Florida: Secret Jews of the Caribbean, Feb. 4

“Hidden Jews of the Caribbean” is a symposium at Florida International University on Thursday, February 4.

It runs from 8-10pm, at FIU’s Biscayne Bay campus, in North Miami, Florida.

Dr. Stanley Hordes (University of New Mexico) will speak on “Identities of Crypto Jews in the Caribbean – A Historical Perspective.”

Hordes is an adjunct professor at the UNM Latin American and Iberian Institute. His doctoral dissertation was on the Crypto Jews of the southwestern US. He is the co-founder and immediate past president of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies, and author of “To The End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico (Columbia University Press, 2005).

Dr. Seth Kunin (University of Durham, UK) will speak on “Contemporary Identites of Crypto Jews in the Caribbean – An Anthropological Perspective.”

Kunin is vice chancellor of arts and humanities at the University of Durham, and holds a PhD in anthropology. He has many years of experience conducting ethnographic research among New Mexico’s Crypto-Jews, and is the author of “Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity Among the Crypto-Jews (Columbia University Press, 2009). Read an interview with Kunin about his book.

Dr. Abraham Lavender (FIU, Sociology) is the respondent.

Hordes and Kunin are currently working together on the history of crypto-Jews in the Caribbean and the identities of their descendants today, with specific attention to Cuba, Jamaica and in the Miami area.

FIU is home to the President Navon Program for the Study of Sephardic and Oriental Jewry.

The program provides academic training in Sephardic/Oriental Studies for undergraduate and graduate students interested in pursuing a multidisciplinary track certificate (within the College of Arts and Sciences) and, in the future, degrees.

Lectures and seminars are presented by national and international scholars and artists,along with outreach program participation and close ties and cooperation between academic and lay communities.

Academics and artists will lecture or teach relevant courses, conduct research and share their findings and expertise at university-held conferences, seminars, and community-outreach programs.

For more information on the certificate program, click here. For general information, click here.

Jamaica: Reggae Jewish connections

Jewish Jamaican ties are the subject of an interview with Ainsley Henriques at the Caribbean Sephardic Diaspora conference in Jamaica.

Tracing the Tribe wrote several posts leading up to the event.

Read one of two JTA stories, by Gil Shefler on his visit to Jamaica, here.

After a week of attending a Jewish conference here, I’m starting to feel like everybody in Jamaica has some kind of connection to Judaism.

Ainsley Henriques, the don of the local community, says thousands of Jamaicans have Jewish backgrounds, though they don’t identify as Jews.

A scan of the local telephone directory seems to confirm his claim: Thousands of Cohens, Levys and Gabays are listed. But the local Jewish congregation numbers a mere 200 members.

Shefler mentions Jamaican dance-hall musician Sean Paul, whose paternal grandfather was a Jew named Henriques, just like my friend Ainsley’s.

Island Records founder Chris Blackwell’s mother’s maiden name was Lindo, a prominent island Jewish family.

Ainsley says he believes that Harry Belafonte also has Judaic through his Jamaica-born father whose surname was a corruption of Delevante, an island Jewish clan.

[NOTE: Of course, many Sephardic name indexes indicate Belafonte as a confirmed Jewish name in that spelling, so there is also Belafonte and Delevante and other spellings.]

Ainsley told Shefler that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was on a tour of the Kingston synagogue when Farrakhan said that he had paternal Jewish Portuguese ancestors from Jamaica.

Reggae king Marley is not Jewish, says Ainsley, who knows the family well and says one of his sons is married to an Israeli.

Read the complete story at the link above.

Jews of the Caribbean: Jamaica

Here are some well-known Jews of Jamaica:

— Poet Daniel Lopez Laguna (1635-1730), a survivor of the Inquisition who converted biblical Psalms into poems. A book of these poems, Espejo Fiel de Vidas (The True Mirror of Life), was published in 1720 and was the first book to be published in Jamaica under British rule.

— 19th century painter Isaac Mendes Belisario, whose famed “Belisario” prints of Jamaican characters are cultural icons, now featured on a series of Jamaican stamps.

— Newspapermen Jacob and Joshua de Cordova, who founded the “Gleaner” in 1833. Jacob went on to found the city of Waco, Texas.

— Ward Theatre architect Rudolph Henriques, a noted artist whose firm Henriques and Sons was awarded the commission in a competition. The majestic landmark was built in 1912.

