• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Title Page
 Abstract
 Information on graven images and...
 Historical context and specific...
 Bibliography






Title: Symbols and place : a study of the gravestones at the Historic Jewish Cemetery in Curacao
CITATION PDF VIEWER THUMBNAILS PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00098903/00001
 Material Information
Title: Symbols and place : a study of the gravestones at the Historic Jewish Cemetery in Curacao
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Wilson, Kaitlin
Publisher: Kaitlin Wilson
Place of Publication: Tampa, Fla.
Copyright Date: 2009
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00098903
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Downloads

This item has the following downloads:

PDF ( 9 MBs ) ( PDF )


Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Title Page
    Abstract
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
    Information on graven images and Jewish death symbolism in relation to Curacao
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
    Historical context and specific gravestone symbolism in Curacao
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
    Bibliography
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
Full Text











The University of South Florida


Symbols and Place: A Study of the Gravestones at the Historic Jewish Cemetery in Curagao


Honors College and Religious Studies Departmental Honors Thesis


Thesis Committee: Dr. Fisher (Director), and Dr. Strange


Spring 2009


Kaitlin Wilson






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Abstract


This thesis examines the gravestone symbolism at the historic Jewish cemetery in

Curagao. This cemetery contains very detailed, specific gravestone images that are unusual for

Jewish cemeteries, including depictions of people, angels, and death scenes. Because gravestones

act as a visual reference of the values, beliefs, and cultural environment of the people who used

them, this paper explores traditional Jewish gravestone symbols and the prohibition of graven

images in Judaism, and the importance of interpretation of this prohibition in Jewish symbols,

other Jewish cemeteries around the world including the Ouderkerk cemetery in the Netherlands,

and cultural and historical context of the time in which the gravestones were used in Curagao.

Specific symbols analyzed in this paper include traditional Jewish symbols such as the hands of

blessing and tree of life, and also representations of professions, especially ships, and also

depictions of people and angels. The combination of traditional Jewish symbolism for

gravestones and also uncommon gravestone symbols in the cemetery in Curagao suggests that

the gravestones communicate cross-culturally and express cultural and historical context of the

Jews of Curagao who used them. Other cemeteries considered in a comparative context to the

Beth Haim Curagao gravestone symbolism include the Ouderkerk cemetery in the Netherlands,

the Suriname Jewish cemeteries, and the Jewish cemetery in Rhode Island. The paper's central

focus is on gravestone symbolism as communicative tools that express cultural and historic

experiences through universal visual elements.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Gravestones present information in many ways. The data recorded on the stone such as

name, dates, and inscription informs viewers of different aspects of the deceased's life such as

their gender, age, and in many cases other personal information, including even details about

their family or how they died. We expect gravestone epitaphs to provide information because

they are inscribed using language, but often gravestones can be sources of information about

culture based on visual clues. Stones are arranged and organized in specific ways, and this

organization was intentional and prepared by the people who used the cemetery. The goal of

interpreting visual information from gravestones is to better understand the people who designed,

arranged, and organized them. In this way, gravestone symbolism can be studied as a reflection

of the cultural values of the society who employed it.1 Gravestone symbols are not just

decoration or artistic expression, but rather greatly enhance the stone's communicative property.


When people consider gravestones, they tend to focus on the epitaphs-what is written

rather than additional visual information, and as Minna Rozen writes about the Haskiy cemetery

in Turkey: "My training as an historian had actually interfered with the work involved, until it

dawned on me that there was historical value not only in the epitaph but also in the stone's

composition, type, shape, artwork, location in the cemetery, and origin."2 When present on

gravestones, images and symbols present another layer of information in addition to the epitaph.

If we consider that the epitaph was written a certain way to contain specific information: name,

dates, personal information, then we must also realize that visual elements of graves were also

chosen and specifically designed to communicate to the viewer of the stone. What is fascinating

about gravestone symbols is that often their messages are subtler than written epitaphs, and the

1 See Mike Parker Pearson, The Archaeology of Death and Burial. (Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing Limited) 1999.
Published in the United States by Texas A&M University Press, 2000.
2 Minna Rozen, H,. i.. Cemetery Typology of Stones (Tel Aviv University and the University of Pennsylvania,
1994), 6.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


visual information often provides additional, more intuitive information about the person who is

buried or even about the community who buried them. I consider symbolism more intuitive than

written language because people respond differently to symbols than to words. Symbols do not

have clear definitions or boundaries, whereas language does. Furthermore, in terms of

gravestones, words describing emotions are often less evocative than images that portray

emotion, and this subtle difference becomes quite significant when involving death monuments,

and shows "sepulchral art as a means of tapping information that only imagery can yield."3 An

epitaph that describes grief at the loss of a person takes on additional emotional value when

accompanied by a depiction expressing the loss. That is the nature of symbols; they are

communicative tools that cause a reaction. Also, symbols communicate on different levels.

Symbols can be communal and universal, and these different levels can limit or enhance

communicative properties. By overlooking the visual, intuitive and yet still organized elements

of cemeteries, we are neglecting a significant portion of the material culture of the cemetery.

