Languishing in deep snow and freezing cold? Think warm thoughts of the Caribbean, and imagine the sounds of soothing seas. Visualize the colors of turquoise, orange and red, the lush vegetation, the rum punch, steel bands; calypso and songs in English, Spanish, French, Creole, Papiamento.
Sit in some of the island harbors and watch the seaplanes take off – headed to yet another island of sandy beaches, beckoning blue bays and super cuisine, and you'll know why tourists flock all year to the tropical Caribbean.
Four islands – Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Guadeloupe and Martinique – are proving a hit this year. They contain Jewish communities, albeit small ones. Puerto Rico has the largest Jewish population in the Caribbean, nearly 3,000. Here's some information on them all:
This U.S. territory with U.S. currency (no passport or visa required) less than four hours away from Philadelphia features swimming, surfing, scuba diving, sailing, snorkeling, sunbathing and deep-sea fishing.
The island boasts upscale resorts – families welcome; the Wyndham-El Conquistador Resort and Country Club, in Las Croabas, is one such place.
Set on its own private grounds, this Caribbean five-diamond resort heralds its world famous Golden Door Spa; about a half-dozen restaurants, including the first class Le Bistro; as well as a championship golf course and a lively casino.
Another top property is the Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort & Country Club, 45 minutes from San Juan, with a private beach, as well as Camp Hyatt for "the little children" – all close to the rainforest. Another family-style hotel is the 500-acre Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa, also near San Juan and next to El Yunque forest.
A day trip to Old San Juan is a must. Visit El Morro Fortress, the oldest standing fortress in the New World; Fort San Cristobel, erected in 1772 to safeguard the city from land attacks; and La Fortaleza, the official residence of the Governor – and the oldest executive mansion in the Western Hemisphere.
On the city's outskirts stands the glittering hotel strip of Isle Verde: The Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Spa and Casino; the Wyndham El San Juan Hotel and Casino; the InterContinental; Embassy Suites; and the Water Club.
When on holiday, services are never too far away: Chabad Lubavitch is located at 18 Rosa St., in Isle Verde (787-253-0894). The larger Conservative group is located at Congregation Shaare Tzedek, Jewish Community Center of Puerto Rico, 903 Ponce De Leon Ave., Miramar, San Juan (787-724-4157). Shaare Tzedek and its JCC building is an architectural site worth seeing.
Meanwhile, Temple Beth Shalom, a Reform congregation, is at 101 San Jorge St., in Santurce.
Most visitors do not see or visit the Jewish community on this island because it's located in Kingston, the capital, a commercial city. Tourists who visit this former British colony for vacation instead head for some of the nicest beaches in the Caribbean.
Montego Bay is a favorite. Actually, in this section is a Jewish couple, Geoffrey and Patricia de Sola Pinto, who every Friday night open their apartment to read prayers and make kiddush.
The only synagogue for about 200 Jews on the island is located in Kingston: the United Congregation of Israelites-Shaare Shalom Synagogue (809-927-7948). The floor of this synagogue is covered with sand, as in the synagogues of Surinam, Curaçao and St. Thomas, and former congregations in Colon, Panama and St. Eustatius. The Jewish community here is celebrating its 350th anniversary.
One of the nicest resorts in the whole of the Caribbean is Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, the scene of some Jewish weddings. Super spots here, too, are the Ritz Carlton Golf and Spa Resort and Round Hill.
Jews arrived in Jamaica soon after Columbus discovered the island on his second voyage to the New World in 1494. They helped Britain take the island in 1655, and by 1831, Jews could hold office in Jamaica, a right not granted in England until 1858. In 1849, the legislative assembly in Jamaica adjourned over the Day of Atonement "out of respect for the eight Jewish members."
This "Island of Beautiful Waters" in the French Antilles is shaped like the two wings of an exotic butterfly. Twin isles make up the main island of Guadeloupe: Basse Terre lies to the west and contains about 312 square miles, and is mountainous and luxurious; Grande Terre, flat and dry, lies to the east and is about 218 square miles.
Guadeloupians enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. With a population of about 440,000, nearly 30,000 live in Pointe-a-Pitre, though Basse-Terre is the capital. Some 150 Jewish families live on the island.
Rent a car and drive around – one of the most enjoyable aspects of a visit to Guadeloupe. Thrill to the waterfalls and mountain streams, the rocky cliffs on the coast, choice beaches: Take your pick of the white, sandy beaches or the black, volcanic ones.
Tourists usually take a break at restaurants for delicious fish luncheons or dinners. After a dip in the sea, which is always warm, walk along the quiet beaches. November through May is the island's dry season.
The synagogue-community center, the CCIG (Communaute Culturelle Israelite de la Guadeloupe), is located at Lotissement du Fort, No. 1, Bas du Fort, 97190, Gosier, Guadeloupe (590-90-99-08).
Some refer to this island as the "St. Tropez of the West Indies," and its capital, Fort-de-France, as "Paris in the Caribbean." The capital guards one of the best harbors in the entire Caribbean.
Martinique is located in the Windward Islands, and is the largest of the Lesser Antilles. It is 417 square miles, and 50 miles long by 21 miles wide, and lies about 121 miles south of Guadeloupe.
At least 30,000 lives were lost here in one of the worst natural disasters in history. On May 8, 1902, Mount Pelee erupted and totally wiped out the city. One person survived. (For more on this, visit the Volcano Museum, St. Pierre; 77-15-16).
About 150 Jewish families make Martinique their home. Considered a Sephardic community, the synagogue known as ACIM (Association Culturelle de la Martinique) can be found at 12 Anse Gouraud, 97233, in Schoelcher (596-61-66-71). This is a new, modern synagogue, and includes a Talmud Torah. A minyan is held daily.
When the French occupied the island in 1635, they found Jews already there. But no community developed until the arrival of refugees from Recife in 1654, and then Jews from southwest France. The community built a synagogue in 1676 in St. Pierre. But in 1683, a new decree of Louis XIV ordered all Jews established in the French West Indies to be expelled.
The French have the distinction of conducting "the only expulsion of Jews in the New World," wrote historian Zvi Locker. Still, there always were Jews here, though growth took place only in contemporary times.
Enjoy – but don't forget to bring the sunscreen.