Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

The Jews in the Caribbean

Jane Gerber

The Jewish diaspora of the Caribbean constantly redefined itself under changing circumstances. This volume looks at many aspects of this complex past and suggests different ways to understand it: as a Jewish diaspora dispersed under different European colonial empires; as a Jewish body joined together by a set of shared Jewish traditions and historical memories; and as one component in a web of relationships that characterized the Atlantic world.

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The Portuguese Jewish diaspora was born out of a double tragedy: the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the forced conversion/expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1497. The potent combination of expulsion, Inquisition, and crypto-Judaism left people neither wholly Jewish nor wholly Christian in their identity. Subsequently many left the Iberian peninsula; some found refuge in the Caribbean, but succeeded in maintaining strong connections with Portuguese Jews in western Europe, the Ottoman empire, and the Far East and also forged ties with the surrounding peoples and cultures.

This book looks at many different aspects of this complex past. Its interdisciplinary approach allows a wealth of new information to be brought together to create a comprehensive picture. Part I sets the context, and also considers the relationship of Caribbean Jewry to the European trading systems; its special ties to Amsterdam and Dutch-ruled Curaçao; and the role of Jewish merchants in Jamaica's commerce. Part II examines the material and visual culture of Jews in the British and Dutch Caribbean, while Part III looks at Caribbean Jewish identity and heritage and their modern manifestations. Part IV contains archival studies that illuminate other subjects of importance—adventure and piracy, Jewish participation in a nineteenth-century revolt of black slaves and in the first Jamaican elections after Jews were granted the right to vote, and questions of concubinage and sexual relations between Jews and blacks. Part V moves from the local to the international, in particular the connection with mainland America.

In their diversity, the contributions to this volume suggest the many ways that the formation of the Caribbean Jewish diaspora can be understood today: as a Jewish diaspora dispersed under different European colonial empires; as a Jewish body joined together by a set of shared Jewish traditions and historical memories; and as one component in a web of relationships that characterized the Atlantic world. Defining it is no simple matter: like all diaspora identities it was constantly in flux, reinventing itself under changing historic circumstances.

 

About the editor

Jane Gerber is Professor of History and Director of the Institute for Sephardic Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is past president of the Association for Jewish Studies. She is author of Jewish Society in Fez: 1450–1700 (1980); The Jews of Spain (1992), winner of a National Jewish Book Award; Sephardic Studies in the University (1995), and Cities of Splendour: Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews (forthcoming from the Littman Library). She has been a Visiting Professor at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, The Hebrew University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Jewish Theological Seminary and has lectured widely in the United States and abroad. She heads the Advisory Board of the American Sephardi Federation and serves on the Academic Advisory Council of the Center for Jewish History and the Academic Board of the Rothberg School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

 

About the contributors

Aviva Ben-Ur, Associate Professor, Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Miriam Bodian, Professor of History, University of Texas, Austin
Ainsley Cohen Henriques, former president, currently a director, honorary secretary, and editor and publisher of the newsletter, United Congregations of Israelites, Kingston, Jamaica
Judah M. Cohen, Lou and Sybil Mervis Professor of Jewish Culture and Associate Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University
Eli Faber, Professor Emeritus of History, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
Rachel Frankel, Principal, Rachel Frankel AIA Architecture, New York City
Noah Gelfand, University of Connecticut at Stamford and Hunter College
Jane S. Gerber, Professor of History and Director, Institute for Sephardic Studies, Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Josette Capriles Goldish, Research Associate, Hadassah Brandeis Institute
Matt Goldish, Samuel M. and Esther Melton Professor of Jewish History and Director, Melton Center for Jewish Studies, Ohio State University
Jonathan I. Israel, Professor of Modern History, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University
Stanley Mirvis, Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Gérard Nahon, Directeur d'Études (emeritus) in medieval and modern Judaism, École Pratique des Hautes Études (Sorbonne, Paris)
Joanna Newman, Director, UK International Unit, Universities UK; former Head of Higher Education, British Library
Ronnie Perelis, Chief Rabbi Dr Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Assistant Professor of Sephardic Studies, Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University, New York
Jackie Ranston, researcher/writer specializing in Jamaican historical biography
James Robertson, Senior Lecturer in History, University of the West Indies, Mona
Jessica Roitman, researcher, Royal Netherlands Institute for South-East Asian and Caribbean Studies
Dale Rosengarten, founding director, Jewish Heritage College, College of Charleston Library
Barry L. Stiefel, Assistant Professor, Joint Program in Historic Preservation, College of Charleston and Clemson University
Hilit Surowitz-Israel, Department of Religion, University of Florida
Karl Watson, formerly Senior Lecturer, Department of History, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill
Swithin Wilmot, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education and Senior Lecturer in History, University of the West Indies, Mona

