Article by Aline P’nina Tayar
Thanks to a successful international fund raising campaign in 1998, the Maltese Jewish community was able to open a new synagogue and community center in Florida Mansions, an apartment building on Enrico Mazzi Street in Ta’xbiex after the building housing Valletta’s previous synagogue was demolished, due to structural problems, in 1995. The new synagogue, consecrated in January 2000, is the first property to be owned by a Jewish community in Malta for over 500 years.
The simple rectangular sanctuary has a central bimah; a low curtain separates the women’s section at the rear. The Ten Commandments are inscribed in gold on a marble plaque above the Ark. The gold-embroidered blue velvet Ark cover was donated to the community in 1946 in memory of two brothers, Alfonso and Menashe Reginiano, one of whom was killed by a bomb during the Second World War.
There are three Jewish cemeteries in Malta, plus about half a dozen ancient catacomb burials.
The Jewish cemetery in Marsa, established in 1879 at the southern tip of the Grand Harbor, is the only Jewish cemetery in Malta still in use. Decorations resembling Torah finials top the gabled, arched stone gate.
The Ta’ Braxia cemetery was established in 1834 and used until 1880. It is adjacent to Valletta’s main Ta’ Braxia International Cemetery, on the road from Floriana to Pieta. At least one-quarter of the c. 120 graves are of infants and children. The cemetery underwent a clean-up in 2016, and the grave inscriptions are being transcribed and studied.
The Jewish Cemetery in Kalkara, established in 1784, is the earliest surviving Jewish burial ground in Malta, aside from the Rabat catacombs. Kalkara lies on the third of four promontories opposite Valletta on the southeast side of the Grand Harbor area. The cemetery is at the bottom of Rinella Street, through an entrance with a narrow wooden door and steep, narrow steps. Covering an area of about 9 meters by 12 meters, it is surrounded by houses and fronted by a retaining wall.
These ancient Jewish tombs near Rabat testify to the existence of a Hellenized Jewish Community on the island of Malta in Roman times. The site contains about forty tombs, of which at least six appear to be Jewish. They line both sides of a series of underground tunnels. These tunnels branch off in all directions from an entrance stairwell, but eventually arrive at a large chamber on the southern end of the site, containing the three biggest hypogea. All the tombs have the same plan and tomb-types, and it is often difficult to tell which are Jewish and which Christian. Some carry religious symbols and other engraved decorations, such as crosses, palm fronds, or doves with olive branches – or, in some cases, the Jewish seven-branched candlestick (menorah).