The first Europeans to see the island were members of a Spanish expedition under the leadership of Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The Spaniards exported most of the indigenous population to other colonies where workers were needed. The island was occupied by the Dutch in 1634. The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet called the ‘Schottegat’. Curaçao had been previously ignored by colonists because it lacked many things that colonists were interested in, such as gold deposits. However, the natural harbour of Willemstad proved quickly to be an ideal spot for trade. Commerce and shipping, but also piracy, became Curaçao’s most important economic activities. In addition, the Dutch West India Company made Curaçao a center for the Atlantic slave trade in 1662. Dutch merchants brought slaves from Africa under a contract with Spain called Asiento. Under this agreement, large numbers of slaves were sold and shipped to various destinations in South America and the Caribbean.
The Jewish congregation at Newport, never large, was composed of Jews with roots in the Sephardic Spanish and Portuguese diaspora, with some Ashkenazim by the eighteenth century. The first Jewish residents of Newport, fifteen Spanish Jewish families, arrived in 1658. It is presumed that they arrived via the community in Curaçao. The small community worshiped in rooms in private homes for more than a century before they could afford to build a synagogue.
Because of its history, the island’s population comes from many ethnic backgrounds. There is a majority of mixed Afro-Caribbean and European descent, and also sizeable minorities of Dutch, Latin American, South Asian, East Asian, Portuguese and Levantine people. The Sephardic Jews that arrived from the Netherlands and then-Dutch Brazil since the 17th century have had a significant influence on the culture and economy of the island. The years before and after World War II also saw an influx of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, many of which Romanian Jews. Many Portuguese and Lebanese also migrated to Curaçao in the early 19th century due to the financial possibilities of the island. East and South Asian migrants came to Curaçao during the economic boom of the early 20th century. There are also many recent immigrants from neighbouring countries, most notably the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Anglophone Caribbean and Colombia. In recent years the influx of Dutch pensioners has increased significantly, dubbed locally as pensionados.
Though small in size, Curaçao’s Jewish community has a significant impact on history. Curaçao boasts the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas, dating to 1651. The Curaçao synagogue is the oldest synagogue of the Americas in continuous use, since its completion in 1732 on the site of a previous synagogue. The Jewish Community of Curaçao also played a key role in supporting early Jewish congregations in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, including in New York City and the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island.
Curaçao has the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas – dating to 1651 – and the oldest synagogue of the Americas, in continuous use since its completion in 1732 on the site of a previous synagogue. The Jewish Community of Curaçao also played a key role in supporting early Jewish congregations in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, including in New York City and the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island.
Judah Touro, the son of Isaac Touro and his wife Reyna, made a fortune as a merchant in New Orleans. He left $10,000 in his will for the upkeep of the Jewish cemetery and synagogue in Newport. A legend exists that the trap door under the tebáh (bimah) was used while the synagogue was a stop on the Underground Railroad. This is unfounded.
Curaçao Dutch: Curaçao, Papiamento: Kòrsou) is an island in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the Venezuelan coast. The island area of Curaçao (Dutch: Eilandgebied Curaçao, Papiamentu: Teritorio Insular di Kòrsou), which includes the main island plus the small, uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao (“Little Curaçao”), is one of five island areas of the Netherlands Antilles, and as such, is a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Its capital is Willemstad. The origin of the name Curaçao is still under debate. One explanation is that it is derived from the Portuguese word for heart (coração), referring to the island as a centre in trade, or it could mean healing (curação) for the plants that grow on the island. Spanish traders took the name over as Curaçao, which was followed by the Dutch. Another explanation is that Curaçao was the name the indigenous peoples of Curaçao had used to label themselves (Joubert and Baart, 1994). This theory is supported by early Spanish accounts, which refer to the indigenous peoples as “Indios Curaçaos”.
The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak Amerindians. The most popular theory is that the Spanish named the island “Corazon” (Spanish for “heart”) for its heart shape, which later became “Curaçao”, derived from the Portuguese word for heart, “Coração”. Whatever the origin of the name, after the year 1525 the island appeared on Spanish maps as “Curaçote,” “Curasaote,” and “Curasaore.” By the seventeenth century the island was generally known on all maps as “Curaçao” or “Curazao”. On a map created by Hieronymus Cock in 1562 in Antwerp, the island was referred to as Quracao. The name “Curaçao” has become associated with a particular shade of blue, and is sometimes used as an adjective, because of the deep-blue liqueur named “Blue Curaçao”. The slave trade made the island affluent, and led to the construction of impressive colonial buildings. Curaçao features architecture that blends various Dutch and Spanish colonial styles. The wide range of other historic buildings in and around Willemstad earned the capital a place on UNESCO’s world heritage list. Landhouses (former plantation estates) and West African style ‘kas di pal’i maishi’ (former slave dwellings) are scattered all over the island and some of them have been restored and can be visited.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the island changed hands among the British, the French, and the Dutch several times. Stable Dutch rule returned in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars. The Dutch abolished slavery in 1863. The end of slavery caused economic hardship, prompting many inhabitants of Curaçao to emigrate to other islands, such as to Cuba to work in sugarcane plantations.
