The Jewish Connection of a Jamaican Almanac

An almanac published in Jamaica in 1798 containing a special page dedicated to Jewish holidays is preserved in the National Library collections – a glimpse of a forgotten Jewish island community


Towards the end of the 18th century, an almanac intended for traders was published on the island of Jamaica. It contains a special page dedicated to the holidays and festivals of the Jewish calendar. The Hebrew years 5558 and 5559 are cited near the top of the page, with the line “Every Shabbat throughout the year” appearing just below and alluding to the fact that every Shabbat is a holy day observed by those of the Jewish faith. Further down the page, the Jewish months, holidays, and festivals are noted: Purim, Pesach, Shavuot, Tisha B’Av, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Chanukah. Fasting holidays are also included: the Fast of Esther, the Fast of Tamuz, the Fast of “Guedalya”, and the Fast of “Tebeth”.

Jewish holidays and festivals, Jamaica, 1798

The British had captured the Caribbean island from the Spanish crown some 140 years before the publication of the rare almanac. The island’s Jews played an important role in the early stages of local British rule.

A small Portuguese minority lived on the island whose members were hated by the Spaniards, largely due to the fact that many of them were in fact Conversos (Sephardic Jews forced to convert to Christianity) who had immigrated to the New World in an attempt to escape the grip of the Spanish Inquisition. Thus, the Converso Portuguese were only too happy to help the British capture the island by feeding them valuable intelligence.

Jamaica Survey, 18th century

As fate would have it, in the same year that the British captured Jamaica (1655), Oliver Cromwell granted the Jews permission to resettle in England. This important development meant that Jews could now immigrate freely and openly to the English colony of Jamaica while the local Coversos could return to the free practice of Judaism without fear of persecution by the authorities.

Prior to the English seizure of the island, Jamaica was already an economic success story. The island produced copious amounts of sugar and its derivatives (relying, of course, on African slave labor, forcibly imported to the island). Over the years, as British rule took hold, Jamaica became an important commercial center for gold, silver, and precious gems. It was also a hotbed for piracy against Spanish ships crossing the Caribbean Sea on their way to Spain.

But let’s get back to the rare almanac acquired by the National Library:

Almanacs of the day were usually thick journals or small books that contained useful information for the calendar year. This almanac is entitled The New Jamaica Almanack and Register, and its content indicates that its target audience consisted of merchants who were involved in the maritime trade in Jamaica at the time. To this end, many of the almanac’s pages contain information about celestial bodies that were essential for navigation at the end of the 18th century.

The almanac’s title page

It is quite evident that the printer who composed the almanac was not overly familiar with Hebrew. There are several glaring errors, presumably originating from the laying of individual letters one by one. Some of the letters appear out of order and some are altogether incorrect. For example, the nonsensical phrase “רח פכת” appears in place of “רח טבת” (meaning “The first of the month of Tevet”). In the case of the festival of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה), the printer completely confused the order of the letters, resulting in the non-existent word “אשנההשר-” (“Ashanahhashar-“). The printer also apparently lacked the letter “י” (“yud”) in his collection, and opted to use an apostrophe in its stead – similar perhaps, but noticeable.

The Jamaican almanac’s curiosities extend beyond the page dedicated to Jewish holidays and festivals. This almanac was designed as an ever-evolving composition, a collection of information gathered over decades. We can track the life of the leather bound book by flipping through its pages: the dedication written by a man who gifted the book to his brother, documentation of its receipt in 1799, as well as various drawings and notes scrawled on the blank pages that were intentionally left at the end of each month. Different hands recorded events that occurred in the years following the printing of the almanac: the death of a beloved servant, repairs on ships in the harbor, and the strange remark – “I heard the cuckoo” – recorded twice in the same handwriting, in the month of April, in different years. May’s page is empty, perhaps because it is a month typified by rough seas and fierce storms in the Caribbean. Toward the end of the almanac, more pages were initially left blank but were later filled with fragments of Christian literature and hymns by the various owners of the almanac. One of the pages features a quote from Voltaire in French. The handwritten additions were all recorded in a beautiful cursive script, still easily readable today.

February, 1799

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A New School Year for the Children of Europe

In honor of the "Back to School" season, we bring you several stories about children from across Europe on their first day of school.

Hillel Kempler on his first day of school, 1932. Photo courtesy of Centropa.

Starting school for the first time is a rite of passage – a child moving on to the next stage in life begin his or her studies in a formal setting, leaving the comforts of home behind for the great big world that lies beyond.

