The Caribbean, the place for the ideal island escape, with its sunny skies, tropical drinks and culture, is abundant with themes of diversity amongst its people that inhabit its various countries. These themes are very common, especially in Brooklyn, where encountering an individual with a Caribbean background is as easy as encountering someone with a Jewish background. One would think that there is much rarity that exists, of finding an individual who attains both a Jewish and Caribbean background, especially in the Americas. On the contrary, the history of the emergence of Jewish people, culture, etc. in the Caribbean has not been a mystery.
Dating back to the exploration of Christopher Columbus, Jewish culture made its way to the Americas as early as 1494 (Reffes, 2015). During this time, Jews in Spain and Portugal faced what was known as the “Spanish expulsion,” where people of Jewish background were driven out of these regions. These Jews were mostly Sephardic, with origins based in either Spain or Portugal. In the teachings of Caribbean history, learners were often taught of the conquests that took place, which often included religious, cultural and political takeovers. What hasn’t been taught on the other hand, is the Jewish ties that are so very evident in the Caribbean and their continuous existence today. After, what was referred to as the “second diaspora,” Sephardic Jews were ousted from Spain as well as Portugal, and resettled in the new world in hopes of escaping any forms of persecution (Bennett, 1993). In this new world, Jews still unfortunately faced a period where religious freedom was not much tolerated, resulting in the practice of Judaism behind closed doors, and the practice of Christianity in public. There were also laws that existed which delimited Jews from holding monetary or political power, which also occurred to Jews that lived in Muslim lands. Upon their arrival specifically to the areas in the Caribbean however, Jewish communities began to rise. During the mid- 1600’s, countries like Curacao, Jamaica, Barbados, Surinam saw large masses to their islands (Stein, 2011).
Jewish communities grew successful in the Caribbean because of their knowledge in trade as well as being known as great businessmen, with strong industrious backgrounds. Jews began trade routes from the Caribbean to their mother islands during the time. With the Jews’ success, also came further restrictions that would tax Jewish trade. With starting a new life, the Jews merchants introduced the islands to new things, such as the importance of sugar, and sugar canes, which serve as a staple in many Caribbean islands today. (Bennett, 1993)
Now, these Jewish communities, that were once so prominent in the Caribbean’s many successes, are said to be almost extinct with increased intermarriage, emigration and assimilation into other cultures. According to Mocha Juden, a biracial Jewish blogger, there are about 5 synagogues that remain, as well as a few cemeteries that have yet to be destroyed by natural disasters or deterioration. Though not much is known of the exact numbers of Jews that exist today, young Jewish communities are still making efforts to flourish in the islands once more.
Bennett, Ralph G. “History of the Jews of the Caribbean , by Ralph G.Bennett.” History of the Jews of the Caribbean , by Ralph G.Bennett. Institut Sépharade Européen, 1993. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
“Jews Of The Caribbean Islands.” Mocha Juden. N.p., 11 Aug. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
Wellner, Alison Stein. “Jewish Barbados? Tracking Down The Tribe in the Caribbean.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 May 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
Reffes, Melanie. “The Secret History of the Jewish Caribbean.” The Secret History of the Jewish Caribbean. USA Today, 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
Stein, Alison J. “Jewish Barbados? Images to Accompany My Huffington Post Piece.” Very Curious Mind. WordPress.com, 13 Mar. 2009. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.