Shalom Life | May 24, 2014

Shalom, French Polynesia: A Jewish Culture Guide

Approximately 130 islands comprise French Polynesia, with Tahiti being the most famous, largest, and most populated.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: April 22nd, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, French Polynesia

The first Jews in French Polynesia probably arrived with captain James Cook in the 1769. However, the first documented Jew to settle in Tahiti was an English merchant by the name of Alexander Salmon. He became a secretary to Queen Pōmare IV, and subsequently married her adopted half-sister, Princess Oehau (Ari'i Ari'ioehau Ari'ita'ima'i Hinari'i).

Their union produced ten children, of which, was Johanna Marau Ta'aroa a Tepau Salmon, the last queen of Tahiti. Further Jewish settlement occurred throughout the following decades, until the arrival of Catholic priests. Most Jews either converted to Catholicism or assimilated into the society.

The first Jewish settlement wasn’t established in French Polynesia until the 1960’s, when Jewish refugees arrived from Algeria. In 1982, the Association Culturelle des Israelites et Sympathisants de Polynesie (ACISPO) was established to represent the community.

According to the World Jewish Congress “some of the intermarried members of the community are active in communal life together with their non-Jewish spouses, hence the word ‘sympathisants’”. A synagogue and Jewish community center were built in 1993, in the capital, Papeete. A mikva was added to the facility a year later.

Today, there are estimated to be 200 Jews residing in French Polynesia. Most of the Jewish populace is of North African Sephardi heritage.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “two of the community's Torah scrolls were provided by the Egyptian Jewish community of Paris, and the other was contributed by a Los Angeles community”.

There is a Sunday school that offers classes to children under 7 years old, and another for bar mitzvah age. If you want to keep kosher, the department store Carrefour, stocks kosher products, in addition to a few other supermarkets.


Approximately 130 islands comprise French Polynesia, with Tahiti being the most famous, largest, and most populated. Scattered across a staggering 2.5 million square kilometres, French Polynesia is literally paradise on Earth. It most certainly is worth the visit.

Links:

http://www.worldjewishcongress.org/en/communities/show/id/17

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/tahiti.html

http://www.carrefour-tahiti.com/

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