An Eye Looks Towards The West: A Jewish Colony in the Caribbean.

I'm excited to start my first timeline here. With that being said, I cannot make any promises as to how this turns out. I don't consider myself a good writer, I only have slightly more than a month until I start grad school, and I have the attention span of a lobotomized goldfish. But hey, can't hurt to try, right?
Caribbean probably would be quiet hard place keep Jewish state when many colonial powers would are intrested about them. Jewish state would need support of some strong European nation but not sure which when all European nations were more or lesser antisemitic.

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What is the date for a possible colony? Who is the sponsor; US, UK, France ????
Prelude: Who Shall Ascend into the Mountain of the Lord

Following the horrors that Their Catholic Majesties subjected the Jews of Spain and Portugal to less than two centuries ago, any place of refuge would have sufficed. With nothing but their faith, connections, and that which they could carry on their backs, the Nação resettled and regrouped in Europe and beyond. Bayonne, Livorno, London, and Salonika were but some of the places that allowed the dispossessed of Israel to unload their burdens. Though they dispersed throughout the Mediterranean, Sepharad lived on in their hearts, their tongues, and their prayers. Among themselves, they were merely Am Yisrael . Adrift among foreigners as well as foreign Jews, they became a collective in their own right, Sepharadim . Among those Sepharadim who gravitated to the ways of Eisav over those of Ishmael; there was no more illustrious place than Amsterdam. In an environment of religious tolerance, they gradually came out of the woodwork to reclaim what was stolen from them. The Holy Tongue rang out once more, and men of all ages were inducted into the Covenant of Abraham. Over time, the Kahal grew prosperous, and its members grew acculturated. The tone of their prayers was Western, and their hakhamim dressed in the garb of Christian ministers. The Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam became the flagship of the European Portuguese Sepharadim . Though they spoke the Portuguese tongue among themselves, and they fiercely guarded their faith from any heresies, the community was tolerated in its own right; albeit begrudgingly by some.


In 1639, a gallant Englishman by the name of Baron Francis Willougbhy led an expedition to cultivate the land that now makes up the Republic of Suriname and the Dutch constituent country of Machseh; setting out to cultivate enough sugar and coffee to sate the British palate. In order to attract workers to the latest of the King's dominions; Baron Willoughby granted permission for an enterprising group of twelve hundred Sepharadim from Recife, in the Dutch territory of Brazil, to settle in his new colony, that they may plant, work, and produce new settlers. Using their prior experience, they immediately set up vast plantations of sugarcane. Attracted by the successes of their brethren, several more groups of Jewish settlers arrived in Willoughbyland over the years; forming plantations in the manner of their forbearers. In 1654, their population was bolstered by a group of fifty-four Jewish refugees fleeing the recapture of Brazil by the Portuguese. They originally embarked for New Amsterdam, and received respite in the colony for a few week, but were forcefully extirpated by Director-General Stuyvesant. A staunch Calvinist, Stuyvesant would not allow "the deceitful race, — such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ, — be not allowed to further infect and trouble this new colony." It was bad enough that he had to tolerate the Jewish traders that were already present, but under no circumstances would he accept a group of beggars. No doubt they would cling to their sinful ways, and to do so while placing their burdensome selves in the care of good Christians was too much to bear. Not to mention that if he accepted the Jews, he would have no excuse to deny tolerance to the Quakers, Lutherans, and Catholics. They were heretics-no doubt-but at least they professed belief in Christ.

It was these grievances that he explained to his superiors in the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch West India Company. The Director-General demanded that he be bestowed the authority to force these Jews "in a friendly way-to depart" his colony; adding that he too would depart if he was not granted permission. As much as the Company disagreed with Stuyvesant's decisions, they needed his steadfast governance to keep New Amsterdam in check; as well as to keep the English ships that prowled their shorelines at bay. The Company's concessions to Stuyvesant turned out to be for naught; as the English would obtain formal possession of New Amsterdam as part of the peace between themselves and the Dutch. In exchange, the Dutch kept possession of Willoughbyland-which they renamed "Suriname". The economically-minded Company upheld Willoughby's edict of tolerance, prompting Dutchmen of all faiths, as well as even more Jews, to buy up land in their new colony. At the same time, the first African slaves were imported to the new territory, being suffered to toil in the new plantations until they expired from exhaustion, or being burned or crushed to death in the sugar mills. At around fifteen hundred strong, the Jewish population of Suriname was prosperous, well-connected, and economically vibrant. In due time, it would be both expanded and altered by an enterprising young Jewish planter, who would change the history of the region, and its people, for decades to come.

