Jewish Suriname

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I’ve recently become obsessed with the idea of going to Suriname. Until about a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what continent Suriname is on without checking an atlas, but when I saw it on a map recently I remembered that Suriname is home to the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. It’s also supposed to be a gorgeous country, great for vacationing, warm, and home to rainforests where scientists continue to discover tons of previously unknown animals. sandyfloor_1.jpg

Suriname is located just on top of Brazil, between French Guiana and Guyana (Suriname was once called Dutch Guyana) along the Atlantic Ocean. Jews first ended up in Suriname when they left Portugal and Spain around 1630. I guess Dutch colonies seemed like relatively safe places for Jews, and in the 1660s they founded a Jewish community. Apparently they were first called “Congregation of Cayenne” which I love because it proves that Jews are and always have been spicy. Eventually they built a synagogue, called Beracha Ve Shalom in Jodensavanna (Jewish Savannah). Today that synagogue is in ruins, but you can go see it, and the adjacent cemetery. There is one active synagogue in Paramaribo, the capitol, and it looks awesome — it even has a sandy floor, a custom meant to remind us of the forty years we spent wandering in the desert. Cool!

I did some looking around online about tourism in Suriname and almost every place I looked mentioned going to see Suriname’s synagogues — both the ancient and the active. Nice to see that the tourism industry is aware of this cool piece of Jewish history. I hope I can send some notes from the front soon. B’shana haba’ah b’Suriname?

Posted on July 14, 2009

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