Jorge Ricardo Isaacs (1837-1895), author of Maria, considered the “national novel” of Columbia.

Sir Neville Noel Ashenheim, a member of a family known as legal luminaries, served as Jamaica’s first ambassador to Washington, 1960s.

Richard Stern, the Hon. Ernest Altamont da Costa and Councillor Senator Hon. Eli Matalon, served as Mayors of Kingston in 1896-97, 1925-27 and 1971-73 respectively.

— The Matalon family, known as one of Jamaica’s long-standing captains of industry and supporter of the arts.

For much more on Jamaican Jewish history, see this article (2005) by Dr. Rebecca Tortello – Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came – The Jews In Jamaica – which can be read at Pieces of the Past here.

The detailed article (photos from 1978 and 1984, ) covers these main topics: The Arrival, Jewish Jamaica – Spanish Town and Jews in Jamaica-Kingston.

Caribbean conference: More information

Here’s more information on The Jewish Diaspora of the Caribbean International Conference , which will explore the history, culture, and identity of Caribbean Jewry, from January 12-14, 2010.

Here’s much more information on session titles, post-conference program, hotel and registration. This is an update to Tracing the Tribe’s previous post which provided only speakers’ names.

The venue is the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. High-season discounted rates: deluxe single (US$149.73) or deluxe double (US$171.38), including service charge, all taxes and buffet breakfast. For more on the conference, click here; for registration and fees, click here (scroll down for details).

Jamaica is easily accessible from the East Coast. I wish it were as accessible from Tel Aviv!

Tuesday, January 12

–Sephardic Trade Networks in the Colonial Caribbean

Chair: Jane S. Gerber

Miriam Bodian, University of Texas

“The Formation of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Diaspora.”

Jonathan I. Israel, Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton

“Amsterdam, Curacao and the Rise of Sephardic Trade System in the Caribbean (1600–1670)”

Gérard Nahon, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

“Amsterdam and the Jewish Nation of the Caribbean during the Seventeenth Century”

Holly Snyder, Brown University

“What Jewish Merchants Contributed to Jamaican Commerce, 1670–1831.

— Material and Visual Culture of Caribbean Jewry

Chair: Judah Cohen

Rachel Frankel, Architect

“Remnant Stones: The Significance of New World Portuguese Jewish Diaspora Cemeteries.”

Sharman Kadish, Director, Jewish Heritage, UK; University of Manchester

“Isaac Mendes Belisario, London’s Bevis Marks Synagogue, and the Sephardi Architectural Heritage.”

Jackie Ranston, Independent Scholar, Jamaica,

“Biography as History: The Art of Isaac Mendes Belisario (1794–1849)—Story Painter.”

Wednesday, January 13

— Caribbean Jewish Identity and Heritage: From Conversos to Modern Jews

Chair: Miriam Bodian

Mordechai Arbell, The Ben Zvi Institute, Jerusalem

“The Gradual Disappearance of the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish Communities of the Caribbean.”

Ronnie Perelis, Yeshiva University

“Daniel Israel Lopez Laguna’s Espejo Fiel de Vidas (London 1720) and the Ghost of Marrano Autobiography.”

Hilit Surowitz, University of Florida

“Portuguese Jews of the Caribbean and the Question of Early Modern Secularization.”

Judah Cohen, Indiana University

“Inscribing Ourselves with History: Exploring Heritage in Today’s Caribbean Jewish Diaspora.”

TOUR: A Jamaican Jewish Heritage Tour of the Duke Street Synagogue, with author/local historian Ed Kritzler

— Blacks and Jews in the English Caribbean

Chair: Eli Faber

James Robertson, University of the West Indies, Mona

“The ‘Confession made by Cyrus’ reconsidered: Maroons and Jews during the First Maroon War.”

Stan Mirvis, The Graduate Center, CUNY

“Sexuality and Sentiment: Concubinage between Jewish Males and their Female Slaves in late Eighteenth-Century Jamaica.”

Swithin Wilmot, University of the West Indies, Mona

“Jewish Retailers and Black Voters in Post Slavery Jamaica: Electoral Politics in the Parish of St. Dorothy, 1849-1860.”

Thursday, January 14

— Reassessing the Geographic and Ethnic Definitions of Caribbean Jewry Chair: Jane S. Gerber

Eli Faber, John Jay College, CUNY

“The Jews of Colonial America: How Broad were the Parameters?”

