Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jamaica: Hunt’s Bay and Orange Street Cemeteries – March 2009

CVE Volunteers at work documenting Jamaica cemeteries, March 2009

Jamaica: Hunt’s Bay and Orange Street Cemeteries – March 2009
By Shai Fierst and Sam Petuchowski

For several years ISJM has been co-sponsor of a project to document the cemeteries of Jamaica. Last month a small team of volunteers spent time on the island revisiting the Jewish cemetery at Hunt's Bay, and beginning work documenting the cemetery on Orange Street in Kingston. Team members Shai Fierst and Sam Petuchowski contributed the following report for the newsletter of CVE (Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions), one of ISJM's partners in the project.

Jamaica’s Jewish community is one of the oldest and storied communities in the Americas with impressive contributions to art, literature, politics, and more in the non-Jewish and Jewish spheres in and outside of Jamaica. A request by Ainsley Henriques’ of the Jamaican Jewish community for inventorying of Jamaica’s Jewish cemeteries was a catalyst for a partnership between CVE (Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions) and the community that began a decade ago and continued in March 2009 with Rachel Frankel leading a team to continue inventorying the Hunt’s Bay Cemetery and begin inventorying the Jewish Cemetery on Orange Street in Kingston. The International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM) is a co-sponsor of this project. The goal of the work beyond collecting data is to post the information on the World Wide Web thereby making Jamaica’s historic and difficult to access sites available to a worldwide public.

The Hunt’s Bay Cemetery is Jamaica’s oldest cemetery and was the burying ground for the Jews of Port Royal who lived across the harbor where the high water table of the peninsula prevented burial. Hunt’s Bay Cemetery is located to the west of Kingston having been established before the founding of Kingston. Hunt’s Bay’s earliest grave stone dates to 1672 and its latest dates to the mid 19th century. 360 grave markers remain at Hunt’s Bay. Many markers have been destroyed or looted for construction over time.

The Jewish Cemetery on Orange Street, located near the beautiful and century-old Shaarei Shalom Synagogue, contains stones from the early 19th century and is still in use. The cemetery is located in the newer, northern end of Kingston. Previous to the Orange Street Cemetery, Kingston's Sephardim buried their dead in the no longer extant Old Kingston Jewish Cemetery in the older, southern part of Kingston's downtown. 18th century grave stones from the Old Kingston Jewish Cemetery were transposed to the Orange Street cemetery when the former was closed likely due to new sanitation laws of the growing city. The grave stones are found along the north and east cemetery walls, often partially covered under earth excavated by burials.

The Hunt's Bay Cemetery contains bluestone, limestone and marble grave markers with epitaphs largely in Portuguese and Hebrew. The horizontal markers rest upon brick bases varying in height. The older section of the Orange Street Cemetery contains horizontal grave markers mostly of marble elevated almost three feet above ground on red brick bases, with epitaphs written, for the vast majority, in English, with less and less Portuguese and Hebrew.

The inventory work discovered that many of the grave markers in the Orange Street Cemetery are not in their authentic locations likely due to destruction by looters and then further destruction by well-intentioned restoration. Natural disasters, such as an earthquake in 1907, likely also impacted the cemetery. The Jewish community employs persons to care for the grounds, but there is still an incredible amount of work that needs to be done in order to maintain the site. There is also much work that needs to be continued with regard to inventorying, as the March 2009 work achieved documentation of only a small portion of the cemetery.

Building relationships with Jamaican Jews such as Michael Cohen and Michael Nunes added to the experience of the CVE volunteers and hopefully our Jamaican Jewish counterparts will continue to work with CVE groups in the future. The work week also included a visit from the Archaeological Society of Jamaica along with Professor James Robertson from the University of The West Indies.

1 comment:

blam said...

Great to hear that there is preservation/interest in this culture which has given SO much to this jewel of an isle.

Please don't forget to look into the Lebanese/Syrian Jews as well.

My grandfather was one.