Bermuda is to receive a full-time rabbi with the establishment of the nation’s first permanent Chabad House, to be led by Rabbi Chaim and Menuchy Birnhack, following decades of regular visits by Chabad Roving Rabbis.
“We’ve never had a full-time rabbi or spiritual leader who could inspire the community and also attract new Jewish residents,” Warren Bank, a lawyer who moved from the United Kingdom to Bermuda in 2021, told Chabad.org.
Bermuda has a population of approximately 65,000 residents, of whom 500 are believed to be Jewish, according to the worldwide Jewish movement. The island also hosts many Jewish tourists every year.
The Birnhacks will be the 13th family to open an island Chabad House in the North Atlantic. The first one was founded in Puerto Rico in 1999.
“We came on Purim and read the Megillah,” Menuchy, who grew up in Beitar Illit, told Chabad.org. “The people are so nice, so kind, so welcoming.”
Ariel Hart Freedman, an accountant who grew up in Canada, said “it was very pleasant to have an actual rabbi visit.”
Bermuda Jewish history
Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. North Carolina is the closest land to the archipelago of 181 islands. According to the Jewish Virtual Library (JVL), few Jews moved to Bermuda because of the harsh policies of the English toward Jews on the island in the 18th century.
Yet there is one place on the island, Jews Bay, which is evidence of Jewish origins in Bermuda. The name of the bay, which dates to the early 1600s, is thought to be named after a group of Jews who did business on the island. According to the JVL, a Jewish congregation was formally established in the 20th century in the capital of Hamilton.
The Jewish community in Bermuda has been in existence for years.
“All of our education programming, celebrations, meetings, administration and events are organized and executed by community members,” the official Jewish community website states. “With the exception of the High Holidays where our Conservative rabbi visits the island and leads services, everything else for the entire year is managed and led by volunteers, including organizing proper Jewish burials in our own Jewish cemetery and facilitating brit milah.”
The current Jewish community is egalitarian, while the Chabad emissaries are expected to run an Orthodox community, open to all types of Jews, as it does worldwide.
“Due to the nature of our island, we have been lucky to welcome a diverse membership throughout our community’s history, with Orthodox, Conservative and Reform members, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi,” says the community website.
Modern Jewish community in Bermuda
Noting that it has been in operation for 30 years, the website says: “Our community has roots. What was once High Holiday services on the former naval base has now become a steady community in Bermuda and a registered charity with its own center, classes and events calendar.”
Community members explained that there are kosher items sold in local grocery stores. “Kosher meat (Glatt kosher) is available at Miles Market by the Hamilton Princess Hotel,” says the website.
According to Chabad.org, most grocery store items are imported from North America, and many bear kosher certification, yet “there is no kosher meat available in Bermuda, and so the Birnhacks will need to import enough for themselves and for locals and visitors wishing to keep kosher.”
The goal, according to a website built by the new emissaries, is “to establish a permanent Chabad House that will be the warm, welcoming home of Jewish educational, cultural and social activities and services. These will feature holiday programs and enriching classes for all ages, delicious Shabbat and holiday meals, and much more.”