Early American Letters: Abigail Levy Franks

In the 1730s-40s, Abigail Levy Franks (1696-1756) wrote a series of letters to her family. Like many letters, these range from mundane to heart wrenching: in the letter below to her son Naphtali, she wrote of her shock and despair on learning of her daughter's secret marriage to a non-Jew: "Good God Wath a Shock it was when they Acquanted me She had Left the House and Had bin Married Six months I can hardly hold my Pen whilst I am writting it. . . . My Spirits Was for Some time Soe Depresst that it was a pain for me to Speak or See Any one." These letters have been superbly collected and edited by Edith B. Gelles in The Letters of Abigaill Levy Franks, 1733-1748. A brief biography of Abigail Levy Franks is available online at the Center for Jewish History.

When reading colonial American letters, it helps to know why early Americans wrote. The eighteenth century is the age of the what is called the "familiar letter"—that is, “a mode of letter writing devoted to the expression of affection and duty among kin, family and friends.” Letters were not merely a way to communicate news: they provided a way to “pursue...claims to social refinement and upward mobility" (Dierks, “The Familiar Letter and Social Refinement in America,” 31.) Letter writing manuals like The Young Clerk's Guide (1708) and The Secretary's Companion (1728) provided scripts for people to follow in order to display their social graces appropriately; handwriting guides helped the writer learn to display her refinement visually. Letters were so popular a genre that many early American novels are written in an epistolary form: that is, as a sequence of letters (for example Hannah Foster's The Coquette [1797]).

Those who want to try their own hand at decoding Abigail's handwriting below may find my Early American Handwriting Game a helpful starting place.

Abigail Franks (1696-1756) to
Naphtali Franks (1715-1796).
Letter, June 7, 1743 [written from "Flatt bush"].
Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society,
New York and Newton Centre, Massachusetts (25)


Synagogue: View from the Gallery

One of the standard features of the synagogues of the Jewish Atlantic World is a women's gallery: a balcony supported by columns on two or three sides of the synagogue.

The concept of using a balcony for a women’s section comes from descriptions of the Temple: although at first there was no roof to the Women’s Court, a balcony on top of pillars was added later and screened in with latticework.

In the synagogues in Amsterdam, London and the new world sometimes latticework was used (as in the Esnoga and Bevis Marks) and sometimes a railing was used (as in Jamaica and Newport's Touro Synagogue). In Antiquity, latticework in synagogues was used to represent the firmament: the division between heaven and earth. The view from the women’s balcony in the synagogue, then, was paradoxically both elevated and restricted: through the geometric pattern of the lattice, the women viewed the service as if looking down through the firmament to earth.

Here are some views from the Balcony along with a haunting video of Vanessa Paloma singing the Ladino song "El Dio Alto" from the balcony of the Esnoga.

Vanessa Paloma in the Balcony of the Esnoga

The Balcony of Kahal Kadosh Shaare Shalom, Jamaica

The View from the Balcony of Neve Shalom Synagogue, Suriname

The View from Below:

Looking up at the Balcony in Mikve Israel (the "Snoa"), Curacao

View from the ground floor of the Touro Synagogue including of balconies HABS, Library of Congress)


Book Review: The Knell of Parting Day

A few years ago at the Conference for the Association for Gravestone Studies, some of us were lamenting that there weren't more books available on Jewish cemeteries. While a few old standards were available, they tended to be out of print, hard to find, and extremely expensive. The situation is starting to change, and one fine example of where the field is headed is Marilyn Delevante's The Knell of Parting Day: A History of the Jews of Port Royal and the Hunt's Bay Cemetery.

Portuguese Jews first settled on the island of Jamaica between 1530-1640, during the era of Spanish occupation. After the English conquest of the island, the community was able to openly worship as Jews and settled primarily in Port Royal and later in Spanish Town and Kingston. The Hunts Bay Cemetery served the historic community of Port Royal. As in Venice, Amsterdam, and Curacao, the deceased were carried by boat across the water to the cemetery.

This richly illustrated volume is a show case of the kind of new work being done in gravestone studies. In addition to a complete list of transcriptions and translations of the inscriptions from the cemetery and accompanying photos of the stones, the book provides a history of the Jews of Jamaica and Port Royal and places them within the larger story of the Sephardic diaspora. Attention is paid in chapter ten to the types and symbolism of the images used on the stones. Throughout the book are high quality color photographs by Jono David, whose online galleries of Jewish cemeteries are worth viewing.