Matt Goldish, Ohio State University

“Franks Among Franks: Adventures of a Jamaican Ashkenazi in the 1690s.”

Dale Rosengarten and Barry Steifel, The College of Charleston

“Charles Towne, South Carolina: Northernmost Outpost of the Gulf-Caribbean Plantation Region.”

Joanna Newman, The University of Southampton; The British Library

“Refugees from Nazism in the Caribbean during World War Two.”

TOUR: Jamaican Jewish Heritage Tour of the Hunt’s Bay Cemetery, with author/local historian Ed Kritzler

— The Art of Sephardic Genealogy Workshop

John de Mercado, Independent Scholar

“A Sephardic Odyssey: Four Centuries of the de Mercado Family in the West Indies.”

Panel Discussion: Ainsley Henriques, John de Mercado, David Kleiman.

Post-Conference Program Highlights, January 15-16

(Click here to read about the Jewish significance of these sites).

Friday, January 15: Hillel Academy – Visit to Jamaica’s National Gallery of Art – Lunch at Strawberry Hill – Shabbat Service – Kiddush and Dinner.

Saturday, January 16: Shabbat Services – Lunch at Devon House – Visit to Port Royal – Dinner in Old City – Cocktails and Concert.

The conference is sponsored by the United Congregation of Israelites of Kingston Jamaica, Institute for Sephardic Studies of the Graduate Center CUNY, University of the West Indies, American Sephardi Federation, International Survey of Jewish Monuments, Jamaica Tourist Board, Commonwealth Jewish Council, Laurence and Ronnie Levine and Dr. John de Mercado.

Jamaica: Caribbean Diaspora Conference, Jan. 12-14, 2010

The Jewish Diaspora of the Caribbean International Conference, exploring the history, culture, and identity of Caribbean Jewry, is set for January 12-14, 2010, in Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies.

The chairs are well-known researcher of Sephardic history and author Jane S. Gerber (Professor of Jewish History, The Graduate Center, CUNY) and Ainsley Henriques (director, The United Congregation of Israelites).

Tracing the Tribe’s readers may have met Ainsley at past international Jewish genealogy conferences.

The venue is Kingston’s Pegasus Hotel and the line up of speakers is excellent. Tracing the Tribe wishes it could be there!

Here’s what you can expect:

Tuesday, January 12
I. Sephardic Trade Networks in the Colonial Caribbean

Chair: Jane Gerber
Miriam Bodian, University of Texas
Gérard Nahon, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris
Jonathan I. Israel, Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton
Holly Snyder, Brown University

II. Material and Visual Culture of Caribbean Jewry

Chair: Judah Cohen
Rachel Frankel, Architect
Sharman Kadish, Director, Jewish Heritage, UK; University of Manchester
Jackie Ranston, Independent Scholar, Jamaica

Wednesday, January 13
III. Caribbean Jewish Identity and Heritage: From Conversos to Modern Jews

Chair: Miriam Bodian
Mordechai Arbell, The Ben Zvi Institute, Jerusalem
Ronnie Perelis, Yeshiva University
Hilit Surowitz, University of Florida
Judah Cohen, Indiana University

IV. Blacks and Jews in the English Caribbean

Chair: Eli Faber
James Robertson, University of the West Indies, Mona
Stan Mirvis, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Swithin Wilmot, University of the West Indies,Mona

Thursday, January 14
V. Reassessing the Geographic and Ethnic Definitions of Caribbean Jewry

Chair: Jane S. Gerber
Eli Faber, John Jay College, CUNY
Matt Goldish, Ohio State University
Dale Rosengarten and Barry Steifel, The College of Charleston
Joanna Newman, The University of Southampton; The British Library

VI. The Art of Sephardic Genealogy Workshop

John deMercado, Independent Scholar
Ainsley Henriques, The United Congregation of Israelites, Kingston
David Kleiman, President, Heritage Muse, Inc.

There will also be a guided Jamaican Heritage Tour of the Duke Street Synagogue and Hunt’s Bay Cemetery, with author (Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean) and local historian Ed Kritzler.

For more information and advance registration, click here. Interested readers may also contact the conference coordinator Stan Mirvis or Ainsley Henriques.

The United Congregation of Israelites website holds a wealth of information on Caribbean Jewry, including history, films, photographs, newsroom, archive, books and much more. Tracing the Tribe has previously written about Jamaica and the Caribbean in some 30 posts. Go to the SEARCH box in the right sidebar and type in “Caribbean.”

