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December 27, 2014 / 5 Tevet, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Caribbean’

Sunday Rematch: Frum Soccer Winners and their Caribbean ‘Victims’

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

The Crown Heights Caribbean soccer players who were destroyed last year by a team of Orthodox Jews are seeking revenge this Sunday. Of course, this is all about good sportsmanship and harmony, as the organizers of “Soccer for Harmony” keep repeating, because in Crown Heights it’s better to repeat those things, just to be on the safe side.

But the truth is that since two Caribbean soccer teams were whipped by a team of Yeshiva students (many of them Israelis, which clarifies the miracle just a bit), the losing teams have been sizzle-itching for this rematch.

Caribbean team Coach Frank Nicholas told the Daily News he’d never known of Jews being involved in soccer at all, much less outplaying their athletic neighbors. “We figured it might be an easy game,” he confessed. “We figured they’re probably not as good. But we got surprised. My guys can learn a lot from them.”

And the Jewish team is ready to teach some more. Sponsored by Mendy’s Crown Heights delicatessen, they’re ready to do some damage Sunday. Nathan Abikasis, 29, told the News: “We are small and skinny, and they’re bigger,” but “we’ve got the technique.”

Come watch this Sunday, at Hamilton Metz Field (Albany/Lefferts Ave.), 2 p.m. – and register for spring soccer beginning in April. Co-ed and girls only/boys only available.

New Caribbean Synagogue Joins One Of The Oldest In The Hemisphere

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

WILLEMSTAD, CURACAO—It’s not everyday, or every year, or every decade, or even every century, that a beautifully-designed, 180-seat, air-conditioned synagogue rises in the Caribbean, let alone a modern Orthodox one. 

The new synagogue is billed as the Shaarei Tsedek Ashkenazic Orthodox Jewish Community-Herman and Miriam Tauber Jewish Center, at 37 Magdalenaweg Street, located on the 174-square-mile vacation island of Curacao (one of two islands that make up the Netherlands Antilles), just 35 miles off the coast of Venezuela. 

Especially poignant is that the new synagogue is situated on the same island where the only other Jewish house of worship is widely believed to be the oldest synagogues in continuous operation in the Western Hemisphere. Less than a 15 minute drive away is the historic Congregation Mikve Israel-Emanuel at Hanchi di Snoa, known to thousands of tourists who grace this historic building because of its sandy floor and crystal chandeliers. The congregation itself was founded in 1651, three years before the first Jews arrived in the U.S. from Brazil, and the building was erected in 1732.

The new synagogue, Shaarei Tsedek, reflects a more recent history, beginning in the 1920′s and 1930′s when European Jews began arriving here. Over the years, the congregation functioned in various old island homes.

When the official dedication is held later this year, the congregation will honor Rabbi and Mrs. Ariel Yeshurun for their work in the erection of the new building and the promotion of Jewish identity in the Diaspora.

 

 

Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun in front of the new synagogue. (photo by Riva Frank)

 

In 2000, at the age of 24, Rabbi Yeshurun, fresh out of Israel’s Beit Amiel Institute for Training Rabbis for the Diaspora, assumed the pulpit of Shaarei Tsedek. Today, he acknowledges that early on he had a dream, “to build a proper, permanent synagogue building for his congregation.” 

Told over and over again, “it’ll never happen,” or “we’ve tried so many times,” he persevered in spite of the “disbelief,” and “skepticism,” on the part of “members and board members, mainly because of the futile efforts and the magnitude of such a project for a small community,” he related. He soon acquired a sizeable contribution from member Herman Tauber who also wanted the “dream to come true.”

As he likes to tell it, Rabbi Yeshurun then became fundraiser, accountant, contractor, interior designer, and construction expert, marshalling the resources until the synagogue rose on the 50,000-square-foot plot at a cost of several million dollars.

A highlight of this architectural gem is a transparent glass dome that “swallows the heat and reflects light, transforming the sanctuary into a very bright space.”  The prayer hall features solid wooden, folded-cushioned seats and cushioned-backs made in Kibbutz Lavi, Israel.  To the right of the arc is a woman’s section, with the upper part of the mechitzah made of glass, “creating an atmosphere that will allow both men and women to experience prayers in their own unique way while maintaining halachic restrictions,” explains the rabbi.