This is the sort of book that will non-specialists will find fascinating and researchers will find invaluable. Copies can be purchased from the author for $35.00 US (softcover) or $45.00 U.S. (hardcover) at http://www.thejewsofjamaica.com/site2/purchase/purchase_index.html.

In the meantime, you may enjoy looking at this picasa web album of stones from the cemetery.


Grave Matters: Converso Funerary Art

When Isaac Lopez was buried in 1762, he joined the remains of many of his extended kin and other members of the Yeshuat Israel [Salvation of Israel] congregation. The Hevra kadisha (Burial Society) of Newport washed his body and prepared it for burial. The leader of the burial society then led the men in seven circuits around the body (Emmanuel PRECIOUS STONES 81). These circuits not only embedded the dead into the memory of the community, but also helped transition the deceased from the world of the living to the world to come.In Judaism, seven is a holy number symbolizing God, completion, and the covenant.One sign of this covenant was separation.

Jewish law requires that Jews be buried separately from their gentile neighbors, and in 1677 the Jews of Newport purchased and established a burial ground at the edge of town on the corner of what is now Kay Street and Bellevue Avenue (Gradwohl 20). The cemetery was far from both the town’s Protestant cemeteries, and the houses and businesses of most Jewish residents. After being prepared for internment, Isaac’s body was brought here and buried. A year later a gravestone was erected and “unveiled.”
Like the seven circuits made by mourners around the coffins of the dead, the gravestone laid over the tomb had a redemptive quality: it, like other stones in the cemetery, embedded the deceased in the Jewish community of Newport for all eternity, but also insisted upon the interrelatedness of Spanish, Portuguese, Jewish, and Colonial worlds of Isaac’s family. Like many of the Jews buried in the Touro cemetery, Isaac’s father Moses (1706-1767) was a converso or “crypto-Jew”; that is, he was a descendent of Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity and who had for centuries practiced Catholicism in public, and a form of Judaism in private.

Moses Lopez had come to Newport to escape a late wave of the inquisition in Portugal after his New Christian relatives denounced him for “Judaizing.” Moses was the older half-brother of Aaron Lopez, one of Newport’s most famous merchants. When Moses came to the Americas, he gave up his Portuguese Christian name (José Lopez Ramos) for a Hebrew one (Moseh) and its English equivalent (Moses). His wife was his first cousin Rebecca Rodriguez Rivera (? -1793), whose father Abraham Rodriguez Rivera (? -1765) had escaped the Spanish inquisition and fled to England and later Newport (Rodrigues Pereira 568, 579). Moses was naturalized in New York in 1740/41 and most (or all) of his children were born in Newport (Stern 175). Several of Moses and Rebecca’s children died young, but only the stones of Isaac (1762) and Jacob (1763) remain.

This entry is an excerpt from a conference presentation given at the American Studies Association Conference in 2007. Research was funded by NEH and a Ruby Grant.


Colonial Houses: Home of a Hero

Scharlooweg 55, also known as "Beau Senior," is one of the few houses to exist both in Curacao and in miniature form in the Netherlands in a small town called "Madurodam." Built in 1875 for the Senior family (one of the major Jewish families in Curacao), the home was sold in 1915 to Joshua and Rebecca Levy Maduro family, members of another major Sephardic family on the island. It was the boyhood home of their only son, George John Lionel Maduro (1916-1945), who fought for the Dutch resistance in WWII, and died in Dachau concentration camp of typhus. After his death, his parents commemorated him by building the miniature city Madurodam in in Scheveningen, The Hague, in the Netherlands. A small version of his childhood home resides in the town.

Replica of 55 Scharlooweg in Madurodam

"Beau Senior" is typical of the Jewish houses built in the Scharloo neighborhood of Curacao in the nineteenth century. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most Jewish families lived in Punda (Willemstad) a few blocks away from the synagogue, in Landhuizen (plantation homes) inland, or in Otrobanda across the entryway to the bay. Starting in the late nineteenth century, Jewish families began to build houses across the Waaigat in Scharloo.

These houses tended to be neo-classical in design with a U-shaped plan surrounding an enclosed patio. This architectural style was both influenced by Latin American architecture and the discovery and excavation of Pompeii. As in Pompeii, the true grandeur of the house was only accessible to those allowed inside. The front of the house often belied the large house that lay behind it (see plan below). Even so, the front facade was an important way of showing social prestige: the monumental pediment above the doorway, the front columns, and the elegant grey and white tiles leading to the entryway all displayed luxury and good taste.