Germany: A Cone of Sweets for the Sweet New Pupil

In Germany, there is a custom that dates back to the early 18th century, where parents, grandparents or godparents would present a young child starting school for the first time with a Schultüte, a large paper cone filled with sweets, as a way to alleviate some the anxieties that come with new beginnings.

While over the years the contents of the cones have shifted to more practical gifts such as crayons and pencils, the tradition has held strong for both Jewish and non-Jewish children in Germany. These cones create a sweet memory on the first day of school, sending the child off into the big world of a new school with a smile and a happy heart.

Hillel Kempler remembers his first day of school as a seven-year-old lad in Berlin in 1932 fondly thanks to this tradition. “I was enrolled in elementary school in Gipsstrasse in 1932,” said Kempler.  “Of course I received a cone of sweets for this event, as it was customary in Berlin back then. Both Jewish and non-Jewish kids received it.”

“I do not know how many children in my class were Jewish,” Kempler explained. “That did not interest me at the time. Before I came to school, I could already read. I have always loved reading. I read anything that came to my hands. And when I went out on the street, I read the signs at the shops. Maybe it was thanks to my brothers and sisters, who always gave me newspapers and journals. I was in Berlin for only half a year, and I still read German well today, which is amazing.”

Hillel’s sister Miriam on her first day of school in 1929. Photo courtesy of Centropa.

Hillel also remembers his sister’s first day of school in 1929 – a day that was, of course, marked with a cone of sweets. “Miriam came to school two years before me. She was more of a frightened child, always hanging on the apron of her mom, as they say. Everything was an adventure for me, everything was a difficulty for her.”

Czechoslovakia: Counting, Grammar, and Friendships  

Eva Duskova remembers her first day in school fondly. After being walked to school by her father, she found herself hungry to learn – at least when she remembered to listen to the teachers instead of creating trouble with her best friend, Anita during class.

“I remember my first day of school,” said Eva. “I went to the first grade with my girlfriend Anita Frankova, nee Fisherova. We had known each other since the age of four because our parents were friends… In fact, back then we insisted on sitting next to each other in school. And in the end, we did. Of course, right the next day we were separated for misbehaving. We were simply talking to each other. What the teacher was saying wasn’t as interesting. But I very much looked forward to school, I was hungry for knowledge.

Eva Duskova’s first day of school in 1937. Photo courtesy of Centropa.

The first day Anita and I were accompanied by our fathers. I know that the gentlemen in the back behind the desks stood beside each other, and I think that they were quite amused. I think that our fathers took it as this personal prerogative. Whether there were mothers too, that I don’t remember. Very early on I went to school unaccompanied, because it was a short way off, without any sort of danger along the way.

I very much loved going to school. Summer holidays always took too long for me, I couldn’t wait until I could go to school again. I liked studying, in elementary school I had, I think, liked everything. Perhaps less counting and more grammar. And I had a hard time coping with drawing. And in high school, I loved all the humanities, while the natural sciences remained somewhat foreign to me. Though I must say that even so they interested me and I liked studying them.”

Latvia: Connecting with the Hebrew Language

Mera Shulman describes her time in a Jewish school in Riga as a beautiful time in her life where she learned to love learning – despite losing nearly all of her classmates in the Holocaust.

“I went to school when I was seven. I started from the second form at Jewish Hebrew school. At that time, it was common to skip the first grade, if you were well prepared. I studied perfectly well. Everything was interesting for me, I cannot name my favorite subject, I liked them all, except history. In history, I also had an excellent mark, but it was the most laborious one.

Pupils of the 1st form at the Hebrew school. Photo courtesy of Centropa.

She loved her teachers and appreciated them for their specific specialties and what knowledge they could impart.

“Our teacher Korz was very talented for music. Under his guidance, we played a Haydn symphony using pipes and penny whistles. He did his best to invent something unusual for each holiday. In the second form, we put on a very interesting performance, ‘Alphabet.’ I was the shortest, and he gave me [the Hebrew letter] Yud because it was the smallest one. But at the same time, it was explained to me that the words Jew and Israel began with that very letter. [Yud is the tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, in its written form it is only a small line. In Hebrew both Yehudi (Jew) and Israel start with Yud.] I was very proud to get that remarkable letter.”

Later in life, after surviving the war, Mira could still remember her teachers with great fondness.

Not only did Mira not experience any anti-Semitism in school, she couldn’t even imagine such hatred ever infiltrating the walls of her classrooms.

“Certainly, at this sort of school, there were no anti-Semitic manifestations (and it had no possibility to exist there). By the way, the teacher of the Latvian language, Madame Frei (a Latvian) used to say that she liked Jewish children very much and preferred to work with them.”

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.


