Passover Recipes from the Caribbean

Surinamese Charoseth (from Dennis Ouderdorp)

Dennis writes, "The basis of Surinamese Charoseth is always ground coconut and sweet red wine. From family to family and from generation to generation, there are variations in the recipe. My family had the tradition of Surinam cherries to simmer before adding this to the charoseth. In the Netherlands, there are no cherries to be found of this taste, so it all disappeared. The Charoseth of my Grandma again differs with mine. But my mother still finds my Charoseth delicious. And that's what Passover is all about. The quantities Charoseth I make are not only for the Passover Seder alone. We were always accustomed to make the Charoseth for the whole week to eat with Matzot."

• 400 grams of ground coconut
• sweet red wine (half a bottle)
• raisins
• plums (dried)
• apricot (dried)
• cinnamon (powder or cinnamon sticks)
• ginger powder (ginger jelly isn’t easy to find kosher for Passover!)
• dates

If you don't like one of the ingredients, then it can be replaced by one of these (or they can be added, why not!):
• peach
• pineapple

Cinnamon must be present in the recipe. This is not only for the taste, but also to keep the Charoseth from going sour.

Ground coconut. Do not do buy a whole coconut, it will take you way too much time to grind the coconut flesh yourself.

Let the hard dried fruit stand 1 night in water in the refrigerator. This is to soften the fruit.

Day of preparation:
Cut all the fruit up finely.
Making the Charoseth shouldn't take more then 10 to 15 minutes (excluding the cutting and the preparations): Add the ground coconut in a saucepan. Add the wine and simmer on a low heat. Keep stirring so the coconut does not get stuck to the saucepan. Add slowly more and more coconut and wine. The balance must remain. Once you feel that the coconut and the wine are well balanced (not too dry nor too wet), add the other fruits. Keep stirring. Don’t bring it to boil, but maintain a nice balance (not too dry nor too wet). Remove from the heat. Put the Charoseth into a large bowl. Mix the cinnamon powder well through the Charoseth or place the cinnamon sticks in the Charoseth. This is not just for the taste, but also to keep it from going sour. Let the Charoseth cool off in the refrigerator.

Do not serve it too cold! If one takes the Charoseth out at the beginning of the Seder, it will be delicious once you get to the Seder-meal.


Gremshelish (Dutch Matza Fritters) from Recipes from the Jewish Kitchens of Curacao
6 matzas
4 eggs, separated
Grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup plus 1 T. sugar
4 T. oil
pinch of salt
1-2/3 cups raisins
1 cup ground almonds
oil for frying
cinnamon/sugar mixture

Soak the matzas in water until soft. Drain and crush to a fine texture

Beat egg yolks with grated rind, cinnamon, sugar, oil and salt.
Add matzas, raisins, and almonds to the yolk mixture and blend well. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the yolk mixture.

Fry by tablespoons in hot oil until golden brown. Drain well on paper towels and sprinkle with a cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Like this recipe? Order the book Recipes from the Jewish Kitchens of Curacao for $15.00 from the Snoa at giftshop@snoa.com.

Photo Credits:
Top: Surinam Cherries, photo by Laura Leibman
Middle: Wild Pineapples from Jodensavanne (Suriname), photo by Laura Leibman
Bottom: Fried Matza from http://chewonthatblog.com


Jewish Heritage Travel: Newport, RI

Newport is one of those towns of breath-taking beauty that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. At the end of the nineteenth century, anyone who was anyone in New York society had a "cottage" (mansion) in Newport. Today, the Newport Preservation Society offers tours of many of the most elegant of these homes, along with colonial gems like the Hunter House.

Before the Revolutionary War, Newport was a crucial port of call on early trade routes. It was also home to one of the most important early American Jewish communities. The collapse of the economy following the war meant many members of the Jewish community left, but many fine examples of colonial architecture remain in the town, including homes of several prominent Jewish families. The Newport Historical Society offers a wide range of tours of local landmarks. Walking tours of Jewish Newport are also available through the Touro Synagogue, America's oldest synagogue and a national historic site. Military history buffs will want to visit Fort Adams.

