Monday, August 17, 2009

Heard About the Jews in Suriname?

Located on the north-east coast of South America, Suriname has a small Jewish community with a long history. Today, this smallest of South American countries has approximately 200 Jews, most of whom live in the capital city of Paramaribo. However, there are still two functioning synagogues: 1) Neve Shalom, originally built in 1719, and dedicated to the Ashkenazi community of German Jews in 1735, and 2) Zedek v-Shalom, built in the 1730s for the Sephardic (Portugese) community.

The first Jews to settle in Suriname were Sephardic Jews who had fled from Portugal to Holland and then to the Dutch colonies in Brazil. When the Portuguese defeated the Dutch and took Brazil (c.1639), these Jews fled, fearing that an Inquisition would come with the Portuguese. Another population of Jews came to Suriname along with the British, who were also settling the area.

By 1661, the Jewish community was large enough to create a community, the “Portuguese Jewish Congregation of Suriname,” and, in 1665, a synagogue building project was undertaken (completed in 1667) in Jodensavanne and named Kahal Kadosh Beracha Ve Shalom (The Holy Congregation of Blessing and Peace).

The year 1665 was also historically significant for the Jews of Suriname. On August 17, 1665, the English gave full rights to the Jews of Suriname, allowing them to practice Judaism freely and to run their own affairs. This remarkably liberal charter was allowed to stand when the Dutch conquered Suriname from the British a few years later. And while the next several centuries were not without incidents of anti-Semitism, the history of the Jews in Suriname is, in general, one of religious freedom and tolerance.

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