Jewish Treasures of The Caribbean photographically captures the little-known history of the Sephardic Jews of the Caribbean, as seen through the remaining historic sites in Barbados, Curaçao, Jamaica, Nevis, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Eustatius, and Suriname. These Jewish communities date back to the early 1600’s and are home to the oldest synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in the Western hemisphere. These modern day treasures beautifully exemplify the strength of the Jewish people as well as the surprisingly diverse cultural history of the Caribbean.
Now facing extinction, the Sephardic Jewish communities of the Caribbean were once so strong and influential that they helped fuel the success of the American Revolution, and finance the first synagogues in the United States, located in New York City and Rhode Island.
In the 1600s and 1700s, the West Indies became a place of salvation for Sephardic Jews who had fled to Amsterdam and Brazil after the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. La Nación, as these Jews were called, were fundamental in shaping the early Caribbean economy through their unique knowledge of sugar cane cultivation, agriculture, and an expansive network of trade. Some Jews also joined the pirates controlling the Caribbean seas, and later became influential politicians, plantation landowners, and bankers to the American colonies. While creating financial success for the European powers, the Sephardic Jews managed to prosper and keep their culture, religion, and customs alive - which lead to the continuation and support of Judaism throughout the Americas.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT
Once home to thousands of Sephardic Jews, these historic communities are now facing extinction. Only 5 synagogues remain and almost half of the original cemeteries are either falling apart, or have been lost to natural disasters, vandalism, pollution, and the elements of time. The few historic landmarks still in use are little known gems of the Caribbean and invaluable landmarks in the Jewish history of survival. Harry Ezratty, author of 500 Years In The Jewish Caribbean writes: “Having revisited many of these historic sites, it is certain that these unique monuments of the Jewish people are in peril.”
Through these photographs we witness the legacy of Judaism and a rarely explored facet of Caribbean history.