By the 1660's Jews of Iberian origin had settled in the colony of Suriname, South America. They rooted themselves on the upper reaches of the Suriname River and there established an autonomous religio-cultural enclave; a community of plantations that became known as Jodensavanne. In this Amazon River Basin environment of flat lands and lush vegetation they created cemeteries and built two successive synagogues. Roughly seven hundred massive horizontal gravestones with illustrative imagery and multi-lingual epitaphs fabricated in and shipped from Europe remain today at the Cassipora Creek Cemetery and Jodensavanne Cemetery. The cemeteries together contain over two hundred years of burials (1666 &345 1873). The many vertical wooden grave markers, mentioned in archival documents, crafted by local carpenters, have long since eroded in the tropical environment. The architect of the 94� x 43� brick Beraha VeSalom, [Blessing and Peace] synagogue, built in 1685, the second synagogue of Jodensavanne and the first of architectural significance in the New World, remains anonymous along with the enslaved West Africans who built it. The town plan, in which the synagogue was centered, is no longer apparent.

    By the 1730's some of Jodensavanne's Jews had already moved thirty miles downriver to the emerging coastal capital of Paramaribo where they joined newly arrived Ashkenazi and Sephardi immigrants. In Paramaribo, by this time, the Ashkenazim and Sephardim each had their own prayer houses and cemeteries and by the end of the 18th century, Suriname�s unique population of Jews of EurAfrican ancestry had their own leadership within, and sometimes parallel to, the larger established community of Jews. By the 19th century, Jewish life was largely gone from Jodensavanne but a military post provided a livelihood for those who remained. Testament to this latter population is the so called Creole cemetery that contains over one hundred grave markers including horizontal grave stones and figurative wooden sepulchers. Death dates range from 1860 - 1956.

    Frankel began researching the history and monuments of Jodensavanne in 1995 having discovered after an initial visit that no comprehensive inventory and little scholarship existed for the site. In 1997, Frankel formed a team comprised of Suriname�s Ministry of Culture, STINASU (Suriname�s semi governmental conservation agency), and CVE (Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions) to, respectively, develop documentation methodologies, provide

  • logistical support, and perform fieldwork at the cemeteries and synagogue.

    In 1998 Stichting Jodensavanne (Foundation for Jodensavanne), whose resurrection Frankel�s work inspired, made a fresh start and partnered with the local Amer-Indian residents to maintain Jodensavanne�s historic monuments and make them accessible to the public by constructing a pier and visitor�s pavilion and designing and erecting signage. At this same time Frankel recruited Professor Aviva Ben-Ur to transcribe and translate Cassipora Creek Cemetery�s and Jodensavanne Cemetery�s Hebrew, Aramaic, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and French language epitaphs.

    By 2000, Frankel, on behalf of Stichting Jodensavanne, successfully nominated Jodensavanne for inclusion on The World Monuments Watch 100 Most Endangered Sites List. In addition to bringing world-wide attention to the site, the nomination brought funding for improved visitor access. At this time, Paramaribo�s Old Askenazi and Old Sephardi cemeteries were added to the scope of documentation work in Suriname. In 2009, Hebrew Union College Press published Frankel and Ben-Ur�s co-authored Remnant Stones: The Jewish Cemeteries of Suriname, Volume 1. The book includes fold out plans of Suriname's four historic Jewish cemeteries along with approximately 1,700 epitaphs transcribed and translated, many accompanied by photographs. Upon publication, at the invitation of the government of the Republic of Suriname, Frankel presented Remnant Stones to the President. Immediately thereafter, the Ministry of Culture designated Jodensavanne a National Monument (per its Monument Registration Law of 2002). Remnant Stones, Volume 2, published in 2012, includes essays on Jodensavanne�s architecture and settlement. Currently UNESCO World Heritage Site status is being sought and Frankel is working with Stichting Jodensavanne to create a comprehensive management plan for Jodensavanne and its environs.

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