(Holy shit, this was hard. I hope to have one more thread out this week. I freely admit that this is going to be a bit of a Jew-wank, but I'll try not to make it into a full-blown circlejerk.)
The Caribbean was the most valuable real estate in the world in the late 17th and 18th century. Did some Googling to make sure I had my facts straight, and found a source that said that in 1774, Jamaica had more wealth than the entire colony of Virginia on ~1/15th the land area and 1/22nd the free population. To quote a line from the paper,
"only four people from the 598 in New England and the Middle Colonies whose 1774 inventories were analysed by Jones left estates whose value exceeded that of the average Jamaican wealth holder." It was basically a colony of white millionaires.

I see that OP's started his timeline earlier than that, but it still feels to me like taking a bunch of modern-day refugees from say Syria and rehoming them in the Hollywood Hills. A couple of Jews with fewer qualms about slavery might get in on the ground floor and become fabulously wealthy, but I can't see them reaching the population to become say an "island Israel" with so many Europeans eventually pushing to move there and so much potential money that could price them out. Guess we'll see how the TL goes.
The Caribbean was the most valuable real estate in the world in the late 17th and 18th century. Did some Googling to make sure I had my facts straight, and found a source that said that in 1774, Jamaica had more wealth than the entire colony of Virginia on ~1/15th the land area and 1/22nd the free population. To quote a line from the paper,
"only four people from the 598 in New England and the Middle Colonies whose 1774 inventories were analysed by Jones left estates whose value exceeded that of the average Jamaican wealth holder." It was basically a colony of white millionaires.

I see that OP's started his timeline earlier than that, but it still feels to me like taking a bunch of modern-day refugees from say Syria and rehoming them in the Hollywood Hills. A couple of Jews with fewer qualms about slavery might get in on the ground floor and become fabulously wealthy, but I can't see them reaching the population to become say an "island Israel" with so many Europeans eventually pushing to move there and so much potential money that could price them out. Guess we'll see how the TL goes.

Judaism allow the conversion of slaves to Judaism. If a Jewish caribbean colony is established by Jewish merchant under a state which cared little about the slaves religion (Netherlands, Denmark or Sweden), and the colony was home to Rabbi who want to convert the slaves, we could see such a island become home to a community of Jewish People of Color, beside the White Jews of the islands, with the Christian community limited to the local garrison. Later such a state if it had a good climate could see a influx of European and Middle Eastern Jews, especially if we see the island gaining independence.
Judaism allow the conversion of slaves to Judaism. If a Jewish caribbean colony is established by Jewish merchant under a state which cared little about the slaves religion (Netherlands, Denmark or Sweden), and the colony was home to Rabbi who want to convert the slaves, we could see such a island become home to a community of Jewish People of Color, beside the White Jews of the islands, with the Christian community limited to the local garrison. Later such a state if it had a good climate could see a influx of European and Middle Eastern Jews, especially if we see the island gaining independence.

Close, but no cigar. 😉


In real life there was a Dutch Jewish colony in Suriname called Jodesavanne which relied on plantation slave labor but disease, sugar beet competition, a French captain attacks and revolts from the natives and slaves led to it's failure and abandonment in 1832. A successful and longer-lasting Jodesavanne would drastically alter Zionism assuming if everything else in the timeline stays the same as OTL since you now already have a Jewish homeland in South America and thus it might affect how Israel comes into being.
1664-1672/5424-5432: Next Year in Freedom

