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Jews in Suriname

Towards the end of the 15th century, as a result of the inquisition, a veritable slaughter took place among the Jews in Spain an Portugal and many of them were banished from these countries. In 1492, over 800.000 Jews were chased out of Spain and afterwards, in 1495, expelled from Portugal also. Most of them found their way to Italy, where they enjoyed the protection of the Pope. Another group took refuge in the newly discovered Brazil, where they founded flourishing plantations in co-operation with the Dutch who arrived there later. As the Portuguese, however, gained more power in this part of the world, the Jews again started to suffer from hostilities.

In 1654 the Portuguese who in the meantime had become a dominating power in that country, denied the Jews a longer stay in Brazil and another exodus started all over again. Part of them settled in the then Dutch colony of Cayenne.

Various sources give evidence that the first group of Jews already settled in Suriname as early as 1639. They came from Holland and Italy. These first Jewish colonists lived in the old capital of Suriname, Torarica, on the left hand bank of the Suriname river, approximately 40 kilometres south of Paramaribo. They at once started to lay out a number of sugar plantations. In 1652, a new group of Jews arrived in Suriname, together with the Englishman Lord Willoughby, and settled on the Savannah, situated near the Cassipora creek. This area is nowadays known as "Joden Savanne". In 1664 a third group of Jews arrived in Suriname, when the French took possession of the Dutch colony Cayenne. This group under the leadership of David Nassy fled to Suriname and joined the others at Joden Savanne. The Jews from Torarica also moved southwards to Joden Savanne.

On August 17, 1665, the British colonial government granted several very important privileges to the Jewish community in Suriname, including freedom of religion, a private civic guard and the permission to build their own churches and schools. The new law was a relief to this community, which had been persecuted all over the world because of its religious conviction. A start was made immediately with the building of some schools and a wooden synagogue at Cassipora. This synagogue was consecrated in 1671 by the "Joodse Burgerwacht Compagnie" (Jewish Civic Guard).

When Abraham Crijnssen captured Suriname for the Dutch province of Zeeland in 1667, it looked for some time as if the peace of the inhabitants of Joden Savanne would be disturbed again. But the Dutch Commander left the privileges given to the Jews by the English undisturbed.