Inscribed in bronze letters on the Jerusalem stone above the oak wood Holy Ark are the words “Open for me the Gates of Righteousness, I will enter them and thank God.” Symbolically, on the opposite wall is a mounting of the Ten Commandments that once graced a synagogue wall in Iraq.

Today, only about 350 Jews call Curacao home and Shaarei Tsedek has about 130 members. With such a small community, why was it necessary to have two synagogues?

“One is a liberal congregation, the other is modern Orthodox.  Mikve Israel-Emanuel maintains its age-old Sephardic Portuguese rituals, customs and melodies, while Shaarei Tsedek maintains its ancient Ashkenazic rituals, customs and melodies,” answered Rabbi Yeshurun.

Still, both congregations sponsor joint programs, such as a four-day-a- week Hebrew School. Two volunteers from Israel’s National Service, who have arrived to enhance Shaarei Tsedek’s Jewish education program, also teach in the joint Hebrew School.

Curacao is a major destination for cruise lines, especially Holland America Line, and already Rabbi Yeshurun notes that local tour buses now drive by, pointing out Shaarei Tsedek as a new house of worship on the island.

Meanwhile Rabbi Yeshurun (rel_yes@yahoo.com or 5-999-738-5949), realizes he and his wife and three children might not be on the island forever, especially since he is studying for  a medical degree.  “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw it, ” he said. His congregants agree, they have already awarded him the title of “Rabbi Emeritus.”

Ben G. Frank, is a travel writer and the author of the just-published “A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America,” as well as  “A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe,” 3rd edition and “A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine” (all Pelican Publishing, Gretna, LA.). He’s also the president of The Frank Promotion Corp., based in Chappaqua, N.Y.

New Caribbean Synagogue Joins One Of The Oldest In The Hemisphere

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

WILLEMSTAD, CURACAO—It’s not everyday, or every year, or every decade, or even every century, that a beautifully-designed, 180-seat, air-conditioned synagogue rises in the Caribbean, let alone a modern Orthodox one. 


The new synagogue is billed as the Shaarei Tsedek Ashkenazic Orthodox Jewish Community-Herman and Miriam Tauber Jewish Center, at 37 Magdalenaweg Street, located on the 174-square-mile vacation island of Curacao (one of two islands that make up the Netherlands Antilles), just 35 miles off the coast of Venezuela. 


Especially poignant is that the new synagogue is situated on the same island where the only other Jewish house of worship is widely believed to be the oldest synagogues in continuous operation in the Western Hemisphere. Less than a 15 minute drive away is the historic Congregation Mikve Israel-Emanuel at Hanchi di Snoa, known to thousands of tourists who grace this historic building because of its sandy floor and crystal chandeliers. The congregation itself was founded in 1651, three years before the first Jews arrived in the U.S. from Brazil, and the building was erected in 1732.


The new synagogue, Shaarei Tsedek, reflects a more recent history, beginning in the 1920′s and 1930′s when European Jews began arriving here. Over the years, the congregation functioned in various old island homes.


When the official dedication is held later this year, the congregation will honor Rabbi and Mrs. Ariel Yeshurun for their work in the erection of the new building and the promotion of Jewish identity in the Diaspora.

 

 


Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun in front of the new synagogue. (photo by Riva Frank)

 


In 2000, at the age of 24, Rabbi Yeshurun, fresh out of Israel’s Beit Amiel Institute for Training Rabbis for the Diaspora, assumed the pulpit of Shaarei Tsedek. Today, he acknowledges that early on he had a dream, “to build a proper, permanent synagogue building for his congregation.” 


Told over and over again, “it’ll never happen,” or “we’ve tried so many times,” he persevered in spite of the “disbelief,” and “skepticism,” on the part of “members and board members, mainly because of the futile efforts and the magnitude of such a project for a small community,” he related. He soon acquired a sizeable contribution from member Herman Tauber who also wanted the “dream to come true.”


As he likes to tell it, Rabbi Yeshurun then became fundraiser, accountant, contractor, interior designer, and construction expert, marshalling the resources until the synagogue rose on the 50,000-square-foot plot at a cost of several million dollars.


