Jamaica: Hunt’s Bay and Orange Street Cemeteries – March 2009
By Shai Fierst and Sam Petuchowski
For several years ISJM has been co-sponsor of a project to document the cemeteries of Jamaica. Last month a small team of volunteers spent time on the island revisiting the Jewish cemetery at Hunt's Bay, and beginning work documenting the cemetery on Orange Street in Kingston. Team members Shai Fierst and Sam Petuchowski contributed the following report for the newsletter of CVE (Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions), one of ISJM's partners.
in the project.Jamaica’s Jewish community is one of the oldest and storied communities in the Americas with impressive contributions to art, literature, politics, and more in the non-Jewish and Jewish spheres in and outside of Jamaica. A request by Ainsley Henriques’ of the Jamaican Jewish community for inventorying of Jamaica’s Jewish cemeteries was a catalyst for a partnership between CVE (Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions) and the community that began a decade ago and continued in March 2009 with Rachel Frankel leading a team to continue inventorying the Hunt’s Bay Cemetery and begin inventorying the Jewish Cemetery on Orange Street in Kingston.
The International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM) is a co-sponsor of this project. The goal of the work beyond collecting data is to post the information on the World Wide Web thereby making Jamaica’s historic and difficult to access sites available to a worldwide public.The Hunt’s Bay Cemetery is Jamaica’s oldest cemetery and was the burying ground for the Jews of Port Royal who lived across the harbor where the high water table of the peninsula prevented burial.
Hunt’s Bay Cemetery is located to the west of Kingston having been established before the founding of Kingston. Hunt’s Bay’s earliest grave stone dates to 1672 and its latest dates to the mid 19th century. 360 grave markers remain at Hunt’s Bay. Many markers have been destroyed or looted for construction over time.
The Jewish Cemetery on Orange Street, located near the beautiful and century-old Shaarei Shalom Synagogue, contains stones from the early 19th century and is still in use. The cemetery is located in the newer, northern end of Kingston. Previous to the Orange Street Cemetery, Kingston's Sephardim buried their dead in the no longer extant Old Kingston Jewish Cemetery in the older, southern part of Kingston's downtown. 18th century grave stones from the Old Kingston Jewish Cemetery were transposed to the Orange Street cemetery when the former was closed likely due to new sanitation laws of the growing city. The grave stones are found along the north and east cemetery walls, often partially covered under earth excavated by burials.
The Hunt's Bay Cemetery contains bluestone, limestone and marble grave markers with epitaphs largely in Portuguese and Hebrew. The horizontal markers rest upon brick bases varying in height. The older section of the Orange Street Cemetery contains horizontal grave markers mostly of marble elevated almost three feet above ground on red brick bases, with epitaphs written, for the vast majority, in English, with less and less Portuguese and Hebrew.The inventory work discovered that many of the grave markers in the Orange Street Cemetery are not in their authentic locations likely due to destruction by looters and then further destruction by well-intentioned restoration. Natural disasters, such as an earthquake in 1907, likely also impacted the cemetery. The Jewish community employs persons to care for the grounds, but there is still an incredible amount of work that needs to be done in order to maintain the site. There is also much work that needs to be continued with regard to inventorying, as the March 2009 work achieved documentation of only a small portion of the cemetery.
Building relationships with Jamaican Jews such as Michael Cohen and Michael Nunes added to the experience of the CVE volunteers and hopefully our Jamaican Jewish counterparts will continue to work with CVE groups in the future. The work week also included a visit from the Archaeological Society of Jamaica along with Professor James Robertson from the University of The West Indies.
ISJM Helps Fund Documentation of 18th Jewish Cemetery at Hunt’s Bay, Jamaica
(Ainsley Henriques, Rachel Frankel, Anne Hersh and Samuel Gruber contributed to this article)
In January (2008), Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions (CVE) sponsored a successful project to inventory and document existing conditions of the historic Hunt’s Bay Jewish Cemetery, the oldest known Jewish cemetery in Jamaica. ISJM provided logistical support and funds to purchase equipment necessary for the survey.
The cemetery was the burial place for Jews, many fleeing the Inquisition and anti-Semitism in Europe. They came to Port Royal, the 17th century entré port, a desolate sandy spit at the end of what is now known as the Palisadoes peninsula enclosing Kingston Harbor. They found freedom to worship with few restrictions (but higher taxes). Burial at Port Royal were not allowed, so Jews rowed the dead (as in Amsterdam & Venice) across the harbor to the now isolated cemetery at Hunt’s Bay. Neglected for the most of the last century, the cemetery was overgrown and unkempt. Aware of the need to care for the historic site where the oldest grave known dates to 1672, Ainsley Henriques of the United Congregation of Israelites Shaare Shalom Synagogue of Jamaica arranged for it to be cleared.
CVE’s mission is to assist Caribbean agencies and organizations with historic preservation projects. CVE has worked in many Caribbean countries over the past sixteen years and has worked on Jewish cemetery documentation in Spanish Town and Falmouth, Jamaica. The United Congregation of Israelites Shaare Shalom Synagogue of Jamaica together with the Jamaican Heritage Center contributed the boundary survey of Hunt’s Bay Cemetery in digitized and hard format, services of a professional local photographer and local transportation for CVE team, all of whom were volunteers, who paid their own expenses.
ISJM member and architect Rachel Frankel, who served as one of the leaders for the Falmouth Jewish Cemetery documentation project, led the work at Hunt’s Bay. Ms. Frankel has previously worked extensively in documenting the Jewish sites of Suriname, especially the remains of the 1685 Bracha v’Shalom synagogue, and three historic Jewish cemeteries.
The documentation at Hunt’s Bay includes:
• A map of the cemetery
• Photographs of each gravestone (in color digital and black and white 35mm)
• Assessment of the art, architecture and condition of each grave
• Transcription and translation of the multi-lingual epitaphs, checked against the work published in The Jews of Jamaica by Barnett and Wright.
• Indices of names, dates, etc.
All documentation from the project is now being sorted, analyzed and digitized. At the completion of the project, hard and digitized copies will be presented to The United Congregation of Israelites Shaare Shalom Synagogue of Jamaica as well as to the AJA (American Jewish Archives) in Cincinatti. The AJA will also receive the original field notes. ISJM will assure the material is publicly accessible – much of it on-line.
Concurrent with the documentation project was the XIth annual conference of the Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean (UJCL), held at Kingston. The UJCL represents Progressive and Conservative congregations in Aruba, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curacao, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Surinam. Trinidad and Tobago were admitted for membership during the Kingston conference. The highlight of the conference was a tour the Hunt’s Bay Cemetery. The entire conference traveled to the cemetery, inspected the graves, heard a short set of lectures on the work being done by the CVE volunteers and then held hands in a large circle and recited the Mourners Kaddish. The project has inspired UJCL members to call for more Jewish heritage documentation and preservation in the Caribbean and South America. ISJM encourages its members to step forward to help achieve this goal.
Photos and Links
Marco Werman's report on Public Radio International's "The World"
An audio and visual tour of the project from Febraury 25, 2008.
The Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean (UJCL) conference in Kingston
United Congregation of Israelites
The Jewish community of Jamaica.
Photos of Hunt's Bay Cemetery
Extensive photos of the cemetery taken by one of the volunteers.
updated 15 May 2009