When in 1914 oil was discovered in the Maracaibo Basin town of Mene Grande, the fortunes of the island were dramatically altered. Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch Government had built an extensive oil refinery installation on the former site of the slave-trade market at Asiento, thereby establishing an abundant source of employment for the local population and fueling a wave of immigration from surrounding nations. Curaçao was an ideal site for the refinery as it was away from the social and civil unrest of the South American mainland, but near enough to the Maracaibo Basin oil fields. It also had an excellent natural harbor that could accommodate large oil tankers. The company brought a degree of affluence to the island. Large housing was provided and Willemstad developed an extensive infrastructure. However, discrepancies started to appear amongst the social groups of Curaçao. The discontent and the antagonisms between Curaçao social groups culminated in large scale rioting and protest on May 30, 1969. The civil unrest fueled a social movement that resulted in the local Afro-Caribbean population attaining more influence over the political process (Anderson and Dynes 1975). The island also developed a tourist industry and offered low corporate taxes to encourage many companies to set up holdings in order to avoid rigorous schemes elsewhere. In the mid 1980s Royal Dutch Shell sold the refinery for a symbolic amount to a local government consortium. The aging refinery has been the subject of lawsuits in recent years, which charge that its emissions, including sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, far exceed safety standards. The government consortium currently leases the refinery to the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
The Touro Synagogue is a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, that is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States, the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America and the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era. It was designed by noted British-Colonial era architect and Rhode Island resident Peter Harrison and is considered his most notable work. The interior is flanked by a series of twelve Ionic columns supporting balconies. The columns signify the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. Each column is carved from a single tree. Located at 85 Touro Street, the Touro Synagogue remains an active Orthodox synagogue. The building is oriented to face east toward Jerusalem. The ark containing the Torah is on the east wall; above it is a mural representing the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. It was painted by the Newport artist Benjamin Howland.
The Touro Synagogue was built from 1759 to 1763 for the Jeshuat Israel congregation in Newport under the leadership of Cantor (Chazzan) Isaac Touro. The cornerstone was laid by Aaron Lopez, a prominent merchant in Newport involved in the spermaceti candlemaking business and other commercial ventures. The Jeshuat Israel congregation itself dates back to 1658 when fifteen Spanish and Portuguese Jewish families arrived, probably from the West Indies, and many settled near Easton’s Point.The synagogue was formally dedicated 2 December 1763. Other notable leaders included Henry Samuel Morais (1900–01).
In 1790, the synagogue’s warden, Moses Seixas, wrote to George Washington, expressing his support for Washington’s administration and good wishes for him. Washington sent a letter in response, which read in part: the Government of the United States, gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
In 1946, Touro Synagogue was designated a National Historic Site and is an affiliated area of the National Park Service. The synagogue was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. In 2001, the congregation joined into a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The community purchased and dedicated the Jewish Cemetery at Newport in 1677. The city of Newport faded in importance shortly after American independence, after the capital of Rhode Island moved to Providence, which rapidly also surpassed Newport as a seaport. The Jewish community, too small to maintain a synagogue, removed the Torah scrolls and sent them for safekeeping along with the deed to the building to Congregation Shearith Israel in New York. It still formally owns the Touro synagogue. The keys left the Jewish community and were passed to the Goulds, a Quaker family in Newport.
From the 1850s on, the building was occasionally opened for worship for the convenience of summer visitors. It was reopened on a regular basis in 1883 as Jewish life in Newport revived with the late nineteenth century immigration of eastern European Jews. The synagogue acquired a nearby building and ran a Hebrew School and other activities. In the late twentieth century, the number of Jews in Newport dwindled again. The synagogue has had a special relationship with Jewish naval families stationed in Newport. It continues to serve a small congregation, supplemented by travelers who spend the Sabbath in Newport.
Curaçao is the largest and most populous of the three so called ABC islands (for Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao) of the Lesser Antilles, specifically the Leeward Antilles. It has a land area of 444 square kilometers (171 square miles). As of 1 January 2008, it had a population of 140,796.
Curaçao’s proximity to South America translated into a long-standing influence from the nearby Latin American coast. This is reflected in the architectural similarities between the 19th century parts of Willemstad and the nearby Venezuelan city of Coro in Falcón State, the latter also being a UNESCO world heritage site. In the 19th century, Curaçaoans such as Manuel Piar and Luis Brión were prominently engaged in the wars of independence of Venezuela and Colombia. Political refugees from the mainland (like Bolivar himself) regrouped in Curaçao and children from affluent Venezuelan families were educated in the island.
