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Education | History Jodensavanne | Jodensavanne beth-ahaim

Jodensavanne beth-ahaim




The Jodensavanne beth-ahaim, Jodensavanne Cemetery, House of Life, as a Jewish cemetery is called in Hebrew was documented in 1999 by a team of volunteers organized by Rachel Frankel. The cemetery counts 462 tombstones and has a surface of about 6600 M2. Most of the tombstones are oriented along an east-west axis. A minority, concentrated in the eastern part of the cemetery, lie in a north-south orientation. The cemetery has been used simultaneously with the one at Cassipora. The oldest graves are from the second half of the 17th century (1683), while the newest grave is from 1873. Many names that are on the markers are still well-known in Surinamese society. Often family members are buried in proximity to one another. For example, the De La Parra-family occupies an entire plot. The texts on the stones are in Hebrew, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch. The Hebrew texts are often quotations from the bible that relate to the name of the deceased. On almost every stone the letters “S” or “SA” are engraved. This is short for the Portuguese word “sepultura”, which means tombstone. The letters “SAGDG” are abbreviation for “Sua Alma Goze Da Gloria”: “May his soul delight in glory”. Not all graves have a tombstone. In old cemeteries there are usually far more burials than actual stones, some of which may have disappeared. Dr. Ben-Ur estimated 900 burials, but that half couldn’t afford a stone and had wooden grave markers that wasted away during the past centuries.

Symbols, iconography or Funerary Art on the epitaphs in Jodensavanne as well as in Cassipora are among the finest in the world. A symbol that re-appears is a tree being felled by the Angel of Death, or the Hand of God. Mostly this refers to a life that ended too soon. Two hands with fingers spread denote a Cohen (descendent of a temple priest). A pitcher from which water is being poured indicates that a Levi is buried there (the person who washed the hands of the Cohen in ancient times). Poetic verses are found at roughly 10% of the Jodensavanne and Cassipora epitaphs. Hebrew poetry in Suriname’s jungle epigrams ranges from the simple to the imaginative and bravely experimental. Nearly every Hebrew poem is characterized by mostly simple end rhymes, and some cleverly weave the decedent’s name into the rhyme scheme.

The marble and bluestone stones were imported from Italy and Amsterdam. 54% of the Cassipora and 44.5% Jodensavanne inscriptions are in both Portuguese and Hebrew. Spanish was less used as only 1% of the epitaphs carry Spanish. Most epitaphs include both Hebrew and Christian dates.

During the third expedition (1999), organized by Frankel and guided by Dr Ben-Ur and Dikland of KDV, the Jodensavanne beth-ahaim was re-documented profoundly with a team of volunteers. They registered 462 graves, 27 more than Sprey during the 1940s did. This team also transcribed the Hebrew epitaphs, which the 1940’s team was not able to do.