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Letters discovered by chance in the National Library archives document Yitzhak Halevi Herzog's historic mission to redeem Jewish children taken in by Christian institutions and families

Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, the David B. Keidan Collection of Digital Images from the Central Zionist Archives

There is a legend told of Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog.

One day in 1946, Rabbi Herzog arrived at a large monastery which was known to have taken in Jewish children sent away by their parents to protect them from the Nazi terror which had ravaged Europe. Now, the time had come for the children to return home.

The Rabbi turned to the Reverend Mother, thanking her for saving the lives of the children and requesting to receive them back to the Jewish People, now that the war was over. The nun was happy to agree, but asked the Rabbi – “How can you know which of the hundreds of children here at the monastery are Jewish?” After all, it had been many months since their parents had sent them there, and many had been mere infants at the time.

Rabbi Herzog assured the Reverend Mother that he would know. He asked to gather all of the children in a large hall, ascended the stage, and cried in a loud voice:

Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad ! (Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One)

Immediately, dozens of children rushed to the stage, shouting “mama!” and “papa!” as tears filled their eyes. Many were sobbing uncontrollably. Though few of the children remembered much of their early lives, the sound of the Shema, the most famous prayer in the Jewish faith, instantly brought back memories of reciting these Hebrew words with their parents before bedtime.

When Yitzhak Halevi Herzog embarked on his famous tour of European orphanages and monasteries, with the goal of locating and retrieving thousands of lost Jewish children, he was serving as the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine. He was recognized as an authority on issues of Halacha (Jewish religious law) and was held in great esteem by both religious and secular leaders around the world.

Yitzhak Halevi Herzog as Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi during the British Mandate period, Jerusalem, September 1945. Photo by Zoltan Kluger, GPO.


Herzog absorbed a variety of different cultures during his early life. Born in Łomża, Poland in 1888, his family moved to Leeds, England in his youth and then Paris, France, where Herzog attended the Sorbonne before continuing to the University of London. His groundbreaking doctoral thesis on the nature of the ancient blue dye known as Tekhelet, used during the Second Temple period, was what first made him a public figure.

In 1915, Herzog was appointed Rabbi of the city of Belfast and would later go on to serve for 14 years as the Chief Rabbi of Ireland. He became a supporter of the struggle for Irish independence and the Irish Republican Army. Eamon de Valera, a leader of the revolt against the British and a future President of Ireland, was a personal friend who at times used the Rabbi’s house in Dublin as a hiding spot.

Rabbi Herzog would also become a supporter of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (a.k.a the Irgun or Etzel), the Jewish underground group which fought against the British authorities in the Land of Israel, to which he finally arrived in 1936.

Rabbi Herzog speaks at a pilot certification ceremony at Lydda Airport, in April of 1939. Source: Library of Congress.


The plight of Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust tormented Yitzhak Halevi Herzog, and he devoted those years of his life to attempts to prevent the unfolding disaster. In April 1941, Rabbi Herzog was granted an audience with U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom he hoped he could convince to act, before it was too late.

According to Herzog’s biographer, Shaul Mayzlish, the Rabbi told FDR the following during their meeting:

I call upon his honor, as someone in a position of power, in the name of human conscience, in the name of human liberty, in the name of justice, to prevent the butchering of the Jews and allow the survivors the possibility of reaching safe havens[…] Mr. President, I am not the person who will advise you on how to deal with this terrible problem. I come only with a plea and also a warning. The plea – save what can be saved. The warning – those who stood by will be held accountable in the future.

(“The Rabbinate in Stormy Days”, Shaul Mayzlish, Gefen, 2017)

Though the President promised Herzog he would hold a special meeting on the subject with his advisors, the Rabbi came away disappointed. He felt that FDR was much more concerned with other matters.

After the Allied victory in Europe in May 1945, Rabbi Herzog maintained his focus on the rescue of the continent’s surviving Jews. By his own estimate, at the end of the war, some ten thousand Jewish children were held in secret by Catholic institutions and non-Jewish families who had bravely taken them in for their own safety.

In 1946, Herzog embarked on a six month journey throughout Europe, with the goal of returning the Jewish children to their own families. Before he began the search, he stopped at the Vatican, where he sought the help of Pope Pius XII. The Rabbi came with a message of thanks for the crucial intervention of Catholic institutions in saving young Jewish lives, but also insisted that the children now be released, “Each child is like one thousand children, following this great tragedy,” he told the pontiff.

Pope Pius XII did not issue the papal bull that Rabbi Herzog was hoping for, but the Vatican did assist the Rabbi’s efforts.