By 1665, the nascent Jewish colony in Suriname held a vibrant population of about fifteen hundred and twenty Jews; with some four thousand Negroes and a handful of Indians in their service. There were seventy- two plantations overall: consisting of around a thousand acres each, bearing names that reflected both the origins and hopes of their owners. Solomon Meza’s Jericho was renowned for its sugarcane, while Haim Nieto’s Hatikvah grew coffee that was enjoyed on both sides of the Atlantic. The Jewish magnates of the area had their every whim attended to by their bondsmen. They could afford to sit leisurely on their verandahs and learn a page of the Law among themselves. Nowhere else in the Jewish world was the Sabbath more leisurely than in Suriname. They traded with Dutch and English planters for materiel, crops, and bondsmen. For the area’s tree-spotted yet grassy landscape, the Dutchmen began to refer to region of settlement as Jodensavanne. The name was originally bestowed in jest, but it would soon catch on among the locals as well as the Dutchmen. In the center of the new town, the community’s first synagogue had been inaugurated. Beracha V’Shalom was an impressive structure; but everything was impressive to these Jews who had gone from persecution to freedom in what felt like a very small lapse of time. There was a ritual slaughterer, a ritual circumciser, a mikveh, and a school that taught the first generation of native-born Jewish children the ways of their ancestors. Almost everything the community needed, save for a hakham. In the meantime, there was an excellent hazzan that, though he had not received semikha, could suffice for now. Unlike in other parts of the Caribbean, where the Jewish planters would rather fit in with the Gentiles than observe the commandments; the Jewish colony was fiercely protective of its faith and the practices thereof. After centuries of being hunted down for their faith, they were not about to abandon it when faced with luxury. Now that they were free, they would exercise that freedom in almost every respect. Their observance of the Law was not ideal as they would like to admit, as the treatment of their Negroes would attest to, but they excelled in other matters of daily piety.


Pesah-15 April 1672 - Nisan, 5432:

In a grand, isolated plantation, an anxious man paced rapidly in his study. David Cohen Nassy, or José Nunes da Fonseca as his Gentile colleagues knew him, was concerned about the future of his home. Nassy had been responsible for organizing much of the settlement of Jodensavanne. Barred by the French from settling several Jewish families in Cayenne, he moved his flock to Suriname instead. Now the magnates of the colony not only looked to him for the expansion of trade, but for the propagation of Jewish settlement. While there was no official governor of Jodensavanne, if there was one, it would have been him. Sitting down at his desk with what could have been his seventh cup of coffee-he had lost track at this point-Nassy reviewed the colony’s figures again for what would be the final time that night. While the colony was strong for now, he knew that his people's brief respite would not last for much longer if he couldn't expand the settlement. He could easily expand the area itself if he wanted to, there were plenty of plantations for sale, but that would be useless if there were no Jews to develop them. Not to mention that the local Indians were getting restless. The night watchmen had reported Carib scouting parties staking out the outskirts of the colony. Talk had reached the community, and people were getting nervous. Nassy sighed, got up, and strode rapidly towards the window. The sun was rapidly setting, and he had little time to prepare before he would be expected at the Haggadah; there would be time to work later that night. One of his Negroes came to fetch him several minutes later. Nassy donned his coat and strode rapidly out of his study, his gait reflecting his anxieties.


The Jewish families of Suriname spared no expense for Pesah, least of all the Nassys’. Kilograms upon kilograms of matzah was ordered from Amsterdam; as well as rice, lentils, maize flour, and other necessities to make the holiday livable. Under the stern watch of their matrons, Negroes owned by Jewish families were hard at work making the house free of any trace of leavened bread. Those same Negroes then were compelled to scramble to the mikveh as fast as they could, laden with as many dishes as they could carry. Everything had to be made ritually permissible for Pesah, which required purification in water. As per Jewish law, families sold their leavened products to their English and Dutch neighbors for the duration of the holiday; with the expectation that it would be returned once the prohibition on the five forbidden grains had run its course. Some planters gave away bottles of whiskey and sacks of flour to the Indians; hoping that these gifts would foster some goodwill and keep them away for a bit longer.

