Despite a long history of Jewish settlers, Jamaica is no longer home to a large Jewish community; and getting kosher food in the island nation is nearly impossible.
But a sole Jewish mother is changing that, offering Israeli dishes that have not only won over locals, but could revitalize Jewish tourism there.
The Times of Israel reports that Vered Maoz and her family came to Jamaica from Israel 12 years ago, when her husband (a mechanical engineer) found a job with a construction company. Maoz worked as a medical biotech technician in Israel, and has no formal cooking training. But unable to get a work permit in Jamaica, she ended up spending hours in the kitchen.
Maoz never developed a taste for Jamaican food, and turned instead to fresh baked pita, hummus, and bourekas, as well as dishes that draw on her Greek heritage.
She would gift the pita to friends and neighbors; soon, they wanted to buy it for $5 a pack. Local Lebanese restaurants started losing customers to her, and now, Maoz closely guards her recipes and methods from them.
While most of Maoz’s customers are not Jews, she said she has increasingly been fielding orders from the community and tour groups. She says she would love to focus someday on specifically kosher food.
Maoz cooks mostly vegetarian dishes because there is no kosher butcher in Jamaica. But she imports almost all of her ingredients from Israel anyway, or buys them on monthly trips to New York or Miami.
Jamaica was once home to a vibrant community of Sephardic Jews, who landed there after being expelled from Spain in 1492. Today, though many Jamaicans show genetic traces of Jewish heritage, only an estimated 200 are observant.