In recent years, the island had attempted to capitalize on its peculiar history and heritage to expand its tourism industry. In 1984 the Island Council of Curaçao inaugurated the National Flag and the official anthem of the island. This was done on July 2, which was the date when in 1954 the first elected island council was instituted. Since then, the movement to separate the island from the Antillean federation has steadily become stronger.
Due to an economic slump in recent years, emigration to the Netherlands has been high. Attempts by Dutch politicians to stem this flow of emigration have exacerbated already tense Dutch-Curaçao relations. In turn, a lot of immigration from surrounding Caribbean islands, Latin American countries and the Netherlands has also taken place. This means that the population base is changing.
A Brazilian Jewish person (Portuguese: Judeu Brasileiro) is a Brazilian person of matrilineal Jewish ancestry.The history of the Jews in Brazil is a rather long and complex one, as it stretches from the very beginning of the European settlement in the new continent. Jewish immigration to Latin America began with seven sailors arriving in Christopher Columbus’s crew. Jews started settling in Brazil ever since the Inquisition reached Portugal in the 16th century. They arrived in Brazil during the period of Dutch rule, setting up in Recife the first synagogue in the Americas as early as 1636.
The oldest synagogue in the Americas, Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, located in Recife.
Most of those Jews were Sephardic Jews who had fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal to the religious freedom of the Netherlands. The first Jews arrived in Brazil as Conversos, names designated to describe Jews (or Muslims) who converted to Catholicism, forcibly. The Inquisition kept them under close surveillance and condemned to death in the bonfire anyone who, being baptized, persisted secretly in the practice of his/her former religion. So, anyway, it was safer to emigrate to Brazil and, according to the Inquisition reports, many Jews were condemned for secretly observing Jewish customs in Brazil during colonial times.
Despite constant persecution by the Inquisition, the Conversos successfully established sugar plantations and mills. There were about 50,000 Europeans living in Brazil in 1624 and the Conversos made up a significant percentage of this population. According to Alden Oreck, “They were businessmen, importers, exporters, teachers, writers, poets, even priests.”
In 1630, the Dutch conquered portions of northeast Brazil. The Dutch colonizers permitted the open practice of any religion. In 1636, the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue was built by the Jewish settlers in Recife, the capital of Dutch Brazil. It remains in the same location to this day and the temple is considered to be the oldest synagogue in the Americas. Official Dutch census reported that the population of Jews in Dutch Brazil peaked in 1645. About 1450 (11% of the total population) citizens were Jews at that time.
During the Dutch regime, the Jews prospered in, the sugar industry, trade and tax farming. Jews worked mainly in retail and brokerage, as engineers and lawyers. Senhores de Engenho, the proprietor of a sugar plantation complex, stated that only about 6% of sugar mills were owned by Jews. People preferred to work for Jews because while the Portuguese only gave Sunday off and the Dutch gave no day off, the Jews gave both Saturday (Jewish Sabbath) and Sunday as rest days for the workers (slaves).
The Catholic Inquisition responded to the Jews’ prosperity in Dutch Brazil angrily. The Jews were accused for turning in Brazilian property for the Dutch “heretics”. They were accused for being the utmost responsibles for the Portuguese political disaster during the Dutch regime in Brazil. Also, the rapid growth of the Jewish population in Pernambuco worried the Portuguese Christians. They wrote a letter in 1637 to the government requesting the immediate suspension of Jewish migration to the Captaincy. They called for the expulsion of all Jews and even accused some four “infamous” Jews of plotting a revolt of slaves. Even before the Portuguese recaptured the Dutch lands, many limitations have been imposed on Jews, “banning intermarriage, the construction of synagogues or charging more than 3 percent interest on loans.”
After the Portuguese recaptured the Brazilian Dutch lands, in 1654, Jews fled to many other places. The conversos, mostly stayed in Brazil and moved to the countryside, particularly in the State of Paraiba, to avoid the re-activation of the Inquisition in Recife. The inquisitors arrested and condemned many of these conversos living in Northeast Brazil. Among the Jews that fled to the Caribbean and North America, 24 Jews arrived to New Amsterdam, which later became New York City, becoming the first Jews to arrive in the United States.
The Jews began to slowly arrive again in Brazil after a royal decree signed in Portugal in 1773 abolished all discrimination against Jews mainly because without the Jews the commerce and business collapsed. A stream of Sepharadic Moroccan Jews began arriving in 1810 in Belém, capital of the Province of Grão-Pará, in Northern Brazil. Not only were they attracted to the Amazon region because Brazil presented itself as a nation free of persecutions like the ones in Morocco, but also because of, the intensification of the exterior, propitiating the greater commerce of importation and exportation. Transportations of passengers and migrants to the interior navigation was subsidized and propitiated the interiorization of the Jewish migration along the Amazon River and its tributaries. The rubber cycle also attracted the English, French, German, Portuguese, and the distressed people looking for a better place from Northeast Brazil, that escaped the droughts of 1877 and 1888.
