Remnant Stones: The Jewish Cemeteries of Suriname Epitaphs by Aviva Ben-Ur and Rachel Frankel from HUC Press

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the 1660s, Jews of Iberian ancestry, many of them fleeing Inquisitorial persecution, established an agrarian settlement in the midst of the Surinamese rainforest.  The heart of this community—Jodensavanne, or Jews' Savannah—became an autonomous village with its own Jewish institutions, including a majestic synagogue consecrated in 1685.  Situated along the Suriname River, some thirty kilometers from the capital city of Paramaribo, Jodensavanne was by the mid-eighteenth century surrounded by dozens of Jewish plantations sprawling north- and southward and dominating the stretch of the river.  These Sephardi-owned plots, mostly devoted to the cultivation and processing of sugar, collectively formed the largest Jewish agricultural community in the world at the time and the only Jewish settlement in the Americas granted virtual self-rule. 

 
Sephardi settlement paved the way for the influx of hundreds of Ashkenazi Jews, who began to migrate in the late seventeenth century from western and central Europe.  Generally banned from Jodensavanne, these newcomers chose to settle in Paramaribo, where they established their own cemeteries and historic synagogue, deeply influenced by their European Jewish predecessors. Meanwhile, slave rebellions, Maroon attacks, the general collapse of Suriname’s economy, soil depletion, absentee land ownership, and a ravaging fire all contributed to the demise of the old rainforest settlement beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century. 
 
This project’s points of departure are three Sephardi cemeteries, whose monuments date from 1666 to 1904; one Ashkenazi cemetery, whose monuments date from the 1680s to the late nineteenth century; and the remains of the seventeenth-century synagogue in Jodensavanne. Remnant Stones presents the results of eight years of on-site fieldwork in Suriname and research in archives in the United States and the Netherlands, carried out by the authors since 1995. The present volume presents transcriptions and English translations of nearly 1,700 epitaphs, carved in Portuguese, Hebrew, Spanish, Dutch, Aramaic, and French. A fold-out scaled plan of each of the cemeteries shows stone orientation, locations, and adjacencies.  A planned second volume will trace the history of Surinamese Jewry and present a social and architectural analysis of its community, cemeteries, and synagogue.
 
About the authors: Aviva Ben-Ur is Associate Professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History (NY: New York University Press, 2008) and numerous articles. Rachel Frankel is an architect in New York, where she has had her own practice since 1996. She has been researching, documenting, and preserving the historic sites of the former settlement of Jodensavanne in Suriname, South America since 1994.

 

 
List price: $99.50; 679 pages; 900 photographs; Distributed by Wayne State University Press, 4809 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201; 1-800-978-7323


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