Under Nassy’s direction, a dining table set for at least thirty people had been constructed in his garden. A canvas canopy and accompanying poles had been set up over the table to allow the cool Caribbean night air to circulate. The entourage for the meal consisted of Nassy at the head of the table, his wife Rivkah, their twelve children, several of his fellow Jewish planters and their families, and an open-minded Dutchman who was curious about his neighbors’ customs. There were four plates laden with the ritual items: a lamb shank, a vegetable (cassava, in this case) and saltwater, a boiled egg, and the fruit and wine paste known as haroseth. There were no traditional bitter herbs available, so a chili pepper would have to suffice. Adjacent to each ritual plate, there was another plate consisting of matzah piled as high as it could possibly go while still being presentable. At the very end of the table, on the right side of the Dutchman, there was an empty seat to be reserved for the prophet Elijah.

When everyone was seated save for Nassy, the planter made a grand entrance. The guests rose as Nassy solemnly walked to his seat at the end of the table, flanked by a crew of Negro waiters in resplendent blue livery, bearing covered dishes of all sorts. The order of the ritual commenced as it always did. Nassy chanted the benediction over the wine, they washed their hands, they dipped their cassava in saltwater and ate it. Once the cassava was consumed, Nassy directed a Negro boy to hand him a piece of matzah that was just slightly out of reach. Once he had the piece in hand, he held it aloft to display to the whole table. Save for the Dutchman, all chanted at once in Hebrew and Portuguese respectively:

"Ha lachma anya di achalu avhatana b’ara d’mitzrayim. Kol dichfin yeitei v’yeichol, kol ditzrich yeitei v’yifsach. Hashata hacha, l’shanah habaah b’ara d’Yisrael. Hashata avdei, l’shanah habaah b’nei chorin!"

"This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All those who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate the Passover. Now we are here. Next year in the land of Israel. This year we are enslaved. Next year we will be free!"

Out of his peripheral vision, Nassy glimpsed the Negro boy rolling his eyes.

(Okay! I figured that would be a good place to end this for tonight before I pass out. The next update should come out sometime in forty-eight hours.)
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Good (first-part of the) update! Nice to see the Jodensavanne Jews doing good for themselves, though Nassy is right — they better be careful, lest גַּם זֶה יַעֲבֹר.
Fan of the sassy slave, too.
Pesah-15 April 1674/ 4 Nissan 5434

The Haggadah would end late that night. There was plenty of singing, lively conversation in a variety of languages, and more than one glass of rum. Even the Dutchman sang Hallel as he was loaded into his carriage by his Negro driver. David Cohen Nassy however, remained steadfastly sober. As much as he would love a l’chaim, he needed to get back to work the moment he was able. After bidding his guests goodbye, and his family goodnight, he returned to his duties. Anticipating his needs, one of his Negro footmen was already there, still in his livery and powdered wig, to meet him with a full coffeepot, cup, saucer, and a tray of almond biscuits specially prepared for the holiday.

“Thank you, Yitzhak.” Nassy addressed the footman.

“It was my pleasure, sir.” Replied Yitzhak. “Will that be all?”

“Yes, goodnight.” Nassy said, a bit more curtly than he intended.

“Goodnight, sir.” Yitzhak said as he began to exit the room. Before closing the door, Yitzhak poked his head back in and said “L'shana haba'ah b'Yerushalayim.”

That phrase out of that mouth made Nassy turn his head sharply around. He knew Yitzhak had some familiarity with his religion, all house slaves owned by Jews did. Like any other Jewish planter, Nassy personally oversaw Yitzhak’s circumcision and ritual immersion in the mikveh when he bought him fifteen years ago. He himself said the Hebrew benediction over the confused, scared teenager, who was then unfamiliar with that language. There were hundreds, possibly thousands of Negroes in the same condition as Yitzhak: not Jewish enough to participate in a quorum of prayer, or to be called to read from the sacred Torah, but Jewish enough to serve their masters kosher food. There were times when he heard some his Negroes attempt to pray in the cane fields; singing out in some bastardized combination of Hebrew, Portuguese, Dutch, and the African languages they brought with them. Yitzhak, on the other hand, was on the same level as a free Jew; albeit one without much formal education. As Nassy mulled over Yitzhak’s intermediate status, an idea began to form. On his bookshelf there were the collected rulings of Maimonides, the Mishneh Torah. Every Sabbath, after services, he took an hour or two to study the rulings of the most esteemed scholar of the Jewish world. Nassy knew that the Rambam had rulings on slavery, but he had not studied them in some time. He picked up one of the books off the shelf, brought it back to his desk, and turned to the second chapter to find an especially pertinent passage.