While Pius XII did not issue the sweeping public declaration the Rabbi was hoping for, the Vatican was indeed helpful in obtaining the release of many of the children.

During his European trip, Herzog visited France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, England, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Ireland. Much of the work he and his team faced was bureaucratic: They drew up updated lists of children with the help of the respective governments and local community institutions, and went about seeking Jewish organizations with the authority to assume legal guardianship.

Once the initial information was collected, it was often a matter of searching through individual villages and monasteries, while using the lists as guides. Volunteers from sympathetic organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were instrumental in this effort.

“…deeply appreciate your realization historic sacred duty to tiny remnants of unprecedented tragedy…” – A telegram from Herzog thanking a contact in Strasbourg for his assistance. The National Library of Israel collections.


There were many cases in which Christian families had formed strong bonds with the adopted children, and they understandably did not want to give them up. “Rescuing the children is difficult when the one you are contending against comes as a brother,” the Rabbi said in one of his speeches.

…about 9 years old, mother taken by Gestapo and never more heard of, father killed by Gestapo…” A description of one of the many orphans Rabbi Herzog attempted to redeem. The National Library of Israel collections. Click to enlarge.


Much of Yitzhak Halevi Herzog’s correspondence from this period is preserved today in the archives of the National Library of Israel. The Library’s archivists were surprised to discover these letters and telegrams among the personal archives of the well-known Jerusalem attorney Alexander Amdur, an associate of Rabbi Herzog’s. Amdur’s archives were donated to the National Library in 2015.

Herzog’s efforts were not limited to children. In this telegram, Rabbi Herzog sought to obtain a French visa for a holocaust survivor by the name of Sonia Friedberg.

The National Library of Israel collections.


And in the Hebrew letter below, one of her relatives in Israel thanks the Rabbi’s son Yaakov for for their efforts on her behalf, noting her difficult personal circumstances.

The National Library of Israel collections
The National Library of Israel collections. Click to enlarge.

The letter reads:

…I thank you very much for your goodwill in helping me obtain an entry visa to France for my relative from Poland.
Her name and address:
Sonia Friedberg,
Lodz, Piotrokowska 80
Her age – about 35.
I am certain that you will do everything in your ability to ease my relative’s situation. She was snatched from the fire, and she is lonely and desolate in a foreign sea of hatred, in the land where her parents, husband and other relatives perished…

One of Herzog’s most effective partners in the effort to retrieve Jewish children was the Polish-Jewish activist Yeshayahu Drucker, who would approach families and institutions who had taken in Jewish children, often offering money and gifts in exchange for their release. Rabbi Herzog’s political connections were critical in raising these funds.

This Hebrew document contains a partial list of the names, ages and locations of children redeemed by Yeshayahu Drucker.

The National Library of Israel collections. Click to enlarge.


The letter below was addressed to Yaakov Herzog from the “Zionist Coordination Committee for the Redemption of Jewish Children”. It concerns one of the children redeemed by Yeshayahu Drucker.

The National Library of Israel collections.

The letter reads: “…As per your request, the girl Naomi Barter, born in Lodz in 1937, was redeemed from the foreigners by Rabbi Drucker and is now at the sacred communities’ orphanage […] As the expenses of this matter reached a sum of three hundred and twenty thousand zloties and you in your letter write that your American friends committed to participating in the expense of one hundred, we request that you inform us of the method by which we can receive the above sum…”


Naomi Barter, the National Library of Israel collections.


The Hebrew words below were addressed to Rabbi Herzog on behalf of  a group of Jewish children who survived the Holocaust. The exact date and origin is unclear, but they were likely read in his presence.

The National Library of Israel collections.


“We the children of the surviving remnant (Sh’erit ha-Pletah) are very happy to receive our distinguished Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Erzog [sic] and we promise to him that we shall make Aliyah and help build the Land. God willing, we shall live to see the liberated Jewish State, in the spirit of our Torah.”

In October of 1946, over 500 of the redeemed Jewish children boarded a train in Katowice, Poland, which then made the long journey all the way to Mandatory Palestine. These children would soon become citizens of the State of Israel, founded 19 months later.

Upon the declaration of independence in 1948, Yitzhak Halevi Herzog became Israel’s first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. His son Chaim Herzog would later become President of the Jewish State. His grandson Isaac Herzog is today the Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the former Head of the Opposition.

You can find more of Rabbi Herzog’s correspondence from his famous rescue mission, here.

Hagit Zimroni of the Archives Department at the National Library of Israel assisted in the preparation of this article.