The synagogue of Belém, Shaar Hashamaim (“Gate of Heaven”), was founded in 1824 to 1828. The synagogue in Belém was Eshel Avraham (“Abraham’s Tamarisk”) was established in 1823 or 1824. The Jewish population in the capital of Grão-Pará had in 1842 an Israelite necropolis. After the first Brazilian constitution in 1824 that granted freedom of religion, Jews began to slowly arrive in Brazil. Many Moroccan Jews arrived in the 19th century, principally because of the rubber boom. Waves of Jewish immigration occurred during the rise of Nazis in Europe. In late 1950s, another wave of immigration brought thousands of North African Jews. According to the famous letter of Pero Vaz de Caminha to the King of Portugal, the first Portuguese to set foot in Brazil was Gaspar da Gama, a cristão-novo (converso), a Jew who had been forcibly baptized and who later went along with Pedro Alvares Cabral expedition to India, that in the course discovered what is now Brazil, in 1500.
Because of unfavorable conditions in Europe, European Jews began debating in the 1890s about establishing agricultural settlements in Brazil. At first, the plan did not work because of Brazilian political quarrels. In 1904, the Jewish agricultural colonization, supported by the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) began in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil. The main intention of the JCA in creating those colonies was to resettle Russian Jews during the mass immigration from the hostile Russian empire. The first colonies were Philippson (1904) and Quatro Irmãos (1912). These colonization attempts failed because of, inexperience, insufficient funds and poor planning and administrative problems lack of agricultural facilities and the lure of city jobs.
In 1920, the JCA began selling some of the land to non-Jewish settlers. Despite the failure, the colonies aided Brazil and helped change the stereotypical image of the non-productive Jew, capable of working only in commerce and finance. The main benefit from these agricultural experiments was the removal of restrictions in Brazil on Jewish immigration from Europe during the twentieth century.” By the First World War, 7,000 Jews were inhabiting Brazil. In 1910 in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul, a Jewish school was opened and a Yiddish newspaper, Di Menshhayt (“Humanity”) was established in 1915. One year later, the Jewish community of Rio de Janeiro formed an aid committee for World War I victims.
There are about 96,000 Jews in Brazil today, and they play an active role in politics, sports, academia, trade and industry, and are overall well integrated in all spheres of Brazilian life. The majority of Brazilian Jews live in the state of São Paulo but there are also sizeable communities in Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, and Paraná.
Jews lead an open religious life in Brazil and there are rarely any reported cases of anti-semitism in the country. In the main urban centers there are schools, associations and synagogues where Brazilian Jews can practice and pass on Jewish culture and traditions. Some Jewish scholars say that the only threat facing Judaism in Brazil is the relatively high frequence of intermarriage.
NOTABLE BRAZILIAN JEWS
Sandra Annenberg, journalist and news anchor
Clara Ant, political activist and presidential adviser
Daniel Azulay, comic artist
Jom Tob Azulay, film director
Rubem David Azulay, dermatologist, founder of Brazilian Society of Dermatology
Hector Babenco, film director
Miro Bacin, journalist
Leoncio Basbaum, physician and political activist
Carlos Minc Baumfeld, politician and social activist
Moysés Baumstein, holographer, film/video producer, painter, writer
Manoel Beckman, colonial leader
Adriana Behar, beach volleyball player
Tatiana Belinky, actress and writer
Olga Benário Prestes, German-born communist militant
Samuel Benchimol, entrepreneur and Amazon pioneer
Abraham Bentes, army commander
Daniel Benzali, TV actor
Claudio Besserman Vianna, comedian
Joel Birman, writer
Eva Altman Blay, sociologist and politician
Adolfo Bloch, journalist
Debora Bloch, actress
Nilton Bonder, community leader and writer
Gilberto Braga, author
Claudio Basbaum, gynecologist medicine professor
Waldemar Levy Cardoso, field marshal
Boris Casoy, journalist
Otto Maria Carpeaux, literary critic
Moyses Chahon, army commander
Juca Chaves, comedian, composer and singer
Caco Ciocler, actor
Roberto Civita, journalist and entrepreneur
Victor Civita, journalist
Deborah Colker, dancer and choreographer
Gilberto Dimenstein, journalist
Alberto Dines, journalist
Tufi Duek, fashion designer
Dina Dublon, director
German Efromovich, entrepreneur
Leon Feffer, industrialist
Benny Feilhaber professional soccer player
Walter Feldman, politician
Fortuna, singer and composer
Vilém Flusser, philosopher
Fernando Rizzolo, lawyer and Journalist
Marcelo Gleiser, physicist and writer
Betty Gofman, actress
Rosane Gofman, actress
José Goldemberg, educator, physicist and minister
Alberto Goldman, politician
Jacob Gorender, politician and historian
Oded Grajew, human rights activist
Serginho Groisman, TV host
Mario Haberfeld, racing driver
Alexandre Herchcovitch, fashion designer
Wladimir Herzog, journalist
Leon Hirszman, film director
Marc Horowitz, trader
Luciano Huck, TV show host
Felipe Hirch, theater director
Roberto Justus, advertiser and TV host
Isaac Karabtchevsky, musician and conductor
Abraham Kasinski, industrialist
Elisa Kauffman, politician
Israel Klabin, mayor of Rio de Janeiro
Jacques Klein, pianist
Samuel Klein (businessman), entrepreneur
Samuel Kicis, army commander
Ithamara Koorax, jazz singer
Frans Krajcberg, artist and environmentalist
Miguel Krigsner, entrepreneur and environmentalist
Bel Kutner, actress
Celso Lafer, diplomat
Iosif Landau, writer and poet
Cesar Lattes, physicist
Leo Lebellot, musician, songwriter and lead singer of the Brazilian Rock Band Prato Principal.
