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Review: The Sephardi Jews of Barbados 1627-1934
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
Montreal, QC
Thursday, April 27, 2023

Review: The Sephardi Jews of Barbados 1627-1934

Author: Simon Kreindler

ISBN: 978-0-9959294-1-8

Simon Kreindler's recently published tome, THE SEPHARDI JEWS OF BARBADOS (1627 – 1934), presents an all-encompassing account of the Sephardic Jewish community that settled on the Caribbean island of Barbados, which, despite its petite size, played a pivotal role in the island's growth and history.

For readers who are not aware of Barbados, it is a small island nation in the eastern Caribbean Sea, initially occupied by Amerindians and later colonized by the English in 1625. After three centuries as a British colony, Barbados gained independence in 1966.

Initially, the Sephardic Jews, hailed from the Iberian Peninsula and were forced to depart during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. They found safe haven in different areas of the New World, including Barbados.

Kreindler, who spent his formative years in Barbados, provides valuable insights into the experiences and contributions of this community in his work, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the Sephardic Jewish diaspora.

The book is composed of fifteen chapters, four appendices, a glossary, bibliography, index, and a conclusion that describes the author.

To say the book is fascinating is an understatement. It covers a wide range of topics, including the first Sephardim of Bridgetown, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, Speightown's Sephardi Magnates, scholarly works created by members of the Barbados Sephardi community, the clergy of Nidhe Israel, the community's philanthropy, its presence during the 18th and 19th centuries, its ultimate decline, the Baeza family, and the sale, reuse, rescue, and renovation of the synagogue.

One of the many sections that caught my attention centers on the early Sephardic Jewish community in Bridgetown. Archived documents suggest that the first Sephardic Jews arrived in Bridgetown in the mid-17th century after the British takeover of the island from the Dutch. These Jews are believed to have fled from Dutch Brazil, a place where many Jews had previously lived, or possibly from Amsterdam. While the precise timeline of the establishment of a Sephardic population in Barbados is unclear, Jewish people or households began moving there from Amsterdam or Brazil by the 1640s.

Another absorbing chapter focuses on the Nidhe Israel Synagogue. Kreindler challenges the commonly held belief that the synagogue was constructed in 1654, citing a lack of evidence. Instead, Kreindler proposes it is more likely that the synagogue was built in 1664, as there was no organized Sephardi congregation in Bridgetown in 1654. To support his argument, Kreindler cites several sources.

The chapter titled "Bridgetown's Sephardi Magnates" references Martyn J. Bowden's article "Houses, Inhabitants and Levies: Place for the Sephardic Jews of Bridgetown, Barbados 1679-1729" from the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. Bowden refers to the period of 1676-1689 as the "Golden Age of the Jewish Magnates," and the chapter provides brief biographical information on some of these individuals. The next chapter, "Sephardi Magnates of Speightstown," discusses the town on the northwestern coast of Barbados, which was the first landing place of the island's first settlers and became a bustling port with the development of sugar plantations. In the same way as Bridgetown, the Sephardic Jewish community held a great importance in the town's growth and legacy.

THE SEPHARDI JEWS OF BARBADOS (1627 – 1934)is without doubt an influential and well-researched study that presents clear writing and is sustained by multiple sources.

Moreover, the tome encompasses several captivating photos that offer a vibrant and stirring addition to its tale, giving readers a deeper comprehension of the Sephardim Jewish experience in Barbados.

Additionally, readers will also find a helpful glossary to assist them in understanding unfamiliar terminology

In the end, we are left with a profound appreciation for the fortitude, inventiveness, and toughness of this remarkable community. It is strongly recommended for individuals interested in Jewish history, the Caribbean, or the Sephardic Jewish diaspora. We are reminded of the lingering impact of the Sephardim of Barbados, and their long-lasting contributions to the quilt of Jewish life and culture.


 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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