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The Doctor Who Treated Herzl in Exchange for an Autograph

Meet the doctor who helped Herzl get to the podium in time to open the Fourth Zionist Congress in London

On our wall at home hangs a framed facsimile of a letter and a signed photograph of Theodor Herzl. It’s a treasured heirloom, copies of which are held by various members of my wife’s family. The inscription on the photograph dated September 1900 translates as:

“A pleasant reminder from the rapidly healing London patient. Theodore Herzl”

“A pleasant reminder from the rapidly healing London patient.” Photo courtesy of the family of Leopold Liebster.

London was the setting for the fourth Zionist Congress. This was the first time that the gathering had been held outside of Basel, Switzerland. The suggestion to take it to London was not one that Herzl had at first been enthusiastic about but he changed his mind for two reasons: Firstly, with the recent arrival of many Jews in London due to pogroms in Romania, Herzl saw in the plight of these immigrants an opportunity to highlight the need for a Jewish homeland, since the solution of charity from anti-Zionist Jews was clearly not working. Secondly, he felt that the movement had outgrown Basel and identified that the message of Zionism could be broadcast widely through reports published by the British press across her current and former colonies.

As Herzl announced in his opening remarks to the congress:

“England, great England, free England, England that looks across the seven seas, will understand us and our aspirations. From here the Zionist idea will fly ever higher; of this we may be sure.”

Theodor Herzl, the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel.

More than this strategic objective, Herzl, it would appear, was something of an Anglophile, or at least, he knew how to flatter his hosts. In an article published in Die Welt in early June of that year, he enthusiastically welcomed support for holding the congress in London expressed by the Jewish Chronicle, hitherto ambivalent about the Zionist cause. In response to the newspaper’s suggestion that British Jews will benefit from the congress coming to London, he wrote:

“We shall go even further and express our belief that the non-English Jews will have far more to gain from this encounter because they will absorb good English manners, the honesty of all the discussions, and the advantages of a mature, advanced culture. They will keep all these as precious memories.”

I wonder if he would say the same today…

Nonetheless, there was every chance that the English audience might never have heard Herzl speak because, when he arrived in London on August 7, 1900, he was suffering from a high fever and spent the initial days of his visit confined to his bed at the Langham Hotel.

In the days prior to the congress, Herzl called for a physician, but he was particular about who he would allow to treat him. The doctor had to be Viennese trained and be a Zionist. It’s doubtful that you could count the number of people in London who fit those criteria on one hand, but somehow, a doctor named Leopold Liebster was found in London’s East End where the country’s largest population of Jews lived.

Dr. Leopold Liebster. Photo courtesy of the Liebster family.

Under Dr. Liebster’s care, Herzl recovered sufficiently to extract himself from his sick-bed to attend a rally of the English Zionist Federation on August 11th. Herzl was greeted by thousands of enthusiastic supporters eagerly anticipating their leader. He also managed to attend a garden party in Regent’s Park on the 12th, and the opening of the congress the following day.

Herzl’s popularity amongst London’s Jews dated back to a visit some four years earlier when he came as a guest of the Maccabeans, a friendly society of Zionists, whose support for Herzl’s goal of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was significant for the movement’s growth in popularity across the world.

Theodor Herzl in transit. The Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel.

The Congress of 1900 was a great success in terms of its impact on the British media. The mainstream press was universally sympathetic to the cause. Perhaps most importantly, Herzl’s hope of gaining the favor of the British Parliament was achieved with most members expressing their support for the Zionist goal.

Following his treatment, Herzl offered to pay Dr. Liebster’s fee but the physician would hear nothing of it.

The letter sent to Dr. Liebster from Theodor Herzl. Photo courtesy of the family of Leopold Liebster.

The letter that followed, sent on the 19th of August from the Langham Hotel reads:

Dear Dr. Liebster,

When I attempted to send you payment for your medical treatment, our friend Reich told me that you were offended and that (as payment) you were only prepared to receive my picture.  Obviously I remain in your debt but nevertheless have no option other than to do as you request.

It will be my great pleasure in September to send you my picture from Vienna.

Warm thanks for your devoted care.

Ziongrussen (Zionist greetings).


Theodor Herzl

And so, in September 1900, the picture was duly received.

Herzl’s final resting place in the cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, 1993. Photo by IPPA Staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel.

Herzl’s health continued to trouble him, and in early 1904 he was diagnosed with a heart condition. He died later that year from sclerosis of the heart at the age of 44. In 1949 his remains were disinterred and reburied on a hill in West Jerusalem that was, at the same time, renamed Mount Herzl. Also known as Har HaZikaron (the Mount of Remembrance), in 1951 the site was established as a cemetery for Israel’s leaders and fallen soldiers.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.


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