- SURINAME, republic on the northeastern coast of South America, between Guiana (formerly British Guiana), Brazil, and French Guyana and bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean. The first permanent settlement was founded in 1652 by the English governor of Barbados, Francis Lord Willoughby, and three vessels with English and Jewish settlers were sent to Suriname. Jews leaving Remire in french Guyana joined them in 1663. A second group from Remire was brought to Suriname by English ships in 1667. Maps from that same year show Jewish plantations in the colony. On August 17, 1665, the English authorities published an official grant of privileges to the Hebrew Nation in Suriname, to be considered Englishborn, to practice and perform all ceremonies and customs of their religion, including marriages and wills, the observance of Sabbath and holidays, to maintain a tribunal of their own, and a grant of a plot of land in the capital, Thorarica, for a place of worship, a school, and a cemetery. In 1667, the Dutch occupied Suriname and confirmed the privileges given to the Jews; in 1669 additions were made to them giving permission to work on Sundays, with free passage on that day and also noting that Spanish-Portuguese Jews "having been plagued by debts on property seized by the Inquisition, should not be seized for non-payment." A special military unit was composed of Jews. With these privileges the Dutch prevented the evacuation of the Jews as English citizens to jamaica , and only a small group left. On a hill on the banks of the Cassipoera creek, where the majority of the Cayenne Jews had settled, a wooden synagogue was consecrated; downhill a Jewish cemetery was located, its oldest grave dating from 1667. Gradually Jews moved to a healthier area on the banks of the Suriname River, where they were joined by the Jews in Thorarica. The region, still called the "Jewish Savanna," began to flourish. Jewish knowledge of planting and processing sugar and other tropical produce attained a high level. A township known geographically as "Jews Town" (Joods Dorp) was called by the Jews "Jerusalem on the Riverside." In 1685 a brick synagogue was built called Berakha ve-Shalom, which also housed communal authorities and the Jewish Court of Law. The plantations around it that became small settlements had biblical names, such as Mahanaim, Succoth, Gilgal, Beersheba, Carmel, Goshen. By 1694 the population of the Savanna was composed of 570 Jews employing 9,000 laborers in 40 plantations; in the mid-eighteenth century the Jewish population reached 2,000, the majority of the white population of Suriname, in 115 plantations, employing tens of thousands of workers. Portuguese Jews from Amsterdam and Ashkenazi Jews from Rotterdam joined their brothers in Suriname. In 1759 a "siva" (brotherhood) of liberated slaves and mulattoes descended from Jewish planters was established, called "Darkhe Yesharim" (The Way of the Righteous), whose members gradually became assimilated into the Jewish community after following the Jewish faith and intermarrying with Jews. A series of disastrous attacks by the French navy, slave rebellions, and the production of sugar from beets in Europe led to the decline of the Jewish Savanna at the end of the eighteenth century. The planters began moving to the capital Paramaribo; in the nineteenth century about one hundred impoverished Jews still lived in the Savanna, with Jewish residence continuing until the synagogue was destroyed by fire in 1932. In Paramaribo the community became one of small shopkeepers, anti-Jewish feelings became more prominent, and in 1925 the special privileges of the Jews were discontinued. The Portuguese Jewish synagogue Zedek ve-Shalom was erected in Paramaribo in 1716, followed by the High German (Ashkenazi) synagogue Neve Shalom in 1735. The floors of the two synagogues are covered with sand and the Sephardi rite is followed in them. By the close of the 20th century the two communities were praying together. The Jewish population dropped to 1,500 at the beginning of the 20th century; in 1923, there were 1,818 Jews. By the time of the independence of Suriname (1975), it had declined to 500 and by the end of the 20th century it was about 200 among a general population of 400,000. The Neve Shalom synagogue was restored at the end of the 20th century. The furnishings of Zedek ve-Shalom were transferred to the Israel Museum, and the building abandoned. Community life, however, still functions. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. d. I. Cohen Nassy, Essai Historique sur la Colonie de Surinam: sa foundation, ses revolutions, ses progres, depuis son origine jusqu'a nos jours (1788; Eng. trans., in Papers of the AJA, No. 8 (1974); F. Oudshans Dentz, De Kolonisatie van de Portugeesch Joodsche natie in Suriname en geschiedene van de Joden Savanne (1925); M. Arbell, The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean – The Spanish-Portuguese Jewish Settlements in the Caribbean and the Guianas (2003); Ph. A. Samson, Historische Proeve over de Kolonie Suriname (1948). (Mordechai Arbell (2nd ed.)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.