Interested in visiting Newport? I recommend the Inn on Bellevue. The rates are reasonable and the location is superb. If you are staying for at least a week, it is worth asking if there is a special "extended stay" rate. Those with more to spend may want to try The Hotel Viking or the Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel & Spa, located on magnificent Goat Island.

All Photos by Laura Leibman, 2007.
Top: Cliff Walk
Second: The Breakers
Third: Fort Adams
Bottom: Touro Synagogue


Passover in the Colonies

What's wrong about self-pity, anyway?
...I told myself,
"Pity should begin at home." So the more
pity I felt the more I felt at home
(Elizabeth Bishop, "Crusoe in England").

If I am ever tempted to "feel at home" in the weeks leading up to Passover, all I have to do is think of the Jews in the colonies. At least after I finish my cleaning, I can drive to the local supermarket and buy matzoh and an entire range of packaged kosher l'pesach products. I can even order food from Nosh Away in Seattle (and I often do) and they will send me a complete seder package, often for less than it would cost me to make it myself. Although early American Jews often had servants (or slaves) to help them clean, getting ready for passover would have been much harder for Jews in the American colonies.

First, there was the question of food. Early American families had a difficult time getting the food they needed even when it wasn't passover. Colonies were rarely self sufficient: as one historian notes, " the inability to produce livestock, meat, flour and lumber in the West India islands laid the basis for one of the most serious commercial problems of the mercantilist empires" (Gould 473). Fortunately, many of the Jews in the colonies were merchants or had merchants in their extended families. They shipped all sorts of items: hard woods, sugar, rum, candles, oil, leather, fur, wheat, liquor, tobacco, and yes, food. Some of this food included the basic things needed for survival. Other was food was for show or was used as status symbols. Pineapples, for example, traveled north from Suriname and the tropics, and became a symbol of hospitality prominently featured in Newport architecture.

Pineapples, are lovely, but it is hard to make a seder out of them. Two items were probably more on the minds of colonists: maztoh and meat. Today when I want to get kosher meat in Portland, Oregon, I can either buy it at the local butcher or get it shipped in frozen in bulk through NW Kosher. The latter is cheaper, but I need to plan several weeks ahead and if I order something interesting (e.g. bison), I may not get it the first time I ask. Many of the communities in the Caribbean had beef shipped from New York, Philadelphia, or Newport. One can well imagine that it took much longer for their meat to arrive than mine, and since freezing it wasn't an option, it was almost certainly salted. One colonist described salted beef as "the most important commodity of all," for Jews and non-Jews alike (Mandelblatt 19).

The kosher beef trade was an important part of early American Jewish life. Aaron Lopez and other Jews in Newport exported kosher meat to Jamaica, Barbados, and Suriname. Michael Gratz of Philadelphia sent beef to Barbados and probably Curacao. In 1752, New York's Shearith Israel devised a seal to "attest to the ritual purity of meat exported from the city under their supervision." There is a fine example of an early Kosher Certificate in Eli Faber's A Time for Planting: The First Migration, 1654-1820 (p. 68). Shearith Israel hired a shochet and paid him a yearly stipend. Philadelphia's Mikveh Israel likewise hired a slaughter. Even so, kosher meat was in such short supply that in New York fines were imposed upon anyone who bought meat on erev Shabbat or immediately before holidays with the intent to sell it abroad. (Faber 51, 69-70, 120).