Simplified Floorplan of 55 Scharlooweg based on Winkel, Scharloo p. 295

The galleries were like European sitting rooms, furnished with mahogany and wicker furniture. In contrast, the Sala was mainly for show and were decorated with pianos, long narrow mirrors, and chandeliers. As in Pompeii, the patio was open to the sky. It was decorated with plants. Furniture in the bedrooms was monumental and made of hardwoods.

Bedroom furniture owned by the Maduros of Scharloo now in landhouse Rooi Catochi. (S.A.L. Mongui Maduro Foundation)

In the dining room was often a fontein, a small basin and water container for hand washing. Cupboards made of mahogany housed dishes and glasses. You can read more about Scharloo architecture and "Beau Senior" in P. Pruneti Winkel's Scharloo.

owned by Shon Serafina Maduro-Jesurun, now in landhouse Rooi Catochi. (
S.A.L. Mongui Maduro Foundation)


Holidays: Purim

The book of Esther was particularly popular amongst conversos on the Iberian Peninsula. Many conversos kept the fast of Esther even when they kept few other Jewish holidays or traditions. New Christian women tended to identify with Queen Esther: like the Queen, many conversas had to submit to a gentile husband, either literally or figuratively (Catholic Spain).
Once conversos left the Iberian Peninsula and were free to practice Judaism openly, Purim remained an important holiday. The Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam contains many fine examples of richly illustrated Megillot, one of which is featured in the video below. The reading is from the Portuguese Esnoga.

Gravestones from the Jewish Atlantic World also feature scenes from the story of Esther. It was not uncommon for stones to feature Biblical scenes, particularly ones related to the name of the deceased. The detail of the stone at the top of the page is from the gravestone of Mordechay Hisquiau Namias de Crasto (1716) Beit Haim Blenheim, Curaçao. For the full stone and the inscription, see below. A similar scene appears in Beth Haim at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel on the stone of Moses de Mordechai Senior (1730) (left).

Classroom Resource:Gravestone of Mordechay Hisquiau Namias de Crasto (1716) Beit Haim Blenheim, Curaçao. This is one of the finest examples of gravestone art from the Jewish Atlantic World. Ask students what they think the different images mean and why they belong together on one stone. Why do you think the carver (or the family who requested the stone) chose this particular scene from the book of Esther?

Questions for Readers:
Do these stones surprise you, and if so how?


Book Review: Purim and the Persian Empire

I am one of those freaks who reads Herodotus' History of the Persian Wars every year. Ok, not every year: this year I am on sabbatical, but of the past fifteen years, I have read it a good twelve times. We are about to change the syllabus for our freshman humanities program at the college where I teach, but Herodotus is still on it, so it is safe to bet I will be teaching and reading it for many years to come.

As an orthodox Jew, I have also been reading each year a book that is new to our revised syllabus: the Megillas Esther. Starting next fall in our humanities course, right after we read Herodotus' account of why the small but heroic Greeks were able to take down the mighty Persians, we will turn to the Persian city of Persepolis, the Cyrus Cylinder, and the books of Esther and Ezra. According to Rabbi Yehuda Landy, we'd probably want to look at the ancient city of Susa as well.

Rabbi Landy is the author of the recently released Purim and the Persian Empire. In it, Rabbi Landy makes extensive connections between archeological finds in the Middle East and the Megillas Esther. Although archeology is always an interpretative "science," Rabbi Landy takes a now mainstream approach and argues that King Achashverosh was Xerxes (I) and that the story of Purim took place at his palace at Shushan (Susa).

Rabbi Landy's magnificent volume is sure to delight Jewish readers of almost any age and educational background. My favorite page was the plan of the palace on page 26 which connects each room to the line that references it in the Megillah; my children (ages 2 and 4) loved the full-page color photographs of the glazed bricks featuring members of the royal guard. They also loved the photos of the excavated jewelry and golden drinking cups. When we finished looking at the book and talking about the story of Esther, they asked to go through it "again" and kept picking it up and asking about it over the course of the weekend. They found the Persian writing (page 41) particularly funny.