A highlight of this architectural gem is a transparent glass dome that “swallows the heat and reflects light, transforming the sanctuary into a very bright space.”  The prayer hall features solid wooden, folded-cushioned seats and cushioned-backs made in Kibbutz Lavi, Israel.  To the right of the arc is a woman’s section, with the upper part of the mechitzah made of glass, “creating an atmosphere that will allow both men and women to experience prayers in their own unique way while maintaining halachic restrictions,” explains the rabbi.


Inscribed in bronze letters on the Jerusalem stone above the oak wood Holy Ark are the words “Open for me the Gates of Righteousness, I will enter them and thank God.” Symbolically, on the opposite wall is a mounting of the Ten Commandments that once graced a synagogue wall in Iraq.


Today, only about 350 Jews call Curacao home and Shaarei Tsedek has about 130 members. With such a small community, why was it necessary to have two synagogues?


“One is a liberal congregation, the other is modern Orthodox.  Mikve Israel-Emanuel maintains its age-old Sephardic Portuguese rituals, customs and melodies, while Shaarei Tsedek maintains its ancient Ashkenazic rituals, customs and melodies,” answered Rabbi Yeshurun.


Still, both congregations sponsor joint programs, such as a four-day-a- week Hebrew School. Two volunteers from Israel’s National Service, who have arrived to enhance Shaarei Tsedek’s Jewish education program, also teach in the joint Hebrew School.


Curacao is a major destination for cruise lines, especially Holland America Line, and already Rabbi Yeshurun notes that local tour buses now drive by, pointing out Shaarei Tsedek as a new house of worship on the island.


Meanwhile Rabbi Yeshurun (rel_yes@yahoo.com or 5-999-738-5949), realizes he and his wife and three children might not be on the island forever, especially since he is studying for  a medical degree.  “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw it, ” he said. His congregants agree, they have already awarded him the title of “Rabbi Emeritus.”


Ben G. Frank, is a travel writer and the author of the just-published “A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America,” as well as  “A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe,” 3rd edition and “A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine” (all Pelican Publishing, Gretna, LA.). He’s also the president of The Frank Promotion Corp., based in Chappaqua, N.Y.

Putting the Oy Back into ‘Ahoy’

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

  They did not sing “Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Manischewitz,” nor do they ever seem to appear in any of the Disney films about pirates in the Caribbean. The website piratesinfo.com carries not a single reference to them.

  And while September 19 has for a number of years now been designated International Talk Like a Pirate Day (there are even Internet courses available in pirate lingo), none of its initiators seems to have had Ladino (the language spoken by Jewish refugees expelled by the Spanish and Portuguese after the Reconquista) in mind.

  Swashbuckling buccaneers who took time to put on tefillin each morning? Better get used to the idea. Long overlooked, the history of Jewish piracy has been garnering increasing interest, with several serious books and articles telling its epic tales.

  Many Jewish pirates came from families of refugees who had been expelled by Spain and Portugal. They took to piracy as part of a strategy of revenge on the Iberian powers (though lining their pockets with Spanish doubloons was no doubt also a motive). Many of these pirates mixed traditional Jewish lifestyles with their exploits on the high seas.

* * * * *

  Jewish refugees from Portugal first settled in Jamaica in 1511, probably originally as sugar growers, and some took up piracy. The British, led by Admiral William Penn (the father of the William Penn who established Philadelphia), took over the island from the Spanish in 1655, reportedly with assistance from local Jews and Marranos (crypto-Jews), all of whom were allowed to remain.

  By 1720, as many as 20 percent of the residents of Kingston were Jews. Over time, Ashkenazi Jews arrived and their synagogues operated alongside the Sephardic ones (the congregations all merged in the 20th century). Jewish tombstones dating back to 1672 have been found there, with Portuguese, Hebrew and English inscriptions.

  Some Jews went into local Jamaican politics, and there were so many in the Jamaican parliament in the 19th century that it became the only parliament on earth that did not hold deliberations on Saturday. The Jewish community of Jamaica today numbers a couple hundred and calls itself the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica (UCIJA). The active synagogue there is built in Sephardic style and is one of the few left in the world with a sand floor. Naturally, its official website includes a page on the pirate ancestors of Jewish residents (ucija.org/pirates.htm).