Matzoh was another story. Matzoh production was often a local affair, though it was sometimes imported. In larger communities, matzoh production was supervised and controlled by the Rabbi, Chazzan, or Parnassim. In these communities, matzoh was available for purchase, but was also distributed in large quantities free to the poor. The Touro Foundation still owns an eighteenth-century matzoh board on which the congregation made its matzot (below). Even so, a lot of planning was in order: many of the colonies did not produce wheat, so presumably months before the holiday began, congregations and individuals would need to arrange for wheat to be shipped from other locations. Sometimes people did import already baked matzoh: Aaron Lopez once ordered 250 pounds of maztot from New York, probably for the use of his (large) extended family. Shearith Israel also distributed haroset to its congregants, and (as unlikely as it sounds) Aaron Lopez once exported haroset to Jews in the West Indies (Rader 978-979)

Matzoh Board (Eighteenth Century)
During the colonial period, this board was used at Touro Synagogue (Newport, RI)
to prepare the dough for Matzoh (unleavened bread) used in the Passover season.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic Exhibit, "America as a Religious Refuge"

Prayer books were often imported from Amsterdam and London, though starting in 1761 an English siddur was available out of New York. Haggadot were probably imported from Amsterdam, which was well known for its elaborate, illustrated editions. A Venice hagaddah published in 1609 and then 1629 became the prototype for many Sefardi haggadot of the era. Likewise the Ashkenazi haggadah published in 1695 in Amsterdam (later known as the "Amsterdam Haggadah") was widely imitated and reprinted. You can read more about these and other early haggadot at the Library of Congress website. These haggadot and other Jewish publications out of Amsterdam were highly influential and were even imitated on the gravestones produced by the Amsterdam community and exported to the colonies.

If I have time in between cleaning, I will suggest some activities for students. In the meantime, I hope you have a happy and kosher pesach!
The illustrations on these printed pages of the Venice Haggadah
depict events in the life of the patriarch Abraham.
The binding of Isaac is illustrated in the woodcut on the bottom left.

Works Cited:
Eli Faber, A Time for Planting: The First Migration, 1654-1820. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992.

Clarence P. Gould, ‘Trade Between the Windward Islands and the Continental Colonies of the French Empire, 1683–1763’,Mississippi Valley Historical Review 25: 4, 1939.

Bertie Mandelblatt, "A Transatlantic Commodity: Irish Salt Beef in the French Atlantic World," History Workshop Journal 63: 18-47.

Jacob Marcus Rader, The Colonial American Jew, 1492-1776. Detroit: Wayne State U.P., 1970.

Image at Top of Page: Seder Haggadah shel Pesah (Passover Haggadah)
(Amsterdam, 1695).
Moses (right and above) and Aaron,
his older brother and the founder of the Jewish priesthood,

are depicted on the title page of the Amsterdam Haggadah.
Photos by author: Pineapple photo taken of wild pineapples at Jodensavanne (Jew's Savannah) in Suriname; Pineapple architectural motif taken at the William Hunter House, Newport RI. The Hunter House was right next door to "The Lantern" (now destroyed), the home of Jacob Rodriguez Rivera, one of Newport's most important Jewish settlers.


Genealogy: Some Resources for the Jewish Atlantic World

Many of the people who I have met who are interested in the Jewish Atlantic World either live in Jewish communities in these locales today or have ancestors from them, or both. So, I thought I'd spend a post doing what my younger (and hipper) colleagues call a "shout out" to all the family tree hunters, and provide a list of some of the resources that I have found (and see if readers have any others to add). Genealogy is key to the work I do, and it is hard to imagine how difficult it would be to do my research without the great work of genealogists past and present. In upcoming posts I will provide some resources specific to certain communities, but for now, here are some general resources that I have found essential:

1. Malcolm Stern's First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1988. Now available in a searchable online form at American Jewish Archives. Advantages: This is an important starting point for understanding the family trees of many of the first Jewish settlers in the U.S. colonies. Drawbacks: some of the information is incorrect, and although there is some information from the Caribbean and Europe, at times it feels like if someone moved to the West Indies, they fell off the map (or literally off the family tree).