I also loved the book: it opened my eyes onto a whole new view of the book of Esther and that curious king Achashveros. In Herodotus' Histories, Xerxes comes across as a rather crazy despot, famous for having ordered the Hellespont River to be lashed three-hundred times for disobedience. Placing Xerxes in the context of the book of Esther makes for a more nuanced and interesting view luxuries that "corrupted" and softened the Persian Empire. It also made me look forward to listening to the Megillah this year with new ears and eyes.


Classroom Resources: Iberian Peninsula Crossword Puzzle

Looking for a way to reinforce students' understanding of key vocabulary words? Try a crossword puzzle! (Or you may just want to try it yourself to test your own knowledge!)

Download the puzzle here or make your own at The Teachers Corner.net.

Answer Key:


Classroom Resources: Gravestones 1

One of the goals of this website is to make more resources on early American Jews easily available to classroom teachers.

Recently I visited the class of Holly Litwin at Portland Jewish Academy. Her fifth grade students were studying the American colonies. Holly was noticing how few resources there were for young students on Jewish life in the colonies. One of the activities we did while I was there was an analysis of gravestones from Jews in the colonies. I choose three stones: one for a small Jewish boy (Isaac Lopez), one from a slave owned by the boy's uncle (Aaron Lopez), and one by a man from Curacao (Gabriel A Levy).

I included an example of a slave's stone because slavery had come up as a topic in their general studies of the colonies. Years ago the Nation of Islam proposed that Jews were responsible for the slave trade. This allegation is clearly false. It is important for students to understand, however, that almost every aspect of the economy in the colonies was tied to slavery either directly or indirectly: Jews often were prohibited from selling slaves, but some men (like Aaron Lopez) did have slave ships. You can read more about this issue in a wonderful book by Eli Faber called Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight, that clears up a lot of misconceptions about Jewish involvement in the slave trade. Holly's students were interested in the fact that some Jews owned slaves, and some students were sad about it. I wondered if I was right to bring it up at all?

One of the things that makes gravestones from the Jewish Atlantic World so fascinating is that they often contain "graven images"; that is, images traditionally considered forbidden by Jewish law. We talked about what the second commandment said, and why Jews in the colonies might have wanted to make gravestones with these images anyway. We also talked about colonial diseases. Students broke into groups and answered the questions on the first page about one of the three stones. Then we got back to together as a class and talked about each one of the stones in turn.

Here is the Gravestone Handout we used. Feel free to use it in your own class.

If you are interested in learning more about why scholars are interested in gravestones and how to analyze them, see my Gravestones Study Guide on my Indian Converts Collection website.

Question: If you teach young students about early American Jews, would you bring up the issue of slavery? Why or why not?


The Adventuresome Traveler: Introduction

I traveled a fair amount as a child: my parents often worked in the tropics in countries like Bonaire, Panama, Australia, and Kenya. Occasionally we did things I wouldn't want to do today: for example, swim in the Panama Canal in an area inhabited by crocodiles, or get stuck in the mud in a game park near an electric fence designed to keep the wild animals in. Mainly we had fun.

Today I usually travel for work. Sometimes my research takes me to air conditioned libraries and archives; other times it takes me to far-away places where I am studying historical objects for my work, like gravestones, synagogues, houses, and ritual baths. I consider myself an "adventuresome but not stupid" traveler: that is, I don't mind going to unusual places, but I don't tend to take unnecessary risks. I don't mind luxurious hotels, but that isn't where I tend to stay: I am often on a budget, though not one so extreme that I will stay in a complete dive. I also keep kosher, so I often have an eye towards what there is to eat when you get there.

If you are interested in traveling in the footsteps of early American Jews, this column will give you some insights into where to go, where to stay, and what to bring. Want to hear about a particular place? Here are some places I have done research recently: Suriname, Curacao, Jamaica, Newport, Panama, and Amsterdam.


The Adventuresome Traveler: Suriname

Interested in taking a vacation to a Jewish Heritage spot off the beaten track? Try Suriname! This former Dutch colony used to be the Las Vegas of the colonial world, and was once an important sugar plantation community. Merchants from as far away as Newport, Rhode Island came to the colony to revel and make their fortunes. It was also the home of many important early American Jewish families who lived both on sugar plantations and in the main city of Paramaribo. They built synagogues in the typical Dutch Caribbean style with rich mahogany and sand floors. One of these exquisite synagogues is still in use in Paramaribo: the synagogue complex includes a museum, one of the earliest still-functioning mikvaot in the Americas as well as elaborately-carved gravestones transferred from one of the early cemeteries.