"A Hebrew servant who is sold by the court {and one who sells himself} can be acquired through the transfer of money or articles worth money or the transfer of a deed of sale. What is implied? The person selling himself writes on a paper or a shard: "I am sold to you," or "I have been acquired by you," and gives him the deed. If the court has sold him, he serves six years from the day he was sold. At the beginning of his seventh year he goes free. If the sabbatical year intervenes during the six years, he continues to serve in it. If, however, the Jubilee year intervenes, even though he was sold only one year before Jubilee, he goes free, as it is written : "He shall serve with you only until the Jubilee year" (Leviticus 25:40). "In this year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession" ."

Interesting. The Rambam was referring to Hebrew slaves, but the pitiful creatures owned by Nassy and his ilk were not Israelites.

"....but they could be made Israelites." thought Nassy aloud.

As far as he knew, it was theoretically permissible. Jews traditionally did not proselytize. Nassy and his kind came to Suriname to escape persecution and make money, not to convert the heathen. However, there were several Jewish planters who manumitted mulatto children they had fathered by their Negresses, then sent them through pro-forma conversions to be recognized as Jewish. Nassy himself was among them: his youngest daughter, Esther, was born to a now-deceased Negress by the name of Maria. After a violent death in the cane mill only two years after he bought her; it would have been wrong to let this young girl he had fathered in a night of passion grow up without parents. Nassy brought the babe to the center of town and immersed her in the mikveh with the aid of the hazzan. Rivkah was not the least bit happy about it, but she learned to adapt. Nassy would have to get the advice of Torah scholars more proficient than himself, but there were none to be found in the whole of Jodensavanne that could tackle this inquiry. Thankfully, Nassy had another idea. He had recently acquired another three thousand acres from an Englishman that was departing for Virginia. Land was both more plentiful and cheaper over there. His estate included thirty Negroes fit for service, their children, and ten Indians. Nassy had originally intended to experiment with coffee on the land, but finally getting Jodensavanne a hakham seemed like a better option. If his experiment were to work however, he would need more than one hakham willing to teach Torah to a mass of converts; not to mention another mohel and a shochet to let them be self-sufficient. Nassy knew for sure that the Sephardim would not let them use theirs.

Nassy wrote to any place his Sephardic brethren resided in great numbers. London, Amsterdam, Rome, Livorno, Charleston, Salonika, even Cochin. In his open letter, Nassy detailed a mass of Negroes wanting to be accepted into the People of the Book; and that his community did not have the resources to facilitate their conversion. The fact that Nassy doubted that his fellow planters would allow the conversion to happen was neither here nor there. He advertised parcels of land that were available for any learned men and their families who wished to settle in Jodensavanne, as well as a few Negroes tossed in for good measure. The land would be divided into parcels of six parcels of five hundred acres, and a selection of chattel would be available as well. The parcel that included the plantation house itself would be given to the first ordained man to respond, as well as the bulk of the Negroes. This was not a lot of land in comparison to the other planters in Jodensavanne; but Nassy was selling it for next to nothing, with tools included and crops included! Not to mention the price of a good Negro was worth a significant amount, and Nassy was practically giving them away. He would keep the Indians for himself as part of his experiment.

June 1677/ Tammuz 5437:

