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An unexpected Jewish heritage experience on the Mediterranean islands of Malta

October 26, 2016 Destination Europe No Comments Email Email

Malta, an archipelago located in the sunny Mediterranean, has been one of the best kept secrets for a Jewish Heritage Experience. Not anymore! The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), in partnership with North American based Exclusively Malta, a destination marketing company with expertise in developing exclusive and unique experiences for visitors to Malta, announced the launch of a Malta program infused with Jewish history that dates back to the Roman Period to the present.

Malta as a travel destination is definitely trending in the US and Canada. This hidden gem of the Mediterranean was named number 3 on the New York Times List “52 Places to Travel in 2016” and was also named number 1 on Lonely Planet’s list of “25 Travel Secrets” in their Fall 2016 Magazine.

Michelle Buttigieg, MTA Representative North America, said, “In recognition of the importance of the Jewish Heritage niche travel market in North America, MTA arranged, together with the support of Exclusively Malta and The Corinthia Palace Hotel&Spa, for an American Jewish journalist, Harry Wall, and world renowned photographer Richard Nowitz, to visit Malta and create a video and story about the Maltese Jewish Heritage. MTA welcomes Exclusively Malta’s new initiative, the Jewish Heritage Experience in Malta and we are confident that the North American Jewish travelers will be fascinated by Malta and its Jewish Heritage.”

Today, the Jewish community in Malta, although small in numbers (less than 200), is still very vibrant. The majority of the contemporary Maltese Jewish community originate from Gibraltar, England, North Africa, Portugal and Turkey during the French and British rule from 1798. During the early 20th century, since the islands did not have a Rabbi of its own, Rabbis would often be flown from Sicily to perform religious ceremonies. During World War II, Malta was the only European country that did not require visas of Jews fleeing German rule and numerous Maltese Jews fought Germany in the British Army during the war.

Exclusively Malta can arrange for visitors to meet the local Jewish community and arrange for them to attend Sabbath and holiday prayers at the Synagogue. Two years ago, Chabad set up the one Kosher restaurant in Malta which is centrally located in St. Julian’s.

Jewish roots in Malta date back to the 4th and 5th Century during the Roman period as evidenced by several Jewish Catacombs with drawings depicting the Jewish Menorah (candelabra) that can be found at the St. Paul’s Catacomb site near Rabat. The long Jewish history includes periods of enrichment as well as slavery, depending on who was ruling Malta at the time.

Points of special Jewish Heritage interest on Malta include old landmarks and street signs. In the walled city of Mdina, where the Jews made up almost one third of the population, there is a “Jewish Silk Market” and a “Jews’ Gate”; and in Valletta, Malta’s Capital and European Capital of Culture 2018 there is a sign “Jews Sally Port”.

Even the Island of Comino, almost uninhabited today but famous for the Blue Lagoon, has Jewish roots. Comino is where the well-known Jewish Mystic Avraham Abulafia lived from 1285 until his death in the 1290s. During this period, he compiled his Sefer ha Ot “Book of the Sign” as well as his last, and perhaps his most intelligible, work, the meditation manual Imrei Shefer “Words of Beauty”.

There are three Jewish cemeteries in Malta which although kept locked, can be visited through prior arrangements with the local Jewish Community leader. The stories gleaned from the tombstone inscriptions, are a rich narrative which includes Jewish soldiers who fought in WWI and were buried in Malta.

For more information on Malta programs infused with the Jewish Heritage Experience and video by Harry Wall and Richard Novitz, visit Exclusively Malta:http://exclusivelymalta.com/index.php/jewish_culture/

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