Caribbean: Jewish heritage sites

It must be travel time. If you are thinking about the Caribbean, here’s a glimpse at Jewish heritage sites there, along with some history and websites for more information.

Read the article here. Here are some of the highlights:


In 1651, Joao d’Yllan, a Jewish merchant who migrated to Holland from Portugal as a result of the Inquisition, convinced the Dutch West Indies Company to colonize Curaçao. He and a small group set sail for the island that summer, and soon several independent Jewish businessmen from Amsterdam followed. In the spring of 1659, another group of Jewish immigrants brought Curaçao’s first Torah scrolls. Since that time, the Jewish community of Curaçao has remained one of the most active in the Caribbean islands.

Mikve Israel synagogue, with its sand-covered floors, was established in 1651, and today also houses the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum, home to a permanent collection of art and artifacts. Among the treasures is the original Torah scroll brought to Curaçao in 1659. Nearby Blenheim Cemetery is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere and has smore than 5,000 graves. For more information, click here.


In 1754, Moses Solomon Levie Maduro, a prominent member of a Sephardic Jewish family in Curaçao, established himself in Aruba with his wife and six children. There, Levie Maduro founded a branch of the Dutch West Indies Company. Over 250 years later, Maduro and Sons operates as the main shipping company in Aruba.

Beth Israel Synagogue blends both Sephardic and Ashkenazi, with some 70 local and 180 overseas members. The Sephardic cemetery has graves back to the 19th century. For more information, click here.


When the first Jewish settlers arrived in 1511, Jamaica was a Spanish territory ruled by the family of Christopher Columbus. The island welcomed Jews, and when England conquered Jamaica in 1655, there was no attempt to expel or limit the Jewish presence. Jewish life flourished, and during the 17th century a small synagogue was established. The United Congregation of Israelites in Kingston recently celebrated its 350th anniversary with a permanent exhibition on Jewish contributions to Jamaica.

The new Jewish Her­itage Center offers important Jewish artifacts, an art exhibit by Jewish Jamaican artists, a family history center, and a reference library.For more, click here.


The Jewish history in Nevis is vast and has had a prominent impact on the United States. It is suspected that Sephardic Jews first came to Nevis as traders from Barbados sometime after 1654. By the late 17th century, the Nevis Jewish community established a complete enclave, including a cemetery, a synagogue and a Jewish school. In fact, Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury of the United States, was born in Nevis and attended Jewish day school. Though its numbers have since dwindled, at one time the Jewish community constituted one fourth of the island’s population.

The Jewish cemetery dates to 1679 and was rededicated in 1971. Jewish cemetery dating back to February 1679. For more, click here.


The British first colonized Barbados in 1627 and actively promoted Jewish settlement during the years that followed. Later, Barbados became the first British territory where Jews obtained full political rights. In 1654, the Jewish community in Bridgetown established a Sephardic synagogue, and by 1679, nearly 300 Jews lived on the island. Many Jewish settlers engaged in sugar and coffee cultivation, and soon tensions between Jewish and British merchants rose. In 1668, the government forced Jews to live in a Jewish ghetto and forbade them from engaging in retail trade; the discriminatory laws were removed in the early 19th century. Despite persecution, the Jewish community thrived in Barbados until 1831, when a massive hurricane caused significant damage to the island, displacing some residents.

The Bridgetown Jewish Syna­gogue remains in use today. For more information, click here.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Jews first settled on the then Danish-ruled island of St. Thomas in 1655. After granting Jews religious freedom in 1685, the island has since had three Jewish governors. At its peak, around 1850, the Jewish population made up half of the island’s white community. After the opening of the Panama Canal, however, the number of Jewish residents declined. St. Thomas boasts the oldest synagogue in continuous use in a U.S. territory. Known as the Congregation of Blessings and Peace, the St. Thomas Synagogue was originally established in 1796 and was later rebuilt several times.

The present Sephardic-style synagogue was built in 1833. Everything in the historic building is original, and a small museum was added in 1996. For more, read here.

The article also includes information for those who observe kashrut.

Amsterdam Sephardim: Where did they go?

If you are searching for Sephardic Jewish ancestors, check out Dr. Jeff Malka’s frequently updated SephardicGen.com.

Jeff is a pioneer expert Sephardic researcher, and his book, “Sephardic Genealogy,” is a must-read for those thinking about beginning a project or who need more information to make progress.