  According to an article earlier this year in the Israeli weekly Bakihilot, municipal workers in Kingston recently uncovered a long forgotten pirate graveyard. Among the tombstones are those with Jewish stars and Hebrew inscriptions, together with pirate symbols such as the skull and crossbones.

  Similar Jewish pirate graves have been found near Bridgetown in the Barbados and in the old Jewish graveyard in Curacao. Jamaican-born Jewish historian Ed Kritzler claims that Jewish pirates once operated there, raiding the Spanish Main wearing tallis shawls. He’s just published a book titled Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean and conducts private tours of the “Jewish pirate coves” of Jamaica.

  Kritzler’s book includes the saga of one Moses Cohen Henriques, who participated in one of history’s largest sea heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques sailed together with Dutch Admiral Piet Hein, of the Dutch West India Company, who hated Spain after having been held as a slave for four years on a Spanish galleon. They raided Spanish ships off Matanzas Bay in Cuba, commandeering large amounts of gold and silver.

  Henriques set up his own pirate “Treasure Island” on a deserted island off the Brazilian coast on which Jews could openly practice their religion. (He also served as adviser to Henry Morgan, perhaps the most famous pirate of all time; Errol Flynn played Morgan in the movie “Captain Blood.”) After the recapture of Brazil by Portugal in 1654, some of these Jews would sail off to set up a brand new Jewish community in a place called New Amsterdam, now known as New York.

  In many cases Jewish pirates collaborated with Holland, a friendly and welcoming state for Jews. One such pirate was Rabbi Samuel Pallache, a leader of the Moroccan Jewish community in Fez. Born in The Hague, he was son of a leading rabbi from Cordoba who ended up in Morocco. From there he was sent to Holland as envoy of the Moroccan sultan, who was seeking allies against Spain. He became a personal friend of Dutch Crown Prince Maurice, who commissioned him as a privateer, and served for years as a pirate under a Netherlands flag and with Dutch letters of marque. Rabbi Pallache recruited Marranos for his crews.

  In other cases Jewish pirates worked for the Ottomans. A Jewish pirate named Sinan, known to his Spanish prey as “The Great Jew,” was born in what is now Turkey and operated out of Algiers. He first served as second in command to the famous pirate Barbarossa. (No connection to the fictional Barbarossa of the Disney films.) Their pirate flag carried a six-pointed star called the Seal of Solomon by the Ottomans.

  Sinan led the force that defeated a Genoan navy hired by Spain to rid the Barbary Coast of corsairs. He then conquered Tripoli in Libya, and was eventually appointed supreme Ottoman naval commander. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Albania.

  A Jewish pirate named Yaakov Koriel commanded three pirate ships in the Caribbean. He later repented and ended up in Safed as one of the Kabbalah students of the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria) and is buried near the Ari’s grave.

  A pirate named David Abrabanel, evidently from the same family as the famous Spanish rabbinic dynasty (which included Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel), joined British privateers after his family was butchered off the South American coast. He used the nom de guerre “Captain Davis” and commanded his own pirate vessel named The Jerusalem. According to at least one report, he was the person who discovered what is now called Easter Island.

  Several Jewish corsairs operated against Spanish ships off the coast of Chile. There are reports that their galleys were kosher and they abstained from raids on the Sabbath. A maritime museum in Chile today holds letters of communication among these pirates composed in Hebrew.

  One pirate leader was named Subatol Deul. On a trip up the coast he stumbled across a ship under the command of the pirate Henry Drake, son of Sir Francis Drake. They decided to create an alliance of anti-Spanish pirates, the “Black Flag Fraternity.”

  Deul and Drake reportedly buried treasure on an island near Coquimbo in 1645. A chapter in the book Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Business, by Milton Meltzer, is devoted to Deul’s swashbuckling career.

  There also were Jewish corsairs based in Curacao next to Venezuela. The local Curacao rabbi once berated his community’s pirates when they thoughtlessly attacked a ship owned by a fellow Jew. At least it wasn’t done on the Sabbath.

