Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Fast Forward

Sun, sand, reggae — and ritual bath: A mikvah in Jamaica

Chabad opens the island’s only mikvah. Will more Jewish destination weddings follow?

Jews looking for a destination wedding spot that offers  sun, sand  and a fully halachic experience can now pick Jamaica, where a local Chabad house opened the island’s only mikvah. 

“I think this will become a big hotspot for kosher Jewish destination weddings,” said Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, who leads the Chabad house in Montego Bay. “The Chabad house is not just overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea, but also looking over a beautiful golf course.”

New mikvah at Jamaica’s Chabad house. Photo by Yaakov Raskin

Raskin and his wife came to Jamaica nine years ago to establish the first permanent Chabad house in the country. Almost immediately, the lack of a mikvah proved to be a problem — traditionally, a mikvah is the first thing that needs to be established when building a synagogue, even before a torah scroll. While serving both the small Jewish community that lives in Jamaica year-round and the thousands of tourists that come through each year, the Raskins had to improvise: They made friends with the manager of a nearby resort, who allowed them to surreptitiously use a secluded part of the beach for the ritual bathing. Mikvah water needs to be from a natural source, but dealing with ocean water proved challenging.

“You’re doing it at night, there’s not so much light, you have to find privacy. There’s rocks, there can be crabs,” he said. 

It wasn’t until 2019 that they found a location for the Chabad that would be large enough to accommodate a mikvah. Once the pandemic hit, the project was delayed. 

While the initial plan was to “dig a hole and put up a tent,” as the couple raised money, they were able to install a “state of the art” mikvah, Raskin said. The ceremonial opening ceremony, which was held on the last night of Hanukkah, featured the usual l’chaims but also, as fitting for the location, reggae

The World Jewish Congress estimates there are 200 to 400 Jewish residents in Jamaica. Raskin said the community is spread out geographically, making it difficult to assemble minyans during the tourism offseason. But there are occasions when many Jews from outside Montego Bay will make the trek to celebrate festivals.

“Rosh Hashanah, Passover, we have locals who will come in for the special holidays,” he said. 

Jamaica’s Chabad house has opened the country’s only mikvah. Photo by Yaakov Raskin

Raskin acknowledged many of the people who will benefit from the mikvah will be tourists. Prior to the pandemic, more than 4.3 million people visited the small Caribbean island each year, around 200,000 of which are Jewish, according to Raskin. In fact, the first person to use the mikvah was an Israeli bride who had traveled to Jamaica for her wedding.

“It’s very, very exciting and you know, she was able to have the proper experience,” said Raskin. 

While the mikvah allows the Raskins to more fully serve their congregants’ spiritual needs, they have also tended to their more earthly requirements: In 2017, they opened Jamaica’s first kosher restaurant, complete with jerk chicken.

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.