From 1759-1813, nearly 450 poor Sephardic families were provided with funds (tzedekah, Hebrew for charity) to leave Amsterdam for other parts. They promised not to return to the city for 15 years.

Tracing the Tribe has previously written here and here about additional Sephardic records available elsewhere. For more Sephardic posts that may help your quest, use the blog’s Google-powered search.

Concerning this list:

This alphabetic list was found in the Sephardic Jewish Registers PA334-978/979 “Registros dos Despachos” (Registers of Dispatched Persons), Amsterdam Municipality Archives. The list covers the period 1759-1813 with all the names of the poor Sephardic Jews who were granted Sedaca (charity) – an amount in Dutch florins- against the promise to leave Amsterdam and not to return within the next 15 years.

The index was prepared by Vibeke Sealtiel Olsen.

Destinations listed (and number of families): Altona (2), Barbados (2), Bayonne (9), Beograd (1), Bordeaux (18), Copenhagen (1), Curacao (71), Cuyden (1), Da Isla (1), Den Haag (1), Emden (3), Frisia (1), Gibraltar (3), Hamburg (31), Isla Demarara(1), Istanbul (3), Izmir (1), Jamaica (16), Livorno (12), London (58), Mantua (1), Marseille (1), Mogador (2), New York (2), Paris(3), Philadelphia (1), Rotterdam (1), St. Eustatius (19), Trieste (2), Tunis (1), Venice (2) and Vienna (1).

Countries listed: America, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Guyana, Israel (Palestine), Italy, Jamaica, Morocco, Netherlands Antilles, Serbia, Suriname, Tunisia, Turkey, UK, US and the West Indies. See important note below on searching for countries.

You can search by surname, first name, city or country. Searching by country, I found one anomaly. clicking “America” brought the record of Aron LOPES COLACO to America in 1784, via Bordeaux, France.

Clicking “USA” returned three records: Abraham b. Ely AZUBY to 1783 Philadelphia, Sara (nee SASO) COHEN DA SILVA (widow of Ebiatar) to 1759 New York, and Joseph LEVY FLORES, also to 1759 New York via London.

Clicking “Israel” – a misnomer as the country did not exist in the year of the record 1759 – shows Isaac LOPES GONSALES and his wife.

Clicking “UK” brings 59 records. The first 10 are for the families of Aron b. Isay ACOHEN (HACOHEN) 1770 with wife and three children, Aron b. David ALVARES 1802 with wife and two children, Semuel AZOUGE 1766 with wife and six children, Imanuel b. Jacob AZULAY 1765 with wife, Moseh AZULAY 1776, Abraham b. Isaac BARUH 1789 (grandson of Zeharia), Rachel BERNAL 1790 widow of Abraham, Eliau BUZAGLO 1789 with two children, Sara b. Ishac CARTZO 1764 and Isaac COHEN DE AZEDO 1789.

In 1766, Semuel Azouge with his wife and six children received only FL40, while in 1770, Aron ACOHEN, his wife and three children received FL200. Individuals such as widow Bernal received only FL25 in 1770, while other single travelers received from 40-60FL.


The record may include other details as to how and where they traveled to their destination, how much money they received, whether they went with spouses and how many children, if a woman was a widow (and her husband’s name), father’s name, names of spouses, even grandparents’ names in some cases, etc.

Not everyone went far from Amsterdam, some went to other cities in the Netherlands. In 1787, Simon b. Jacob De Leon and his wife, went to Den Haag (The Hague), and was given FL25 to do so. In 1763, Jacob b. Ishac LOPES went to Frisia (possibly Friesland?), and, in 1808, Ishac ALVARES VEGA went to Rotterdam with his wife and two children.

Search anomalies: If you click Netherlands Antilles as a country, there are no hits (because it did not exist when the records were produced). If you click Curacao in the city list with Netherlands Antilles in the country list, there are no hits. If you click Curacao in the city list, with a blank for the country, the database returns 71 results.

Thus, it is better to click the city list as some countries did not exist at the time these people left Amsterdam. If no hits result on one set of parameters, change them.

UPDATE NOTE: On May 15, I received an email from Dr. Jeff Malka of SephardicGen: “I took advantage of your testing and fixed the problems you noticed with the Netherlands Antilles and Israel. I had missed them!”

This database is an excellent source of Sephardic names with many genealogical details.