Jaime Lerner, politician (governor Paraná state), urban planner
Eliezer Moisés Levy, politician (former mayor of Macapá)
José Lewgoy, actor and director
Clarice Lispector, writer´
Gerson Levi-Lazzaris, ethnoarchaeologist
Carlos Maltz – Drummer of rock band Engenheiros do Hawaii
Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro
Salomão Nauslausky, army commander
Arnaldo Niskier, journalist and writer
Noel Nutels, public health physician and human rights activist
Carlos Nuzman, sportsman and president of Olympic Committee
Joyce Pascowitch, journalist
Ivo Perelman, jazz saxophonist
Flora Purim, jazz singer
Sultana Levy Rosenblatt, writer
Ricardo Rosset, Formula One driver
Edmond Safra, banker
Joseph Safra, banker
Ricardo Semler, entrepreneur
Moise Safra, banker
Silvio Santos, (Senor Abravanel), TV show host
Mario Schenberg, physicist
Moacyr Scliar, writer
Lasar Segall, artist
Dina Sfat, actress
Paul Israel Singer, economist, writer, politician, activist.
Amir Slama, fashion designer
Henry Sobel, Rabbi, community leader
Jaime Spitzcovsky, journalist
Dan Stulbach, actor
Luciano Szafir, actor
Alex Stry, Musician – Guitarist and Singer of Brazilian Rock band Prato Principal.
Moise Edmond Seid, physician, former executive director of the International Traffic Medicine Association
Nathalia Thimberg, actress
Eva Todor, actress
Mauricio Waldman, sociologist and politician
Didi Wagner, TV show host
David Wainer, Journalist
Yara Yavelberg, political activist
Mayana Zatz, geneticist
Jacob Zveibil, politician
Jacob Zveiter, air force commander
David Zylberstajn, politician and administrator
Benjamin Zymler, auditor-general
Jacob Blochtein, physician and writer
Jacob Benemond, sailor
Moysés Baumstein, publisher, holographer, artist
Jaime Benatar, scientist
Caco Ciocler, actor
Rodrigo Osna, entrepreneur
Gilberto Tumscitz Braga, novelist
Jose Benedito Cohen, poet
Betty Fuks, writer
Rubens Gerchman, painter
Alfred Lemle, physician and writer
Salomao Malina, politician
Abraham Kasinski, industrialist
Mario Kertesz, journalist and politician
Flavio Koutzi, politician and social activist
Inacio L. Obadia Architect, Rio De Janeiro
Helena Salem, journalist and writer
Elie Horn, founder of Cyrela Group
Ivoncy Ioschpe, industrialist
Bella Josef, writer
Fabio Koifman, historian
Fayga Ostrower, painter and writer
Mauricio Pinkusfeld, sailor
Carla Pinsky, historian and writer
Jacks Rabinovich, industrialist
Moses Rabinovitch, journalist
Saul Raiz, politician (mayor Curitiba)
Isaias Raw, biochemist and educator
Philippe Reichstul, civil servant and administrator
Cora Ronai, journalist
Max Rosenmann, politician
Bernard Rajzman, volleyball player
David Rodin, sailor
Caca Rosset, director
Mauricio Grabois, communist political activist
Jacob Guinsburg, publisher
Zevi Ghivelder, journalist
Andre Singer, journalist and presidential spokesman
Alfredo Sirkis, politician and ecologist
Mauricio Sirotski, journalist
Eugenio Staub, industrialist
Benjamin Steinbruch, steel manufacturer
Hans Stern, entrepreneur
Salli Szajnferber, army commander
Fanny Tabak, political activist
Boris Schnaiderman, writer
Chael Schreier, political activist
Mauricio Schulman, civil servant and administrator
Carlos Scliar, painter
Natalia Thimberg, actress
Henrique Veltman, journalist
Jacques Wagner, trade unionist and minister
Ann Wainer, environmental lawyer, writer
David Wainer, journalist
Samuel Wainer, journalist
Arnold Wald, jurist
Waldemar Zveiter, high court judge
Helio Zylberstajn, economist and writer
Gregori Warchavchik, architect
Istvan Wessel, entrepreneur
Israel Zecker, politician
Leo Kryss, entrepreneur
Patrick Zveiter, entrepreneur
