sides goes back to Spanish and then Moroccan roots. Things have definitely become more religious. Now about 99 percent of the women use the mikveh [ritual bath].

I remember about 20 years ago, I was in a group of 30 women and three of them were wearing wigs. Now the numbers would be the other way round. I became more religious after the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001. I felt angry and wanted to assert my identity.

On Shabbat, Main Street is swarming with people walking up and down. Before women started wearing wigs they wore colourful hats on Shabbat and it looked like Ladies’ Day at Ascot every week.


AYELET MAMO SHAY, Chair, Gibraltar-Israel Chamber of Commerce, 38

I came to live in Gibraltar 10 years ago from Modi’in in Israel. We came for my husband’s job with Deloitte, but three years ago opened our own firm named Benefit Business Solutions.

We act as local representatives and advisors for international companies who want to use Gibraltar as a gateway to Europe or Africa. Nearly 18 months ago, we also set up the Chamber of Commerce between Gibraltar and Israel (Gibrael).

We realised Gibraltar is thirsty for innovation and thought Israel, which is known as the ‘start-up nation’, could fulfil Gibraltar’s technology needs.

There are 200 Israelis living here, mostly working in the online gaming industry. Most of them are secular, but we all mix together.


AARON SERUYA, Lawyer and artist, 32

I draw and paint, like my father and grandfather.

My pictures of superheroes have just been in an exhibition here. Superheroes have Jewish roots: the first was created in 1938, when two Jewish boys Jerry Siegel and
Joe (Joseph) Shuster created Superman.

Purim is the big festival here – we give presents for Purim rather than Chanukah. Everyone dresses up and we visit each other’s houses and have lots of fun and food.


MESOD BELILO, Engineer, community archivist, 71

My family arrived here in the 1720s from Tétouan in Morocco. They were cattle merchants. In the 1780s, a member of my family was killed by a Spanish cannon ball.

During some engineering excavations I found an old ball, which I’ve got on display in my office, and I sometimes look at it and wonder if that was the one that killed my namesake.

In the 1950s, the community passed a resolution refusing to recognise intermarried couples who wanted to move to Gibraltar. Fewer than five percent marry out now. People are marrying younger and having bigger families.

It’s also common for Jewish families from Malaga and Torremolinos to come and live here. They want their children to have a Jewish education and don’t want them to marry out.


This article appears as part of a 10-page special on Gibraltar in July’s issue of Jewish Renaissance magazine. 

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