2. Americans of Jewish Descent. A fully searchable online database of about 6,125 names of the founders and their descendants. Advantages: This fabulous resource updates and corrects much of Stern's work and incorporates other resources such as gravestones, portraits, and documents. Drawbacks: this database is still in production, so some of the areas (e.g. the Caribbean) aren't as strong as I am sure they will be down the road. You'll want to keep checking back if they don't list the person you are looking for yet.

3. Sephardicgen. Resources put together by Jeffrey S. Malka, author of the invaluable Sephardic Genealogy: Second Edition. Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World. Advantages: Fabulous tips on how to get started, Sephardic names, and resources like family trees. Drawbacks: some of the links are broken, and you will still want to buy the book, which really is more of an advertisement than a drawback.

4. Sephardim.com. Resources put together by Harry Stein. Advantages: Sephardic names search engine and tons of great resources. Disadvantages: the homepage sings to you and is a bit hard to search.

5. Isaac S. and Suzanne A. Emmanuel's History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles and Rabbi Emmanuel's Precious Stones. These books sit on my desk and hardly a day goes by when I don't look up someone in one of them. Advantages: has marriage, death, and biographical data on most of the members of the Jewish community of Curacao and related islands. Disadvantages: Out of print and extremely expensive (Precious Stones is a bit cheaper). Worth every penny.

6. Jewish names in Suriname between 1666 and 1997. This is a list of the most common names in the Jewish Atlantic World. Advantage: Succinct. You will find there are a lot of lists of Sephardic names that aren't specific to the Jewish Atlantic World and that means wading through many names you will never see. This list has most of the important names you will need to know. Disadvantages: some families didn't make it to Suriname.

7. Geraldine Lane's Tracing Your Ancestors in Barbados. A Practical Guide. She even has a companion website. Also check out Lane's online databases for Tombstones, Plantation Records, and Slave Compensations. Advantages: This book is basically a researchers' fantasy: it tells you what resources are available, where, and what to do to prepare before you look for them. If someone would take the time to make a book like this for every place I go to do research, I would be in heaven. Disadvantages: a lot of the information is specific to Barbados and wouldn't help you with other communities.

8. Former British Colonial Dependency Slave Registers, 1812-1834. A fully searchable database of over three million slaves in the British colonies. Advantages: makes it possible to track African American ancestors in a way not easily done in the past. Jewish slave holding is a huge controversy, but Jewish-Black relations are an important part of colonial history . Disadvantages: this may be a better resource on slave owners than the slaves themselves. As such, it may provide some people with information they'd rather not know.

9. Trace Your Dutch Roots. A Dutch Genealogical Guide in blog format. Advantage: most of the Jews in the Atlantic World at some point lived in or were related to people in Amsterdam and the Dutch colonies, and this website provides access to some awesome resources. The blog is in English and lists which resources are available in English.

I hope this helps people get started! If you know of other key resources, please leave a comment! Also I am going to start posting photographs and resources related to specific famous families from the colonies, so if you have a family you'd like to hear more about, let me know!

My great-grandmother's little bamboo box that contained her mother's treasures from Barbados,
including tin types, marriage certificates, locks of hair, and an odd assortment of collectibles.
Where did your family members hide their treasures?

Image at top: Author's great-great grandmother, who was born in Barbados.
Courtesy of Stevan and Elizabeth Arnold and the little bamboo box.


Cemetery Cats

This post is dedicated to the felines of the Atlantic World: those sun-loving souls who spend their days (and nights) lounging in the cemeteries that grace the Atlantic Rim. This week I feature two cemetery cats: Wunzie (Newport) and Iyar (Ouderkerk aan de Amstel) as well as their sepulchral companions, the lions carved onto Beth Haim Ouderkerk gravestones.

Cat Number One: Wunzie. Officially, Wunzie lives down the street from the Trinity Church Cemetery in Newport, RI. Last time I was in Newport, however, Wunzie spent most of her time sunning herself on table stones and chasing bugs among the upright markers. A black and white DSH (domestic short hair: veterinary speak for "cat mutt") with a sparkling personality, Wunzie likes to ham it up for the camera.

