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September 4, 2012

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to join a few people on an excursion to the Jodensavanne in Suriname.

What, you may ask – Jews in Suriname?

The first mention of Jewish colonists arriving in Suriname goes back to the beginning of the seventeenth century in the 1630s. There is mention of Jews by 1650, as they were invited by the governor to strengthen the plantation economy. In 1665 the Jews got important privileges from the English colonial government: free expression of religion and permission to build a synagogue, freedom of ownership, the right to have their own judicial court and educational system, and the right to have an own militia. In the same year the Jewish Nation achieved a piece of land close to the Cassipora Creek to build a synagogue and to layout a cemetery.

The Dutch came to power when they traded New Amsterdam for Suriname, and maintained the Jews’ privileges. Jews were occupied with agriculture, especially sugarcane farming. Other products they traded were coffee, cacao and timber.

One of the main reasons they chose Jodensavanne as location for a new Jewish settlement was the way it was situated on a hill. In 1685 a synagogue named ‘Beraha Ve Shalom’ (Blessing and Peace), was inaugurated. It was made of imported European brick. Jodensavanne Jews were granted the opportunity to live their lives as an autonomous religio-cultural enclave. 

The community prospered for over a century, during which Suriname as a colony became one of the richest in the Americas. At the beginning of the 19th century, exactly on April 2, 1825, the privileges of the Jewish Nation came to an end by the “Order of the Crown” no. 149. The Jews in the colonies were accorded the same rights as the other inhabitants, and “all privileges, concessions and exceptions of whatever nature” were abolished. At that time only fifteen poor families were living at Jodensavanne. After all families moved out of the area, the synagogue and cemeteries were largely abandoned and fell into ruin. It is assumed that it happened rather rapidly because building materials (especially bricks, which are uncommon in Suriname) were reused.

Efforts for restoration and preservation were begun in the late 20th century. In 2000, Jodensavanne was added to the list of 100 most endangered monuments of the World Monument Fund.

For photos from the Jodensavanne, click here to see my Picasa album.




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