Jews of the Bilad al-Sudan describes West African Jewish communities who were connected to known Jewish communities from the Middle East, North Africa, or Spain and Portugal. Various historical records attest to their presence at one time in the Ghana, Mali, and Songhai empires, then called the Bilad as-Sudan from the Arabic meaning Land of the Blacks. According to most accounts, the earliest Jewish settlements in Africa were in places such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. It is believed that these settlements may have been in existence as early as the kingdoms of David and Solomon, as well as during the Assyrian invasion of northern Israel in 722 BCE and the Babylonian captivity of Judah in 586 BCE in the Punic-Carthaginian age. These communities were augmented by subsequent arrivals of Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, when 30,000 Jewish slaves were settled throughout Carthage by the Roman emperor Titus.
Africa is identified in various Jewish sources in connection with Tarshish and Ophir, The Septuagint, and Jerome, who was taught by Jews. The Aramaic Targum on the Prophets, identify the Biblical Tarshish with Carthage, which was the birthplace of a number of rabbis mentioned in the Talmud. Africa is clearly indicated where mention is made of the Ten Tribes having been driven into exile by the Assyrians and having journeyed into Africa. Connected with this is the idea that the river Sambation is in Africa. The Arabs, who also know the legend of the Beni Musa (“Sons of Moses”) agree with the Jews in placing their land in Africa.
As early as Roman times, Moroccan Jews had begun to travel inland to trade with groups of Berbers, most of whom were nomads who dwelt in remote areas of the Atlas Mountains. Jews lived side by side with Berbers, forging both economic and cultural ties. Some Berbers began to practice Judaism. In response, Berber spirituality translated Jewish ritual, painting it with a belief in the power of demons and saints. When the Muslims swept across North of Africa, Jews and Berbers defied them together. Across the Atlas Mountains, the legendary Queen Kahina led a tribe of 7th century Berbers, Jews, and other North African ethnic groups in battle against encroaching Islamic warriors.
In the tenth century, as the social and political environment in Baghdad became increasingly hostile to Jews, many Jewish traders there left for the Maghreb, Tunisia in particular. Over the following two to three centuries, a distinctive social group of traders throughout the Mediterranean world became known as the Maghrebi, passing on this identification from father to son.
According to records such as the Tarikh al-Sudan, the first recorded Jewish presence may have emerged in West Africa with the arrival of the first Zuwa ruler of Koukiya and his brother, located near the Niger River. He was known only as Zuwa Alayman (meaning “He comes from Yemen”). Some local legends state that Zuwa Alayman was a member of one of the Jewish communities that were either transported or voluntarily moved from Yemen by the Ethiopians in the 6th century C.E. after the defeat of Dhu Nuwas. The Tarikh al-Sudan, states that there were 14 Zuwa rulers of Kukiya after Zuwa Alyaman before the rise of Islam in the region.
Trade and establishment of communities: In the eighth century, the Radanites, a group of multi-lingual Jewish traders who traversed the known world by land and sea, including crossing the Sahara, settled in Timbuktu and its environs. Further, Manuscript C of the Tarikh el-Fettash describes a community called the Bani Israeel that in 1402 CE existed in Tirdirma, possessed 333 wells, and had seven princes:
Thoelyaman bin-Abdel Hakim
It is also stated that they had an army of 1500 men. Other sources say that other Jewish communities in the region were formed by migrations from Morocco, Egypt, and Portugal. When the Scottish explorer Mungo Park traveled through West Africa in the late 1700′s he was informed by an Arab he met near Walata of there being many Arabic speaking Jews in Timbuktu whose prayers were similar to the Moors. Some communities are said to have been populated by certain Berber Jews like a group of Kal Tamasheq known as Iddao Ishaak that traveled from North Africa into West Africa for trade, as well as those escaping the Islamic invasions into North Africa.
