Sunday, June 7, 2009

Publication: "Monumental" Book about Suriname Jewish Cemeteries

Publication: "Monumental" Book about Suriname Jewish Cemeteries

(ISJM) Architect Rachel Frankel and historian Aviva Ben-Ur have produced a massive collection of funerary inscriptions documented, transcribed and translated from Jewish cemeteries in Suriname. Remnant Stones: The Jewish Cemeteries of Suriname (Hebrew Union College Press, ISBN-13: 9780878202249)
, is one of a projected two volumes and is the result of almost a decade of work in Jodensavanne, or Jews’ Savannah, the 17th and 18th-century Jewish plantation settlement in the South American jungle, and in Paramaribo, Suriname's capital. The 679-page book weighs almost as much as some of the documented matzevot!

Jodensavanne is located on the Suriname River, about thirty kilometers from Paramaribo (also the site of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries). The settlement was surrounded by Sephardi Jewish owned sugar plantations. The International Survey of Jewish Monuments has been one of several sponsors of this project since its inception. Rachel Frankel presently serves as vice-president of ISJM. I congratulate Rachel and Aviva on the publication of this important documentary work, and I look forward to the publication of the explanatory and interpretive volume soon.

Remnant Stones
is really the second volume of two, though it has been published first. It examines three Sephardi cemeteries, with graves that date from 1666 to 1904 and one Ashkenazi cemetery in Paramaribo, whose monuments date from the 1680s to the late nineteenth century. By the early 19th-century, the Dutch colony's Jewish community existed in an often-acrimoneous split, with most Sephardim living in Jodensavanne and most Ashkenazi Jews livign in Paramaribo. The split existed among the living, and also the dead. Sephardi and Ashkenazi maintaied separate cemeteries, all of which are documented in Remnant Stones. The 1,700 epitaphs were written and carved in Portuguese, Hebrew, Spanish, Dutch, Aramaic, and French. They are included in their original language and in translation. Many photos accompany the catalogue text. Remnant Stones includes a fold-out scaled plan of each of the cemeteries showing stone orientation and locations.

An important part of the research projects was the documentation of the former
Beraha VeSalom (Blessing and Peace) Synagogue, dedicated in 1685 but now a ruin, and also an analysis of the town plan, both topics of which are discussed in detail in the still-to-published volume, which also should put the extensive collection of funerary epitaphs compiled in the volume in a broader context. --- SDG

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