  The history of Jewish pirates goes far back: Josephus mentions Jewish pirates operating in the seas off the Land of Israel in Roman times. There is a drawing of a pirate ship inside Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem. The Hasmonean Hyrcanus accused Aristobulus, his brother, of “acts of piracy at sea.” In its last days, the Seleucid empire (the one fought by the Maccabees) was plagued by Jewish and Arab pirates.

  Pirates operated from coves along the Levantine coast for centuries, and my own city of Haifa was once known as The Little Malta because of its notorious pirates. (The local pirates these days seem to specialize mainly in computer software.)

  The fact that some Jews seemed to have taken so easily to the pirate lifestyle may have been due in part to other skills developed by Jews over the centuries. Cartography, for example, was considered a Jewish specialty in the 15th and 16th centuries, and Christopher Columbus is believed to have consulted the work of a Jewish cartographer, one Abraham Cresque of Mallorca, who produced the Catalan Atlas in 1375. Portuguese Jewish cartographers and scientists contributed to Vasco Da Gama’s voyage of discovery to the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. Jews also worked on ships as navigators.

* * * * *

  Perhaps the most important Jewish pirate of all was the Caribbean pirate Jean Lafitte, a familiar name to many American schoolchildren. He and his men, pirates trained in cannon fire, came to the aid of General (later President) Andrew Jackson and played a critical role in winning the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. A Jean Lafitte National Historic Park stands today on the outskirts of the city.

  What is still largely unknown is that Lafitte was a Jew, born either in Western France or in what is now Haiti. A while back my friend Edward Bernard Glick, a retired professor of political science living in Oregon, published an article in the Jerusalem Post (July 14, 2006) on Lafitte’s Jewish origins and it stirred up a storm of interest. Parts of Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman’s book Jews on the Frontier also discuss Lafitte’s life.

  According to Glick, “[Lafitte] was a Sephardi Jew, as was his first wife, who was born in the Danish Virgin Islands. In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn’t die in battle, in prison or on the gallows.”

  Glick claims the British tried to recruit Lafitte to guide them through the swamps to ambush the Americans, but Lafitte instead showed General “Old Hickory” Jackson Britain’s battle plans to attack New Orleans. The rest is history.

  Years before the Battle of New Orleans, Louisiana Governor William C. C. Claiborne placed a reward of $500 on Lafitte’s head. Lafitte retaliated by putting a $5,000 bounty on the head of the governor. Neither collected.

  Lafitte later commanded his own “kingdom” named Campeche on the island of Galveston, Texas, then nominally under Spanish rule. Some of Lafitte’s trading activities were conducted by Jao de la Porta, a Portuguese Jew from Spanish Texas. Among their clients was Jim Bowie, made famous at the Alamo and also for the special knife.

* * * * *

  Mention of Jewish pirates can pop up in some unexpected places. Just before Rosh Hashanah this year, the liberal Huffington Post website carried a post by humorist Andy Borowitz “reporting” that the group of Somali pirates who had just hijacked a ship full of Ukrainians in the Gulf of Aden was calling a halt to the piracy in honor of the Jewish High Holidays.

 Wrote Borowitz: ” ‘To all of our Jewish friends, we say a hearty Shana Tova,’ said pirate spokesman Sugule, moments before the pirates hoisted a Star of David flag over the captured ship. Sugule took pains to indicate that while the pirates were taking a Rosh Hashanah break from their usual plundering and pillaging schedule, they were doing so only out of respect for Jewish pirates and not because they are Jewish themselves. ‘None of us Somali pirates are Jewish,’ he said. ‘Except for Abe in accounting, who’s half.’ “

 And there are others who are getting into the spirit of things. The Bangitout.com Jewish humor website listed a set of halachic challenges for Jewish pirates, including the following:

  If you have a hook instead of a hand, on which arm do you put tefillin?
   Does your treasure map show how far the eruv extends?
   How long do you wait, after capturing a plundered ship, to put up a mezuzah in the captain’s cabin?
   Should you cover your eye patch with your hand when you say the Shema?
   Can you wear a leather boot over your peg leg on Yom Kippur?
   Are you able to carry on the plank on Shabbos? If your parrot is on your shoulder, is that carrying?

