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  1. Newstatesman Gibraltar
29 December 2014

The Rock of many faiths: Part II, Hindu and Jewish

Gibraltar's religious communities speak out about the power of diversity 

By New Statesman

For centuries, Gibraltar’s tiny population has been a religious melting pot. Here, members of the Gibraltar Interfaith Group, an organisation working to promote religious tolerance on the Rock, share the history of their communities and explain why diversity matters to them.  

Jewish: “We embrace the  splendour of difference”  

I once received wise advice: if you wish to travel fast, travel alone. If you wish to travel far, travel accompanied. Gibraltarians travel in unison – in measured and secure steps. Our geopolitical realities have bred a spirit of conviviality, and an identity that has withstood the relentless political and economic lashes from neighbouring Spain, as well as the reckless indifference of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. It is this milieu which has forged the Gibraltarian identity: unhindered by social, cultural and religious divides.

Jews came to Gibraltar after its capture by British forces in 1704. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, by which the Spanish crown ceded Gibraltar to the British crown in perpetuity, excluded Jews (and Moors) from residing in Gibraltar. Nonetheless, there are currently some 600 Gibraltarian Jews living here. Jews have been intimately involved in the development of Gibraltar’s social, political and cultural life. The late Sir Joshua Hassan, who served as Gibraltar’s chief minister for decades, is an example of this. Many streets bear Jewish surnames, such as Benzimra’s Alley, Abecasis’s Passage, Benoliel’s Passage and Serfaty’s Passage.  

It is said that a society’s health is measured by how it treats its Jews. Gibraltar has been exemplary. Racial and religious fraternisation has crafted its fabric. I pray this propensity survives the contemporary trends. Tragically, there are no assurances that polarisation will not infest Gibraltar. Our tradition of interfaith rapport must therefore continue wisely and fearlessly. In this “little-big Gibraltar”, I learned that sparks of divinity not only blossom from holy books and timeless wisdom, but lie etched on the faces that carry life stories. Personal contacts have thwarted prejudice. We embrace the splendour of difference.

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Levi J Attias is a barrister and poet

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Hindu: “Tolerance comes from  the core of faith”  

It was around 1860 that the first Hindu traders arrived in Gibraltar. Although the  population remained very small until the 1950s, at present the community is just under 600. The first generation saw hardship when trying to settle down, but newer generations had greater opportunities to integrate and contribute.  

In these 150 years of history, the community has integrated within Gibraltar at large, establishing roots in a land we now consider our home. One of the most important achievements has been the construction of the Hindu temple, completed in 1993. It was officially inaugurated a few years later, in March of 2000, by Sir Richard Luce, who was governor of  Gibraltar at that time.  

The temple has become the focal point of Hindu culture and religion, not only for the Hindu community but for the many visitors from Gibraltar and the surrounding areas, including schools in Spain. It aims not only to serve as a venue for worship and observance, but also to help preserve heritage, promote religious understanding and participate in interfaith activities.  

Through the temple, we work to promote an understanding of Hindu culture among young people. Organisations such as the Boy Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides make a point of paying a visit, alongside other places of worship. The exchange of knowledge in turn leads to greater respect and tolerance. Tolerance comes from within the core elements of our faith.  

Deepa Aidasani is the chairperson  of the Gibraltar Hindu Temple

Read Part I: Anglican and Catholic