Interestingly enough, Wunzie isn't the only "Anglican by choice" to hang around Trinity. Not all of the conversos who arrived in Newport from the Iberian Peninsula returned to Judaism. One of Aaron Lopez's cousins, for example, named James Lucena decided to become an Anglican instead. James eventually returned to Portugal (and Catholicism), but his son John Charles Lucena married a non-Jewish woman and was buried in an Anglican cemetery in London. Here are a few shots of Wunzie in her favorite haunt. If anyone in Newport knows how Wunzie is doing, let me know!

Wunzie Modeling a "Table Stone," Trinity Church (Anglican) Cemetery, Newport RI

Wunzie Catching a Bug, Trinity Church (Anglican) Cemetery, Newport RI

Cat Number Two: Iyar. Iyar is an official graveyard cat of the historic Portuguese-Jewish cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel in the Netherlands. She lives in the Caretaker's House with her younger cat companion and her master, Dennis Ouderdorp, who knows more about Jewish Cemeteries than anyone I have ever met. (Because I lack social graces, I only have a picture of Dennis's cat, and not Dennis himself.) Named for the Hebrew month of Iyar (meaning "Rosette" or "blossom"), Iyar is the matriarch of the cemetery. You will notice that like Wunzie, Iyar is a black and white DSH. Coincidence? I think so. The day I was in Ouderkerk ann de Amstel it was pouring rain, so I don't have quite as many photos of Iyar as I'd like, but here is another of her on one of the flat Sephardic table stones.

Iyar on an unidentified Table Stone, Beth Haim Ouderkerk

Iyar and her companion aren't the only cats in Beth Haim Ouderkerk. Although the earliest gravestones at Beth Haim Ouderkerk are free of images of living things, by the 1650s the use of vegetation appears, followed by death’s heads and human hands in the 1660s. By the 1680s animals, angels and biblical scenes with humans appear. One of the most popular animals to grace the stones are lions, several styles of which can be found in the cemetery. Lions are an important Jewish symbol, and often appear on Jewish ceremonial art, such Arks, Torah crowns, and menorot. The JHOM speculates that, "It is possible..that these lions, particularly those on many Torah Ark doors and curtains, are symbolic replacements of the original cherubim that once adorned the Ark of the Tabernacle in the Mishkan (portable Temple in the wilderness) and the Temple in Jerusalem." Lions—associated with the tribe of Judah and the Davidic monarchy—evoked the messiah and hence are an important eschatological reference. Lions are also associated with the Spanish-Portuguese name "Leon" (literally "lion") and are a common heraldic symbol (for example they are found on the coat of arms for "Castile and Leon," Spain and the Netherlands). Many of the lions in Beth Haim Ouderkerk are on heraldic lions (for example above right, gravestone of Benjamin Senior Teixeira, 1744). They can also be found, however, in biblical scenes, such as the one below depicting Daniel and the lions.

Detail of Gravestone Depicting Daniel and the Lions, Beth Haim Ouderkerk

Photo Credits: All Photos Laura Leibman, 2007-2009. Courtesy of Beth Haim Ouderkerk aan de Amstel.


Gravestone Symbols: The Hand of God

According to Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, belief in the corporeality of God is a heresy. Why then do gravestones from the Jewish Atlantic World often feature the hand of God cutting down the tree of life? In even more extreme cases, God was presented on gravestones as a fully anthropomorphized figure, such as on the gravestone of Samuel Senior Teixeria (Amsterdam 1717), and the gravestones of Yosiyahu Raphael Castillo (Barbados, 1698) and Esther Hana de Meza (Cassipora Cemetery, Suriname 1745).