  Personally, I think the biggest challenge to Jewish pirates occurs at Purim. After walking around all year decked out like that, what could they possibly dress up as? Accountants?

  In a way, the legacy of Jewish pirates is alive and well in Israel today. One of the most outstanding examples of the Jewish state’s derring-do was when it stole five gunboats out of the port of Cherbourg in France – ships that had already been paid for by Israel but that France, as punishment for Israel’s Six-Day War victory, was refusing to deliver.

  Israeli agents operating through a front corporation seized the ships on December 25, 1969 and sailed them to Haifa. The details of that piracy are engagingly told in The Boats of Cherbourg (1997) by Abraham Rabinovich.

  So let’s swab the decks, count our doubloons and grant the Jewish pirates their proper place in history. In other words, it’s time to put the oy back into “ahoy.”

  Steven Plaut, a professor at Haifa University, is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

The Jews Of Martinique And Guadeloupe

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

      Note: This article is based on The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean by Mordechai Arbell, Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2002. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from this source.

 

      Martinique and Guadeloupe are two small islands located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Martinique is north of Trinidad and Tobago, whereas Guadeloupe is southeast of Puerto Rico.
 
      “The Jewish history of Martinique and Guadeloupe is relatively short, spanning only about 60 years. It began with the first arrivals from Amsterdam in the 1620s who came to manage Dutch interests in Dutch commercial outposts established on the island and continued until the expulsion of the Jews in 1685.”
 
      In 1635 the French conquered and occupied these islands. Upon their arrival in Martinique they found a number of Jews who had arrived earlier from Amsterdam and who served as agents and managers for various Dutch enterprises.
 
      “The French did not disturb the resident Dutch Jews, whose number was not significant. They were dispersed among the warehouses, plantations, and stores all over the island and, as far as is known, did not form a community. The Jews were able to work and prosper under twenty years of French rule, tolerated and protected by the French governors, who needed their commercial and financial acumen and whose services they used.”
 
      However, the successes of the Jews gradually aroused the jealousy of the French settlers and merchants. “At the same time, the growing number of Catholic monks and priests arriving in the colony could not bear to see Jews residing in French-ruled territory.”
 
      Things changed dramatically for the Jews after the recapture of Recife, Brazil by the Portuguese in 1654. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews left Brazil in fear of what might happen to them under the Inquisition. Ships loaded with Jews roamed the Caribbean looking for places for these refugees to resettle.
 
      When a ship carrying Jews anchored not far from Martinique, Governor M. du Parquet was inclined to grant their request to settle on the island. The Jesuit fathers residing on Martinique would not hear of it.
 
      The governor of Guadeloupe, M. Houel, learning of the refusal to allow the refugees to settle in Martinique, welcomed them to settle on his island. Many former Jewish inhabitants of Tamarica (Itamarica), Brazil, an island not far from Recife, were allowed to settle on Guadeloupe. They were granted the same privileges as the other residents of the island.
 
      Under the terms of surrender between the Dutch and Portuguese in Brazil, the Dutch and the Jews were allowed to leave Brazil with their movable property and their money. Thus, the Jews who came to the Caribbean seeking places to resettle came with means. The residents of Guadeloupe naturally anticipated that the new arrivals would spend lots of silver and gold as they established themselves in their new home. They were not disappointed.
 

      When Governor du Parquet of Martinique saw that he was losing a rare opportunity, he expressed his anger to the Jesuit fathers. The Father Superior went to Guadeloupe and tried to convince Governor Houel to expel the Jews. Houel told the Father Superior to mind his own business, and the Jews were allowed to stay. Shortly afterward, another ship carrying a number of Jewish refugees arrived in Martinique. This time Governor du Parquet received them with open arms.

 

 

      The permission given to the Jews to settle in Martinique and Guadeloupe attracted some French Jews of Spanish-Portuguese origin from Bayonne and Bordeaux, most often related to those who had come from Brazil, increasing the number of Jews in the French islands.
 
      It is difficult to evaluate the exact number of Jews in Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1658. A conservative estimate might be about 300 among a population of about 5,000 whites.
 