Looking for a place to stay? The Krasnapolsky is located in a safe neighborhood a block and a half from the Neve Shalom Synagogue. It has internet access and a helpful staff. The airport is quite a ways outside of Paramaribo, so you will want to arrange ahead of time with the hotel for transportation. Across the street from Krasnapolsky is a wonderful bookshop that has a wide range of English titles. Take a look at Cynthia McLeod's novel The High Price of Sugar: it's about the Jewish colonist families in Suriname.

If you keep kosher, you may want to inquire with the synagogue about renting the Shabbos apartment that has a kitchen. You'll also want to bring lots of packaged goods with you: fresh fruits and vegetables are easy to get, but many of the imported items at the local stores are from Asia, not the United States, and items with hechshers aren't as easy to buy here as in other parts of the Caribbean.

If you stay in Paramaribo, you will want plan to spend a day to traveling downriver by boat to the ruins of Jodensavanne, or "Jew's Savannah." This was the location of one of the earliest Jewish settlements in the Americas and was once a thriving plantation community. The site has been excavated by the Jodensavanne Foundation and the cemetery and synagogue ruins are easily accessible. The travel agency on the first floor of the Krasnapolsky can help you arrange a trip with a reliable guide.

Getting to Suriname isn't easy: flights are infrequent from the United States, and if you haven't traveled recently in the tropics you will need to get vaccinated (particularly if you plan to go to Jodensavanne). Suriname also requires a visa, even for Americans. The application form has a few surprises. Also be careful if you plan to change planes in Trinidad/Tobago: they are very strict about the amount of time they require for transfers and have no problems with keeping visitors an extra day as a penalty for "illegal transfers."

All of these hurdles are worth it: the Jewish community of Suriname is friendly and the trip to Jodensavanne is haunting. Read more about the Jewish community of Suriname in their own words.


Iberian Peninsula and the Birth of the Jewish Atlantic World

“When the Almighty speaks in such tremendous language, he must not speak in vain”
--Dr. Beilby Porteous, 1777

On the first of November 1755, an earthquake rocked and then destroyed the elegant port city of Lisbon, Portugal. At the time Lisbon was the fourth largest urban center in Europe, and the seismic wave sent physical and psychic reverberations throughout the continent: indeed, the quake is often referred to as the first “modern” disaster, as it rattled both religious and scientific understandings of the world (Braun and Radner 1; Dynes 34). As contemporary historians noted, on “that fatal morning the sky was serene, and there was perfect calm” before the fateful noise was heard. After ten minutes of three separate tremors, the city was in ruins. Whole buildings, including the customhouse, perished beneath the accompanying tidal waves. After the waters receded and the raging fires died out, the bodies were counted: at least 30,000 people were dead. Foreign traders alone lost about 48,000,000 Spanish dollars worth of goods (An Account 6-8; Kendrick 24, 32-34).

Both in Portugal and abroad, the disaster engendered a crisis of faith: in addition to forty parish churches and a magnificent cathedral, the city was home to twenty-five monasteries, eighteen nunneries, and one hundred and thirty laics. It was also home to recent waves of the inquisition: indeed one of the infamous sites destroyed by the earthquake was the Terreiro do Paço—the place where numerous descendents of Jewish converts had been executed during Lisbon’s autos-da-fé. Throughout Europe, clerics such as the Bishop of Chester warned regarding earthquakes that, “When the Almighty speaks in such tremendous language, he must not speak in vain.” The problem, however, was knowing exactly what God was saying. In Protestant countries the answer was obvious, as Lisbon was well known for three sins: wealth, the inquisition, and the “superstitious and idolatrous cult of graven images.” Yet for Catholics, there was more contention about the exact nature of Lisbon’s offense; indeed, several clerics were either executed or burned in effigy for improperly interpreting the disaster. For Lisbon’s “New Christians,” the horror of their ruined lives was amplified by the terrible knowledge that previous Iberian earthquakes had been interpreted as a sign of God’s wrath for Portugal’s “leniency” towards Jewish converts. When an earthquake came, the inquisition was never far away (Dynes 42-44; Kendrick 1, 24, 29, 33, 34; Saraiva 110, 230; Birmingham 75-76).