The Islamic Era: In the 14th century many Moors and Jews, fleeing persecution in Spain, migrated south to the Timbuktu area, at that time part of the Songhai empire. Among them was the Kehath (Ka’ti) family, descended from Ismael Jan Kot Al-yahudi of Scheida, Morocco. Sons of this prominent family founded three villages that still exist near Timbuktu; Kirshamba, Haybomo, and Kongougara. In 1492, Askia Mohammad 1st came to power in the previously tolerant region of Timbuktu and decreed that Jews must convert to Islam or leave. Judaism became illegal in Mali, as it did in Catholic Spain that same year. This was based on the advice of Muhammad al-Maghili.
Historian Leo Africanus wrote in 1526: “In Garura there were some very rich Jews. The intervention of the preacher (Muhammid al-Maghili) of Tlemcen set up the pillage of their goods, and most of them have been killed by the population. This event took place during the same year when the Jews had been expelled from Spain and Sicily by the Catholic King.” “The king (Askia) is a declared enemy of the Jews. He will not allow any to live in the city. If he hears it said that a Berber merchant frequents them or does business with them, he confiscates his goods.”
Berber Jews of the Sahara: There was assimilation of the Jews with that of the Berbers living in the Moroccan and Algerian Sahara. It is believed that some Berber clans may have been at one time Jews and according to another tradition they are descended from the Philistines driven out of Canaan. There is a tradition that Moses was buried in Tlemçen, and the presence of a large number of Jews in that part of Africa is attested to, not only by the many sacred places and shrines bearing Biblical names which are holy to Muslims as well as to Jews, but also by the presence there of a large number of Jewish sagas. Certain Berber tribes were for a long time of the Jewish religion, especially in Amès; and to-day we see among the Hanensha of Sukahras (Algeria) a semi-nomad tribe of Israelites devoted entirely to agriculture.
In addition, Jews are found in the Berber “ksurs” (fortified villages) all along southern Morocco and in the adjacent Sahara. Thus, at Outat near Tafilet there is a mellah with about 500 Jews and at Figuig, a mellah with 100 Jews. Going farther south to Tuat, there is a large community of Jews in the oasis of Alhamada. At Tementit, a two weeks’ journey from Tafilet, the 6,000 or 8,000 inhabitants are said to be descendants of Jews converted to Islam. Farther to the west, in the province of Sus, there is Ogulmin with 3,000 inhabitants, of whom 100 are said to be Jews.
Daggatun Berber Jews connection: The Daggatuns (derived from the Arabic “tughatun” = infidels) were a nomadic tribe of Jewish origin living in the neighborhood of Tamentit, in the oasis of Tuat in the Moroccan Sahara. An account of the Daggatun was first given by Rabbi Mordechai Abi Serour of Akka (Morocco), who in 1857 journeyed through the Sahara to Timbuctu, and whose account of his travels was published in the “Bulletin de la Société de Géographie”. According to Rabbi Sarur, the Daggatun lived in tents and resembled the Berber Kel Tamesheq (Tuareg), among whom they live, in language, religion, and general customs. They are subject to the Tuaregs, who do not intermarry with them. Rabbi Sarur also states that their settlement in the Sahara dates from the end of the seventh century (Muslim chronology) when ‘Abd al-Malik ascended the throne and conquered as far as Morocco. At Tamentit he tried to convert the inhabitants to Islam; and as the Jews offered great resistance he exiled them to the desert of Ajaj, as he did also the Tuaregs, who had only partially accepted Islam. Cut off from any connection with their brethren, these Jews in the Sahara gradually lost most of their Jewish practises.
Other accounts place a group of “Arabs” in Ajaj as being identified with the Mechagra, among whom a few Jews still dwell there. There are many nomadic tribes in the desert regions who are Jews by origin, but who have gradually lost Jewish customs. Among these tribes, are the Daggatun, numbering several thousands and scattered over several oases in the Sahara, even as far as the River Dialiva (Djoliba) or Niger. The Mechagra are also considered as one of these Jewish tribes. Rabbi Mordechai Abi Serour, with his brother Yitzhaq, came from Morocco in 1859 to be a trader in Timbuktu.
At the time of Rabbi Serour’s bold enterprise, direct trade relations with the interior of west Africa (then known to them as Sudan) were monopolized by Muslim merchants. Non-Muslims were precluded from this trade because Arab merchants were determined to forestall encroachments upon their lucrative business. Rabbi Serour was clever, shrewd, articulate, audacious, and most important he knew Koranic law as well as most learned Muslims. Throughout his travels to Timbuktu Rabbi Serour preferred to have most of his merchandise transported across the Sahara by bejaoui. The term, bejaoui, refers to single or small groups of camels that carried travelers sometimes without merchandise or baggage, and were accompanied by indigenous guides.
