The Jewish communities in Malta date back to 750 BC when the Phoenician settled on the island. During the Middle Ages and up until the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Malta had Jewish communities in it’s old capital city of Mdina as well as in the port city of Birgu and on the sister island of Gozo. An interesting anecdote from the 18th century concerns Joseph Cohen, a tavern owner in Valletta, who converted from Judaism to Christianity. He prevented a conspiracy to murder Grand Master Pinto. For his loyalty, Cohen was granted a house in Merchant Street, Valletta, which later housed the Monte di Pietà, a charitable organisation that helps the needy. Cohen’s lineage lives and is still active in Malta’s business and social life.
The reign of the Knights of St. John in the Maltese Islands from 1530, saw many Jews enslaved and sold to the highest bidder. Slave funds in Livorno,Venice and London were very active in Malta as well as other areas of Europe paying ransoms to free Jewish slaves. A cemetery for Jewish slaves in Malta was established by the Livorno/Leghorn Slave Fund in 1784 for “for the burial of the dead of its race”. This cemetery in Kalkara is the earliest surviving Jewish burial ground in Malta.
It is in dire need of restoration and the very small Jewish community in Malta has not had the means to bring it back to a respectable state.
Ta’ Braxia Jewish cemetery in Gwardamanġa, is adjacent to the British multi-faith Cemetery. Established in 1830. It was in use until 1880, when it reached full capacity. The Association, Friends of Ta’ Braxia, with limited resources, has helped the Jewish Community to maintain the cemetery since 2001. Today, the cemetery needs a full restoration plan and periodical maintenance in order to be more accessible to the general public and researchers.
Still currently in use, the Marsa Jewish Cemetery, adjacent to the Turkish military cemetery, was established in December 1879, after Ta’ Braxia reached full capacity. It was designed by the English architect Webster Paulson. Its grand façade, built in the neoclassical style, is crumbling and in urgent need of restoration.
While today’s Maltese Jewish Community is not descended from the slave era they trace their roots to immigration in the 19th Century. Nevertheless, they are keen to safeguard the memory and material heritage of Maltese Jewish History for future generations.
One of the primary objectives of the Tayar Foundation is to undertake urgent works to restore these cemeteries and to increase awareness of this unique aspect of Malta’s history. When completed, open-days will be organised to invite locals and tourists to discover these windows onto Maltese history and learn the stories they still have to tell.
We are seeking contributions and invite you to join in becoming part of this history by aiding in the restoration work. Your donation will go directly towards preserving the Kalkara, Ta’ Braxia and Marsa cemeteries. It will ensure that countless visitors can continue to appreciate these historic cemeteries for years to come and preserve a unique feature of Malta’s history. To date, volunteers have donated time to clean these cemeteries on occasions, but restoration works are desperately needed.
The Tayar Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Malta (www.jewishheritagemalta.org) was established in 2020 for the purposes of safeguarding Jewish history in the Maltese Islands. It is an entirely voluntary organisation. We hope you can help us achieve our goal. We look forward to introducing opportunities in the near future for donors to see the cemeteries for themselves and experience the storyline that not only connects our cemeteries, but also our old capital and new one, Valletta.