The founder of the Cayman Islands first synagogue has been recognized for helping keep the Jewish faith alive in the territory.
George Walton built the quaint Beth Shalom Temple amid lush vegetation on the grounds of his property in Cayman Brac where he and his wife Lynne run the Mango Manor bed and breakfast.
The practicing Jewish community on the Brac is confined to just three people, the Waltons and their son.
But the congregation at the Temple swells on some Friday evenings to upward of a dozen people as tourists passing through the island seek out a place to worship.
The ornate white building with its large timber door and window cut in the shape of the Star of David, rarely fails to impress.
“It has a shock value for visitors. They arrive looking for a thatch hut and they find this place with Italian marble beams and blue pearl granite covering the floor,” says Mr. Walton.
The Waltons also do community outreach. They have hosted classical music events and even Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at the temple.
Schoolchildren are frequent visitors to the property, where they can learn about the Jewish faith and the contributions of Judaism to the world.
Mr. Walton, who had the temple built in 2002, has now been recognized for his efforts by the Commonwealth Jewish Council.
He was invited to a reception at the House of Lords dining hall in London last November, where he was presented with an ancient clay oil lamp from the Roman Byzantine era.
The lamp is a miniature version of the oil lamps used in the ancient temples in Jerusalem representing God’s presence among his people.
The lamp, which carries the inscription, “presented to George Walton for his outstanding contributions to Commonwealth Jewry,” was presented to Mr. Walton by Lord Jon Mendelsohn, president of the Commonwealth Jewish Council.
“It was one of the most profound experiences of my life,” said Mr. Walton, explaining that the lamp symbolizes his efforts to keep the light of the Jewish faith alive.
He gave a speech to the 230 members of the council, telling them of the synagogue’s ongoing religious, social, and educational programs and events.
Mr. Walton traces his own Jewish roots to his grandmother, who arrived in the Brac from Portugal via Jamaica and Grand Cayman at the start of the last century.
He believes many early settlers in the Cayman Islands were originally Jewish but stopped practicing or converted to Protestantism.
The faith just made sense to him, he says, and he stuck with it. After spending 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and marrying his wife, who is also Jewish and from New York, he returned to the Brac in the ‘90s. Now he aims to give back to the community through his work at the temple.
“I have had a rich life and God has been good to me,” he said.
“A lot of people on the island have never had those kind of opportunities. We try to give back through the temple.”