Thus while the air may have appeared calm on November first, the cultural and theological crisis caused by Lisbon’s seismic boom was actually the apex of several decades of disturbance both in Lisbon and throughout Portugal. One of the “pre-shocks” to this event was the wave of autos-da-fé (acts of faith) that surged across the Iberian Peninsula during periods of economic, social, and theological unrest. The early eighteenth century was one such era: between 1701 and 1739, there were ten autos in Lisbon, and three in nearby Coimbra involving Jewish prisoners (Mocatta 104). Autos varied depending on place and time, but by the eighteenth-century in Lisbon, they were multi-day public denouncements of heretics that included feasts, processions, and executions. As one Inquisitor noted, the goal of the auto was to persuade the masses that “one of the causes of the evils and travails which this country has been experiencing for so many years is the glut of Jews that live among us” (Saraiva 109). It was rare that a public auto was comprised of fewer than 50 penanced and executed prisoners, and frequently more than 200 prisoners were involved in the spectacle. Autos-da-fé were extremely popular with crowds, and numerous sermons and illustrations about autos were distributed throughout Lisbon to help bolster support for the events (Saraiva 113). As historian António José Saraiva notes, Judaism was often a pretext, rather than a motivation for hostility embedded in these displays: “Jews were the ‘other’ upon whom grievances, dissatisfactions and frustrations might be deflected” (Saraiva 19).

Indeed despite its popularity as a spectacle, the auto was ineffective in preventing Jewish practice. According to some conversos such as António Nunes Roberiro Sanches (1699-1783), the inquisition actually reinforced and sometimes created Jewish identity and practice in Portugal (Saraiva 124-25). Those imprisoned by the inquisition were largely New Christians, also known as conversos or marranos: that is, they were the descendents of Sephardic Jews forced to convert to Catholicism at the end of the fifteenth century. While over the centuries some conversos and their descendents had practiced a form of crypto-Judaism in private, others left their Judaism behind as they embraced Catholicism and married into Old Christian families. Even if some of the New Christians tortured by the Inquisition had been secret “Judaizers,” many others were not: indeed, Saraiva has argued that the experience of the Inquisition actually instigated as much Judaizing as it suppressed (Saraiva ix). Many New Christians left Portugal during the eighteenth century to escape both the Inquisition and the destruction caused by Lisbon’s earthquake. They settled in places like Amsterdam, Hamburg, and London, but they also sought to remake their fortunes in the port towns throughout the colonies, particularly in Curaçao, Surinam, Barbados, Jamaica, New York, and Newport, Rhode Island. These cities became the port towns of the "Jewish Atlantic World."

An account of the earthquake which destroyed the city of Lisbon, on the first of November, 1755. London: W. Glendinning, 1800.

Braun, Theodore E.D. and John B. Radner, eds. The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2005.

Birmingham, David. A Concise History of Portugal, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 2003.

Dynes, Russell R. “The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: the First Modern Disaster” The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions. Eds. Theodore E.D. Braun and John B. Radner. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2005. 34-49.

Kendrick, Thomas Downing. The Lisbon Earthquake. London: Methuen, 1956.

"Lisbon Earthquake" (1850) LIFE

Mocatta, Frederic David. The Jews of Spain and Portugal and the Inquisition. Supplementary Chronological Tables by David Bortin. New York: Cooper Square, 1973.

Porteous, Beilby. “A Letter to the Inhabitants of Manchester, Macclesfield, and adjacent parts, on occasion of the late earthquake in those places.” Foregate-street: J. Poole. 1777.

Saraiva, António José, H. P. Salomon, and I. S. D. Sassoon, The Marrano Factory: the Portuguese Inquisition and its New Christians 1536-1765. Leiden: Brill, 2001.


Synagogues: Jamaica

The Jewish community of Jamaica recently held a conference on the Jewish Diaspora of the Caribbean (Jan. 12-14, 2010). I'll have more to say about this fabulous conference in future posts, but in the meantime, I wanted to highlight the architecture of Kingston Synagogue Kahal Kadosh Shaare Shalom of the United Congregation of Israelites.

This magnificent building was built in 1885 and then reconstructed in 1911 following an earthquake that destroyed much of Kingston.

The building recalls the architecture of many of the older Spanish-Portuguese synagogues of the Caribbean: it has sand floors and rich mahogany. The women's section is in an upstairs balcony held up by pillars. Like the Curacao congregation, this synagogue has an organ. Today the gardens of the synagogue also house gravestones from one of the destroyed cemeteries.

Enjoy the Video of Eli Gabay (sp?) singing in the synagogue.