The Hand of God has a long history in Jewish art. One of the earliest examples has been found in the wall paintings of the Synagogue at Dura Europos. Created around 244 CE, the synagogue at Dura Europos (Syria) was uncovered by archaeologists in 1932. The rich wall paintings were remarkably well preserved, because the synagogue had been filled in with dirt in an effort to protect the town from a Persian attack in 256 CE. Although at first the artwork made archaeologists skeptical skeptical that the structure was Jewish, today the wall decorations are considered one of the most famous examples of early synagogue art. Many of the frescoes are widely reprinted, particularly a Purim Procession featuring Mordechai. Less commonly reprinted, and perhaps more troubling, is the Akeidah (binding of Isaac) scene from above the Torah niche which features the hand of God staying the sacrifice (figure above at right).

Whereas the hand in the Dura Europos fresco prevents a death, the hands featured on the tombstones from the Jewish Atlantic World usually represent a life being ended. The motif can also be found in Kabbalistically-influenced Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe from the same era, though more commonly a flower is being picked, rather than a tree cut down. This is probably an illustration of the verse from Shir haShirim (Song of Songs) 6:2, “My beloved has gone down into his garden…to gather lilies.” Ruth Ellen Gruber provides an example from the Sadagora Cemetery in the Ukraine of the flower motif. The cut flower motif can also be found on gravestones in the Jewish Atlantic World, usually for those who died young, and occasionally the hand of God is replaced either by a putto (as in the example at the left from the gravestone of Marius Penso (1889, Beit Haim Berg Altena, Curacao; photograph Laura Leibman) or the angel of death (see example below)

Although cut flowers also represent a life cut short, the cutting of the tree has a slightly different resonance. As scholar Aviva Ben-Ur notes, the tree of life has particular importance in Jewish mysticism. As "an ancient, widespread symbol representing the `promise of immortality and everlasting youth,'" the tree of life "variably signifies in Jewish tradition Judgment, the return to Edenic paradise, the future Temple, and Messianic Jerusalem" (Still Life: Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and West African Art and Form in Suriname’s Jewish Cemeteries, 56).

Detail of Gravestone of David Raphael Hoheb (1756)
Old Sephardi Cemetery, Paramaribo, Suriname.
Photo by Laura Leibman.

Scholars have offered several explanations for the hand of God motif including Kabbalism, conversos' Catholic upbringing, the antinomian ("against the law") influence of the messianism practiced by Sabbatai Tzvi, and the lack of religious rigor in the colonies. I am curious what explanation seems most likely to readers of this blog.


Book Review: Houses of Life

I have a new favorite book: Joachim Jacobs' Houses of Life: Jewish Cemeteries of Europe. This book is a must have for anyone interested in either Jewish History, Genealogy, or Gravestone Art. Several things make this book fantastic: one, it provides a history of European Jewish cemeteries from the early Roman period through today. Two, it is beautifully illustrated: in addition to featuring some of the most important artwork created about these cemeteries (including the cover illustration by Chagal and the Prague Cycle), it is richly illuminated by the photographs of Hans Dietrich Beyer. I also appreciated the range of cemeteries they uncovered: although I own a book by Minna Rosen on the Haskoy Cemetery in Istanbul, I liked being able to see the photographs of that cemetery next to ones from the same era from elsewhere in Europe and hearing how it differed stylistically from other Sephardic cemeteries. The city maps with the cemeteries highlighted are awesome, as are the archival photographs.

Although some of the ground covered in this book has also been explored by Hannelore Kunzl in Judische Grabkunst von der Antike bis heute, Jacobs' book will have the strong advantage for most American readers of being in English. Given the large number of color photographs and images and the large number of communities and cemeteries it covers, this book is extremely well priced at $65 USD. Several communities in the Jewish Atlantic World are covered in the work including London, Sepharad (Iberia), Amsterdam, and modern Portugal.

My favorite piece of trivia from the book is that several European Jewish cemeteries had a stable or fenced-in pen for the bechorim (first-born kosher animals that couldn't be eaten except by Cohenim). What a great solution to a vexing problem!


