Sunday, June 29, 2008

Jamaica: Documentation of 18th Jewish Cemetery at Hunt's Bay

Jamaica: Documentation of 18th Jewish Cemetery at Hunt's Bay
(Ainsley Henriques, Rachel Frankel, Anne Hersh and Samuel Gruber contributed to this article)

In January (2008), Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions (CVE) sponsored a successful project to inventory and document existing conditions of the historic Hunt's Bay Jewish Cemetery, the oldest known Jewish cemetery in Jamaica. ISJM provided logistical support and funds to purchase equipment necessary for the survey.

The cemetery was the burial place for Jews, many fleeing the Inquisition and anti-Semitism in Europe. They came to Port Royal, the 17th century entré port, a desolate sandy spit at the end of what is now known as the Palisadoes peninsula enclosing Kingston Harbor. They found freedom to worship with few restrictions (but higher taxes). Burial at Port Royal were not allowed, so Jews rowed the dead (as in Amsterdam & Venice) across the harbor to the now isolated cemetery at Hunt's Bay. Neglected for the most of the last century, the cemetery was overgrown and unkempt. Aware of the need to care for the historic site where the oldest grave known dates to 1672, Ainsley Henriques of the United Congregation of Israelites Shaare Shalom Synagogue of Jamaica arranged for it to be cleared. CVE's mission is to assist Caribbean agencies and organizations with historic preservation projects. CVE has worked in many Caribbean countries over the past sixteen years and has worked on Jewish cemetery documentation in Spanish Town and Falmouth, Jamaica. The United Congregation of Israelites Shaare Shalom Synagogue of Jamaica together with the Jamaican Heritage Center contributed the boundary survey of Hunt's Bay Cemetery in digitized and hard format, services of a professional local photographer and local transportation for CVE team, all of whom were volunteers, who paid their own expenses.

ISJM member and architect Rachel Frankel, who served as one of the leaders for the Falmouth Jewish Cemetery documentation project, led the work at Hunt's Bay. Ms. Frankel has previously worked extensively in documenting the Jewish sites of Suriname, especially the remains of the 1685 Bracha v'Shalom synagogue, and three historic Jewish cemeteries.

The documentation at Hunt's Bay includes:

• A map of the cemetery
• Photographs of each gravestone (in color digital and black and white 35mm)
• Assessment of the art, architecture and condition of each grave
• Transcription and translation of the multi-lingual epitaphs, checked against the work published in The Jews of Jamaica by Barnett and Wright.
• Indices of names, dates, etc.

All documentation from the project is now being sorted, analyzed and digitized. At the completion of the project, hard and digitized copies will be presented to The United Congregation of Israelites Shaare Shalom Synagogue of Jamaica as well as to the AJA (American Jewish Archives) in Cincinatti. The AJA will also receive the original field notes. ISJM will assure the material is publicly accessible – much of it on-line.

Concurrent with the documentation project was the XIth annual conference of the Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean (UJCL), held at Kingston. The UJCL represents Progressive and Conservative congregations in Aruba, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curacao, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Surinam. Trinidad and Tobago were admitted for membership during the Kingston conference. The highlight of the conference was a tour the Hunt's Bay Cemetery. The entire conference traveled to the cemetery, inspected the graves, heard a short set of lectures on the work being done by the CVE volunteers and then held hands in a large circle and recited the Mourners Kaddish. The project has inspired UJCL members to call for more Jewish heritage documentation and preservation in the Caribbean and South America. ISJM encourages its members to step forward to help achieve this goal.
Photos and Links

For an audio and visual tour of the project see Marco Werman's report on Public Radio International's The World from Febraury 25, 2008 at:

On the Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean (UJCL) conference in Kingston see:

For more on the Jewish community of Jamaica see: United Congregation of Israelites

For extensive photos of Hunt's Bay Cemetery taken by one of the volunteers see:

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