As a Jew, he couldn’t set up his trading business, so he appealed to the regional ruler, who at that time was a Fulani Emir, and negotiated dhimmi, or protected people status. Between 1860 to 1862 Rabbi Serour and his brother Yitzhaq were able to become successful and they became well-known in the area. After earning a small fortune, Rabbi Serour returned to Morocco in 1863. He gave his father a large sum of money and talked his other brothers into joining him on his next venture to Timbuktu. In 1864, the Jewish colony in Timbuktu had reason to rejoice since by the end of the year they had eleven adult male Jews in residence. This was significant since it meant that they could form a minyan and establish a synagogue. They were:
Rabbi Mordechai Aby Serour
Mordechai’s brothers Esau, Avraham, and Yitzhaq
Esau’s sons Aharon and David
Aharon’s son Yitzhaq
Moussa (Mordechai’s brother in law)
Moussa’s son David
Cape Verde: In Iberia the Reconquista movement was growing in its mission to recover Catholic lands from the Muslim Moors who had first arrived in the 8th century. Jews may have arrived earlier during the time of the Phoenicians and Romans. Maghrebi Jews were key allies of the Moors and centuries-long residents of Iberia, as early as 1480 at the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of Jews. In 1492 the Spanish Inquisition emerged in its fullest expression of anti-Semitism. This social pathology quickly spread to neighboring Portugal where King João II and Manuel I in 1496, decided to exile thousands of Jews to São Tomé, Príncipe, and Cape Verde. The numbers expelled at this time were so great that the term “Portuguese” almost implied those of Jewish origin. Those who were not expelled were converted by force or executed. Jews from Spain, Portugal, and Morocco in later years formed communities off the coast of Senegal and on the Islands of Cape Verde. After the rise of Islam in North and West Africa these communities ceased to exist and have since disappeared due to migration and assimilation.
Despite the important role of Portuguese Jews in commerce, navigational sciences, and in the cartography of Africa, they faced riots, pogroms, and profound oppression during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions when they became termed Marranos (Moorish Jews) or Judeus Segredos (Secret Jews). This led to forced conversions and to Jews becoming known as Novos Cristaos (New Christians). It was not until 1768 that Portugal officially abolished the distinction between “Old” and “New” Christians.
In order to develop the Cape Verde Islands, which had been discovered between 1455 and 1462, the Portuguese king wrote a Royal Charter in 1466 granting the right to trade in slaves to Portuguese residing in Cape Verde. This lucrative offer was soon to be rescinded and in 1472 slave trading rights were restricted to an exclusive royal monopoly. From the very beginning of its history Cape Verde, and its diverse multi-cultural peoples were situated within the context of a slave society and the slave trade.
During the early nineteenth century, Jews came to settle in Santo Antão where there are still traces in the village of Sinagoga, located on the north coast between Riberia Grande and Janela, and in the Jewish cemetery at the town of Ponta da Sol. The family names of Cohn (priest) and Wahnon are prominent in Santo Antao. Other Jewish settlers such as the Ben Oliel family migrated to Boa Vista, trading in salt, hides, and slaves. Jewish-derived surnames can be found amongst the inhabitants of the islands. Such names can include Auday, Benros, Ben David, Cohn, DaGama, and Seruya. A final chapter of Jewish history in Cape Verde took place in the 1850′s when Moroccan Jews arrived, in Boa Vista and Maio for the hide trade.
Emergence of Arabic records in Timbuktu: Records of the Jewish history of Mali can be found in the Kati Andalusi library. Ismael Diadie Haidara, a historian from Timbuktu, possesses old Arabic and Hebrew texts among the city’s historical records. He has researched his own past and discovered that he is descended from the Moroccan Jewish traders of the Abana family. As he interviewed elders in the villages of his relatives, he has discovered that knowledge of the family’s Jewish identity has been preserved, in secret, out of fear of persecution.
The personal library of the first Mahmoud Kati, which was handed down through his descendants and added to through at least the mid-17th century, was “discovered” by a young Malian historian, Ismaël Diadié Haïdara, a member of the Kati clan, and author of several books, including L’Espagne musulmane et l’Afrique subsaharienne (1997), and Les Juifs de Tombouctou (1999). The library is currently in the possession of two branches of the Kati clan in the village of Kirshamba about 100 miles to the west of Timbuktu. Up to 1,700 out of an estimated 2,000 manuscripts in the library have been examined and evaluated by Abdul Kader Haïdara, the Timbuktu-based expert in Arabic manuscripts and guardian of the Mamma Haidara Memorial Library currently being rehabilitated through a grant from the Mellon Foundation.
The trading documents referred to three families in particular: the Kehath family (Ka’ti) that came from southern Morocco and converted with the rest of the population in 1492; the Cohen family descended from the Moroccan Jewish trader al-Hajj Abd al-Salam al Kuhin, who arrived in the Timbuktu area in the 18th century; and the Abana family, which came in the first half of the 19th century
Timbuktu 1300s Trade Caravan