In November, 1998, ISJM announced the start of an emergency effort to save the oldest Ashkenazi cemetery in Suriname (South America). The cemetery, founded in the early 18th century, is prominently situated in the capital city of Paramaribo and retains about 400 large gravestones. Much of the burial ground faces likely destruction if action is not taken soon.
According to Adriana van Alen-Koenraadt, who is coordinating preservation efforts for the Suriname Jewish community, "we face the loss of one of the oldest Jewish burial places in the Western Hemisphere. The cemetery is overgrown and in disrepair, and half is now used as an illegal sand quarry with holes as large as swimming pools."
ISJM President Samuel Gruber urges that, "work must be carried out immediately to secure the site and to clear it of overgrowth which hides illegal activities from public view. In the process, the first ever systematic documentation of the site and the gravestones (which date at least to 1727) can begin."
ISJM, which has recently funded research on Jewish sites elsewhere in Suriname, has offered to help the small Suriname Jewish community to protect the cemetery. Because labor costs in Suriname are low, ISJM estimates that only $5,000 can get this work done, and done quickly. Some funds will go toward site protection, and some to documentation. It is imperative that ISJM raise this money soon! If not, this cemetery will be lost to posterity.
According to Gruber, "some will immediately recognize a collective, communal responsibility to protect this Jewish burial site. By Jewish law, cemeteries are inviolate, and need to be cared for. We hope that others, too, will respond, recognizing the need to protect a valuable historical and artistic resource." ISJM is also working with the Suriname Jewish community and architect Rachel Frankel to develop a Master Plan for the protection and preservation of all of the historic Jewish sites in the country.
ISJM asks for contributions of any amount. Even a small gift can make a difference. All gifts to ISJM are tax-deductible. Checks, to be made out to ISJM, should include the message 'Suriname cemetery' and mailed to 123 Clarke Street, Syracuse, NY, 13210.
International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
Box 210, 118 Julian Pl.
Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA
tel: (315) 474-2350
fax: (315) 474-2347