Books I Love – Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean

One doesn’t often think “Jewish” when they hear the word “Caribbean,” but Photographer Wyatt Gallery has captured a nearly-extinct world of wonder in his remarkable new book, Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean.

In modern times, the Caribbean is viewed mainly as a vacation and Honeymoon spot, but hundreds of years ago, it was a safe haven for Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution. They established communities in Aruba, Barbados, Curacao, Jamaica, St. Thomas, St. Eustatius, and Suriname, which thrived for centuries and are home to the Western hemisphere’s oldest synagogues and cemeteries.

Thumbing through the colorful pages is a true delight, allowing the reader to journey through time, back to a world filled with brightly painted buildings, ornate gravestones, sand-strewn floors, and candlelit chandeliers.

One of the things that surprised me most was the extravagance on display. Neve Shalom Synagogue in Suriname has eleven Torahs (rare today even in the wealthiest American congregations). The obvious pride and love for Judaism is so touching!

Sadly, modern “progress” has taken over in unexpected ways, demonstrated perfectly in this photo, taken in Curacao: an oil refinery was built adjacent to the Beth Haim Cemetery, corroding many of the stones from pollution.

Without preservation, what’s left of these dwindling communities could disappear forever—a true tragedy. Only five historic synagogues remain left in use, and many of the cemeteries have been damaged or lost as well. 

Should the worst come to pass, when nothing is left standing, Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean will serve as a moving tribute to these extraordinary landmarks, creating a photographic legacy of a little known Jewish experience. This book should be in the collection of every history buff.