 

Contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Transliteration
Introduction
JANE S. GERBER

PART I The Historical Background of the Caribbean Sephardi Diaspora

1 The Formation of the Portuguese Jewish Diaspora
MIRIAM BODIAN

2 Curaçao, Amsterdam, and the Rise of the Sephardi Trade System in the Caribbean, 1630–1700
JONATHAN ISRAEL

3 To Live and to Trade: The Status of Sephardi Mercantile Communities in the Atlantic World during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
NOAH GELFAND

PART II Authority and Community in the Dutch Caribbean

4 Amsterdam and the Portuguese Naçao of the Caribbean in the Eighteenth Century
GÉRARD NAHON

5 'A flock of wolves instead of sheep': The Dutch West India Company, Conflict Resolution, and the Jewish Community of Curaçao in the Eighteenth Century
JESSICA ROITMAN

6 Religious Authority: A Perspective from the Americas
HILIT SUROWITZ-ISRAEL

PART III Material and Visual Culture

7 Jonkonnu and Jew: The Art of Isaac Mendes Belisario (1794–1849)
JACKIE RANSTON

8 Testimonial Terrain: The Cemeteries of New World Sephardim
RACHEL FRANKEL

9 Counting the 'Sacred Lights of Israel': Synagogue Construction and Architecture in the British Caribbean
BARRY L. STIEFEL

PART IV Jews and Slave Society

10 The Cultural Heritage of Eurafrican Sephardi Jews in Suriname
AVIVA BEN-UR

11 Shifting Identities: Religion, Race, and Creolization among the Sephardi Jews of Barbados, 1654–1900
KARL WATSON

12 Sexuality and Sentiment: Concubinage and the Sephardi Family in Late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica
STANLEY MIRVIS

13 The 'Confession made by Cyrus' Reconsidered: Maroons and Jews during Jamaica's First Maroon War (1728–1738/9)
JAMES ROBERTSON

14 Jewish Politicians in Post-Slavery Jamaica: Electoral Politics in the Parish of St Dorothy, 1849–1860
SWITHIN WILMOT

PART V Reassessing the Geographical Boundaries of Caribbean Jewry

15 The Borders of Early American Jewish History
ELI FABER

16 Port Jews and Plantation Jews: Carolina–Caribbean Connections
DALE ROSENGARTEN

Part VI. Personal Narratives

17 The Strange Adventures of Benjamin Franks, an Ashkenazi Pioneer in the Americas
MATT GOLDISH

18 Daniel Israel López Laguna's Espejo fiel de vidas and the Ghosts of Marrano Autobiography
RONNIE PERELIS

19 'My heart is grieved': Grace Cardoze—A Life Revealed through Letters
JOSETTE CAPRILES GOLDISH

PART VII The Formation of Contemporary Caribbean Jewry

20 Refugees from Nazism in the British Caribbean
JOANNA NEWMAN

21 Inscribing Ourselves with History: The Production of Heritage in Today's Caribbean Jewish Diaspora
JUDAH M. COHEN

Notes on Contributors
Index