      The Jesuit fathers, who saw the settlement of Jews as a battle they had lost, did not rest and continued with incessant efforts to rid the island of Jews.
 
      The Jews, immediately after settling, began to establish commercial houses, sugar cane plantations, and sugar plants on a large scale. This brought a period of prosperity to the impoverished islands and profits to their owners, Houel and du Parquet.
 
      On 2 April, 1658, the Sovereign Council of Martinique issued a decree “prohibiting the Jews from dealing with commerce on the islands,” but due to the intervention of the governor – Seigneur du Parquet – a new decree several months later “reestablished the privileges given to the Jews to deal with commerce,” canceling the previous decree.
 
      The main Jewish contribution to Martinique and Guadeloupe was in agro-industry. The French islands were relatively late in developing sugar production. It was only after the settlement of the Jews from Brazil, who were experienced sugar refiners and merchants, that the sugar industry started picking up. In 1661 there were 71 sugar plants in Guadeloupe with Martinique lagging behind. However, Martinique in 1671 had 111 sugar plants with 6,582 workers and slaves working in them and by 1685 reached 172 plants.
 

      One of the most prominent sugar producers was Benjamin d’Acosta de Andrade, a Jew born as a converso in Portugal, who had settled in Dutch Brazil and had reached Martinique in 1654. He was the owner of two of the largest sugar plants in Martinique (the site is still shown to tourists visiting the Island). D’Acosta de Andrade is known and remembered as establishing the first cacao processing plant in French territory. Cacao processing was started in Spanish colonies in America, but the processing in Martinique was advanced, modernized, and transformed into chocolate.

 

Discrimination and Expulsion

 

      The prosperity of the Jewish community drew inordinate envy from the French planters of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

 

 

      The Brazilian Jews did not only have the expertise, but also were able to finance their sugar plants, which needed a considerable initial investment. The majority of the French planters continued planting tobacco and gradually became more and more impoverished. Their need for cash indebted them to Jewish moneylenders. The Jews were also accused of investing their profits outside Martinique, therefore depriving the islands of their cash liquidity. Thus, a coalition formed by the Jesuit fathers and the French planters and merchants went into action to limit Jewish life and bring about the expulsion of the Jews.
 

      The coalition managed to force the hand of Governor Prouville de Tracy to issue, in 1664, an act in which a paragraph is included saying that “those of the Jewish Nation must purchase and sell on the day of Sabbath, unless otherwise ordered by his Majesty….” The unhappy de Tracy wanted clearer instructions from France. He received ambiguous ones, namely “The King does not want to alter what has been practiced till now towards the Huguenots and the Jews…” De Tracy’s only recourse was to close his eyes to the transgressions of his own act. The Jews continued keeping the Sabbath.

 

 

      The only religion officially permitted on Martinique was Catholicism. As a result, Judaism was not practiced openly. In 1676 the community acquired a Torah from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam.

 

 

      Theories have been put forward that a synagogue existed in Martinique, and several possible sites have been indicated. However, the prayers were supposedly conducted in a private house, transformed into a prayer-house, which gradually became an improvised synagogue.
 

      The happy and quiet Jewish existence of the Martinique Jews continued until the death of Governor de Baas in 1677. His replacement, Count de Blenac, a devotee of the Jesuits, had served as confessor of [King] Louis XIV. His main aim was the expulsion of the Jews from Martinique.

 

 

      As conditions deteriorated for the Jews of Martinique, they began to abandon the island. On Guadeloupe there were many political upheavals, and, here too, the Jews left in considerable numbers.
 
      In 1685 Louis XIV issued an order expelling all Jews from the Caribbean islands under French control. Most of the Jews who left Martinique went to Curacao. When they left, they took their Torah and other religious objects used in their improvised synagogue.
 
      A few Jews managed to circumvent the Black Code (Edict of Expulsion) as a result of their special connections with the authorities. Indeed, in 1732 there were still as least ten Jews residing on Martinique. But “by the time of the French Revolution there was, for all practical purposes, no serious Jewish presence in Martinique or Guadeloupe.”
 

      Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at  llevine@stevens.edu.

 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/the-jews-of-martinique-and-guadeloupe/2007/09/05/

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