Five years later, Nassy’s gambit paid off. Not only had the general Jewish population had grown by approximately two hundred individuals in that timeframe as well, both from immigration and native-born individuals, but six families would answer his call to settle and convert the Africans. A pair of merchant brothers from Amsterdam with some Torah skill, a melamed from London, a shochet from Salonika, a mohel from Livorno, and joy of joys, a hakham from Cochin. Nassy had parceled out the land and contracted out Negro builders from Dutch and Jewish planters to build houses on the parcels of land that did not already have them. The notables would trickle in over a five-year span, with the Hakham arriving last. Combined with their extended families, and the autochthonous Indian Jewish servants brought by the Hakham, Nassy’s efforts would inflate the Jewish population of Jodensavanne by thirty-seven individuals. In total, Jodensavanne’s Jewish population would consist of 1737 individuals by 1772, with around 4500 Negroes in their ownership. Naturally, the Hakham's arrival would incite the most excitement among the denizens of Jodensavanne. On the twenty-fifth of June, the notables of Jodensavanne would come out to the docks to welcome and fete him that Tuesday afternoon, Nassy being at the forefront. The venerable Haim De Castro appeared as any other Portuguese Jew. Unlike the planters of Jodensavanne, he had a noticeable beard, neat sidelocks tucked behind his ears, and his Portuguese had a noticeable Indian accent when he spoke. After spending a few days getting to know the locals, Shabbat was observed with rigor. For the first time in Jodensavanne, the service in the synagogue was observed a proper fashion on Friday night and Saturday morning. The Hakham delivered a debar torah on this weeks parsha that the congregants listened to with rapture.

Upon the conclusion of Shabbat, Nassy took Hakham De Castro to his plantation to survey a sample of those who’s conversion he would hopefully soon oversee. A brief assessment of a few of Nassy’s slaves made it clear that most of them would be suitable for conversion. It would take time and effort, but it could be done. The teachers and mohelim assented to follow the hakham’s directive Now all that was left was to assemble the planters and sell them on the idea. On Monday morning, Nassy had a few of his Negro coachmen deliver a message to each plantation in Jodensavanne; that head of each household was to assemble in Beracha V’Shalom on Wednesday evening. Before business was conducted, everyone gathered to pray both minha and arbit consecutively-the afternoon and evening prayers. The spiritual essence of their tefilot was elevated by the presence of the Hakham. Once their prayers were concluded, the hakham the planters, and those who were otherwise educated in Torah matters gathered around Nassy to learn what they had assembled them for. He reminded them of the Indian raids that had been occurring on their plantations, and the ever-present threat they faced from the Maroons. The Jews of Jodensavanne represented a small island in a sea of people fundamentally opposed to their presence. If their settlement were to survive into the future, Jews would need to become the majority percentage the population in Jodensavanne. Taking a deep breath, Nassy explained that since that the process of transplanting groups of families took time they did not have, and money that would eventually run out, the only feasible way to achieve a higher Jewish population was to elevate those Negroes of intermediate status to that of a full Israelite, and count them as a fellow free Jew. Naturally, this idea provoked an outcry among the planters. Haim Nieto angrily accused Nassy of wanting to destroy their way of life, while Joseph Lopes recalled the curse that God afflicted upon the children of Ham.

“If God did not want the Negroes bondage, he would not have allowed us to come here!” someone shouted, prompting even more pandemonium in the synagogue.

“BE SILENT!” yelled the hakham. One could have heard a cricket rub its legs together in the stillness that followed.
Resuming his poised, aristocratic manner, the hakham went on to endorse Nassy’s proposal, and explain how the process of conversion would work. An endorsement from the hakham significantly assuaged the antipathy towards the idea. As hakham De Castro continued to explain, more and more of the planters began to see the merits of Nassy’s proposal. A vote was called, totaling to a two-thirds majority of Jodensavanne’s notables voting to the proposal. Further deliberation would be needed to assure the planters that their prestige and economic assets would remain in place. Eventually, it was determined that:

  1. All Negroes who had received circumcision and immersion in a mikveh to render them ritually permissible to serve Jewish masters would be manumitted, and made full Jews in every respect.
  2. A transitional period of ten years would still bind them to their masters' plantations for the duration. They would be paid a pittance for their labors.
  3. New slaves purchased after the date of the mass conversion would not be required to be manumitted.
  4. Any mulatto children fathered by Jewish men would automatically be subject to infant conversion.
  5. In order that the balance of power not be shifted in favor of the Negerjoden, as the planters pejoratively called them, Nassy and the other professional colonizers would be obligated to purchase more land and bring over a significant number of white Jews. Preferably fellow Sephardim, but they would take what they could get.
There was much grumbling. Hardly anybody was truly happy about the situation, but the magnates of Jodensavanne knew that without a significant increase in population, their happy settlement would be swallowed up by the jungle. Once a consensus was finally reached, the planters departed in decent company. The mohel went home to sharpen his tools, he was going to have a very busy couple of days.
August 1677/ Elul 5437:

On a temperate Monday morning, the sun slowly raised its head over the Suriname River. Several of the most prominent Jewish planters of Suriname, along with hundreds of enslaved men and women about to be freed from their masters, but bound to the Covenant of Abraham, were assembled on one of its banks. A few inquisitive English and Dutch planters and their wives were also invited to attend this unique occasion. Apart from a few Jewish women recruited to manage food and help keep the slaves calm, most of them elected to stay home. It would be more expedient to have the scene as un-cluttered as possible. The Jewish planters of Suriname were assembled in all their finery before the community’s notables, who stood atop of a hastily assembled dais. The hakham stood in the center, flanked by David Cohen Nassy and the presiding mohel. A case holding the community’s only Sefer Torah stood on a box at their feet. At the hakham’s signal, the Jewish men of Suriname donned their tallitot and tephillin to begin Shaharit. Many of the enslaved menfolk mumbled along with the Amidah and Hallel to varying degrees of proficiency. The community having neither a Cohen nor a Levy, Nassy was elected to receive the first Aliyah, followed by the mohel, and several other planters. One could see the vast array of Negroes listening to the hakham chant the verses of the holy Torah with rapture. The more knowledgeable of the group translated to those around them in hushed whispers. Tears could be seen in their eyes, for they knew not all the words, they knew these were the words of God. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, led His people away from Pharaoh’s bondage. It was God, and God alone who delivered the Israelites from Mitzrayim into the land that had been promised to their father, Abraham. He had delivered their masters from persecution in Sepharad, and now it was their turn to receive His magnanimous benevolence.

At the conclusion of the service, the worshippers stowed away their religious paraphernalia and Nassy took the forefront. He had spent sleepless nights drafting and redrafting this address countless times to make it work for all those assembled today. The planters were his primary audience, as many of them were still not entirely convinced that this scheme was in their best interest. Even so, the assembled Negroes were both the primary topic of discussion and most of his audience. Nassy needed to make himself understood by the entire assembly while not sacrificing his intellectual authority. With some trepidation, Nassy steadied himself and began to project his voice to the assembly in Portuguese:

“Friends, let us give thanks to our Lord for allowing us to gather today. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, chose Israel so that we may embody His goodness among the other nations. His hand sheltered us as our fathers journeyed from the Holy Land to Sepharad, so too has He guided us to this new world. God has granted us bounty and willed that our neighbors do not molest the peace of our colony. With this freedom comes the obligation to obey God and His edicts. We shall do so by enriching our world both spiritually and materially. Like all other Israelite souls, the souls of these Negroes were present at Sinai. Therefore, we shall bring them fully into the covenant our ancestors made with our Lord. As Ruth said to Naomi when she became one with Israel. “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

Nassy’s footman Yitzhak, and his family, were the first ones to be brought into the Covenant. Representing his wife and young sons, Yitzhak took an oath to renounce all idolatry and walk in the ways of Israel. Along with the mohel and hakham, Yitzhak and his two sons stepped behind a tall tree just in front of the bank. The three of them had already been circumcised, so all that needed to be done was the haftat dam berit-the ritual drop of blood drawn to induct one that had already been circumcised into the faith. Following the procedure, the hakham recited the appropriate benedictions, and the trio disrobed and immersed themselves in the river. Yitzhak and his boys dressed and re-appeared to a cheering crowd.

The hakham loudly chanted “Mi chamocha ba-elim Adonai? Mi kamocha nedar bakodesh? Norah t’hilot, oseh feleh!” To which the mass of weeping Negroes responded to with a jubilant “AMEN!

Yitzhak’s wife and Nassy’s remaining Negroes were the next to undergo giyur, and the process would repeat in batches throughout the week, pausing only for one of the most jubilant Sabbaths ever observed in Jodensavanne. Oaths were administered, prayers were chanted, circumcisions were performed, and medical herbs pressed onto the wounds. By the following Monday, the Jewish community of Suriname would number approximately seven thousand individuals.