Death Rituals: House of the Rounds

As my twin sister will attest, since an early age I have had an extreme fear of dead bodies. Once I was asked to be part of the women's chevra kaddisha in Portland, and although I was (briefly) tempted, I had to decline, as I knew I would never sleep again. I am not sure why this is. When I say I am afraid of "dead bodies," I mean dead people. Although I like live animals much better, I am not completely freaked out by dead animals: when I worked as a veterinarian's assistant, I had to deal with dead pets all the time. Sure I cried a lot, but once when asked to do so, I had to lump it and wash and prepare a dead schnauzer for an open casket funeral. It made me sad (and I felt like I needed to be paid more), but I went home, tucked myself into bed, and slept just fine. Dead people, however, are something else. I don't even like to work in cemeteries with recent burials, which for some reason I find more "creepy." Conveniently my research is mainly before the civil war, so I can usually avoid this problem. Kabbalah would say I am right to be wary of recent graves: according to Jewish mysticism there are at least three parts of the soul (nefesh, ruach, and neshama). After death these three parts of the soul suffer different fates, and the nefesh remains in the grave with the body until the body turns to dust. While in the grave, the nefesh undergoes the “pangs of the grave” (hibbut ha-kever). This means as well as being ritually impure, cemeteries are unhappy places.

Research interests aside, my fear of dead bodies is unfortunate, as one of the most important duties in Jewish life is to take care of the dead and prepare them for burial. Judaism has many rituals to help transition the body and soul of the deceased. In the Jewish Atlantic World one of the important places where these rituals took place was the "House of the Rounds" (Casa de Rodeos or Rodeamentos). This building served the same purpose as the tahara house in Ashkenazi cemeteries: it is where the ritual washing of the body occurred. A good depiction of this ritual was memorialized by the Prague Burial Society, which commissioned a series of paintings that depicted the various rituals performed by the Chevra Kaddisha (burial society) from sickbed to burial. In the Spanish-Portuguese rite, the eighteen members of the burial society also made seven circuits (hakafot) around the coffin.

“The Seven Circuits,” Bernard Picart (1673-1733), c. Royal Library of the Hague

Picart's eighteenth-century drawing depicts one such ceremony in the House of the Rounds in Amsterdam's Beth Haim Ouderkerk. The original seventeenth century tahara house was replaced in 1705 by the current building which still stands and was renovated in 1966 (below). One of the thoughtful features of this house was the wooden extension for Cohenim. Although most Jews could visit the dead after burial, those descended from the priestly family (Cohenim) are not permitted to walk in cemeteries. As Joachim Jacobs notes in his fabulous book Houses of Life, the extension allowed the Cohenim to "follow the hakafot through a window, without being under the same roof as the dead person (69)" Near the house, and right next to the entrance to the cemetery by the canal, is the separate section for the Cohenim that allowed them to see their relatives' graves without entering the cemetery proper.
Exterior of the Beth Haim Ouderkerk House of the Rounds;
the Cohenim's wooden extension (black) is on the left
(Photo L. Leibman)

Interior of the House of the Rounds today with the
Death's head and washing stations shown in Picart's drawing (Photo L. Leibman)

New Cohenim Section near the House of the Rounds,
Beth Haim Ouderkerk (Photo L. Leibman)

Many other cemeteries in the Jewish Atlantic World used a House of the Rounds in the cemeteries. Few remain today, though two exquisite examples occur in Curaçao, one in the older Jewish cemetery (Beit Haim Bleinheim), and one in the newer Jewish cemetery (Beit Haim Berg Altena). Like Amsterdam's Beth Haim Ouderkerk, the older Jewish cemetery in Curaçao paid attention to the special needs of the Cohenim and even built a special house from which they could visit the dead and yet not violate Jewish law. The presence of the House of the Rounds is an important ritual element of the Jewish Atlantic World.
House of the Rounds, Beit Haim Bleinheim, Curaçao (Photo L. Leibman)
House of the Cohenim, Beit Haim Bleinheim, Curaçao (Photo L. Leibman)

House of the Rounds, Beit Haim Berg Altena, Curaçao (Photo L. Leibman)