Once Jews: Sto­ries of Caribbean Sephardim

Josette Capriles Goldish
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
In Once Jews, Josette Gold­ish describes how many dis­tin­guished fig­ures of Caribbean pol­i­tics and com­merce can trace their ori­gins back to the small Sephardic com­mu­ni­ty that estab­lished itself on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. For these peo­ple, the expres­sion: I am Catholic, but I am also Jew­ish” is a source of pride. In 1654 Curaçao was a pop­u­lar haven for Jews flee­ing Brazil after the Por­tuguese recon­quest. At the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry, a series of polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic set­backs dis­rupt­ed their lives again and many young men set out to make their for­tunes else­where in the Caribbean. Gold­ish traces their lives as they estab­lished them­selves anew. Many inter­mar­ried and their chil­dren were raised as Catholics. The women left behind on Curaçao had few oppor­tu­ni­ties to mar­ry. By the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, near­ly all of the Caribbean Jews had dis­ap­peared. Many fam­i­lies had become Catholic while oth­ers had died out. What remains are the names, and the aware­ness of a Jew­ish her­itage. This is an engag­ing read about an inter­est­ing phenomenon.
Ran­dall Belin­fante has served as the Librar­i­an of the Amer­i­can Sephar­di Fed­er­a­tion for more than 13 years. He has tak­en a tiny col­lec­tion of 200 books and built an assem­blage of over 10,000 items. Mr. Belin­fante holds degrees in var­i­ous aspects of Jew­ish stud­ies, and dur­ing his tenure at ASF, he has inves­ti­gat­ed a vari­ety of top­ics, pre­sent­ing papers on such diverse top­ics as the Mizrahi Jews dri­ven from their homes in Islam­ic coun­tries and the cryp­to-Jew­ish Mash­hadis of Iran. He has also writ­ten many book reviews on books of Sephar­di / Mizrahi interest.

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