These symbols are visual evidence of what the deceased, or the community who arranged the

stone, wanted displayed and remembered. Gravestones function as memorials: they offer details

about the deceased, comfort to loved ones, yet eventually they become invaluable pieces of

history that can teach us about the past.


The old Jewish cemetery in Curagao is one such cemetery. Its variety of gravestone

languages, inscriptions, and most of all symbols offer endless opportunities for study. The Jewish

cemetery in Curagao has very detailed gravestone images that reveal much about the people's

lives, including decorative patterns and symbols on the gravestones, as well as representations of

professions and ways that people died, and this is seen in Isaac Emmanuel's Precious Stones of

3 Aviva Ben-Ur. "Still Life: Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and West African Art and Form in Suriname's Jewish
Cemeteries." American Jewish History 92:1 (2004), 46.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


the Jews of Curagao: Curagaon Jewry 1656-1957. Emmanuel notes that the gravestones were

significant to the people of Curagao, and they took much effort in choosing them for their

families.4 It is no wonder, then, that the gravestones are so detailed and powerful. The images on

the stones in Curagao present valuable insight into cultural attitudes toward religion and

memorials. The distinctive symbolism in Curagao allows for an examination of beliefs, attitudes,

and interpretations of some of the Jews of Curagao, specifically the symbolism seen on some of

the gravestones from the late 1600s through early 1800s when these depictions of people,

professions, and biblical scenes occur. By exploring the cemetery in Curagao, known as Beth

Haim which means "House of Life" and is a name used for Jewish cemeteries, and comparing

the visual elements of the cemetery with other Jewish cemeteries from the same time, this

paper's goal is to better understand the relationship between place, context, and religious practice

and how these elements are depicted through gravestone symbolism.


In Section One, I will present traditional Jewish gravestone symbols, and the uncommon

symbols of people present in the cemetery in Curagao in a comparative analysis based on the

communicative accessibility of the symbols: whether or not they require religious knowledge, or

whether they convey a message on a more universal level. Following Emmanuel's detailed

categories of Curagao's gravestone images, in Section Two I will focus on types of symbolism;

specifically, representations of people and professions.5 By looking further into the meanings and

connotations of these symbols, and their use on the gravestones, I will explore the relationship

between religion, place and historical context in the use of these gravestone symbols. Section

Three will further explore the relationship between place, historical experience, and gravestone

4 Isaac S. Emmanuel, Precious Stones of the Jews of Curacao: Curacaon Jewry 1656-1957 (New York: Bloch
Publishing Company, 1957), see Chapter 8, "Monuments," pages 117-122.

5 Ibid., 124-129.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


symbols by examining these aspects in the Ouderkerk cemetery in The Netherlands and other

Sephardic cemeteries. Finally, based on the preceding analysis, I will explore some of the

possible reasons why these incredibly detailed and informative symbols are found in some

Jewish cemeteries during this time period and how this offers a better understanding of the

relationship between place and historical context and religion.


Section One


Information on graven images and Jewish death symbolism in relation to Curagao


Edwin Dethlefsen and James Deetz have explored gravestone symbolism and cultural

change. While their focus was on changes in symbolism in Colonial American cemeteries and

not Jewish gravestone symbolism, they analyzed gravestone symbolism changes as reflections of

changes in cultural attitudes: "detailing the dynamics of change in material objects as a function

of changes in the society which produced them."6 If Dethlefsen and Deetz's understandings are

applied to the Curagao cemetery, the cultural factors of Curagao, as well as historical and social

forces, offer insight into the gravestone symbolism. Dethlefsen and Deetz focused on a limited

area in Massachusetts in analyzing symbolism change within a specific community. This paper is

interested in the variations of Jewish gravestone symbolism in Curagao as compared with other

examples of symbolism in other Jewish cemeteries, including the Ouderkerk cemetery in the

Netherlands as well as the Jewish cemeteries in Suriname and the Colonial Jewish cemetery in





6 Edwin Dethlefsen and James Deetz, "Death's Heads, Cherubs, and Willow Trees: Experimental Archaeology in
Colonial Cemeteries" American Antiquity, 31, no. 4 (Apr. 1966), 502-510, accessed through JSTOR:
http://www.jstor.org/stable/2694382, 502.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Newport, Rhode Island, emphasizing the relationship between gravestone symbolism variations

in these Jewish cemeteries and the cultural environments in which they are found.


Dethlefsen and Deetz recognized the important role of religion in interpreting changes in

gravestone symbolism: "The distinctive symbols employed as decorative elements are in part a

function of religion, and therefore changes in this aspect of culture can be investigated as they

relate to other areas of change."7 In Curagao, the common factor behind the gravestones in the

Beth Haim cemetery is that they all were members of the Jewish community on the island.

Symbolism variations among gravestones in the Beth Haim Curagao can be understood as

influenced by date, historical factors, individual design preferences, and also whether or not the

individual or their family could afford to commission a detailed gravestone.


The Jewish community of Curagao was a branch of the Dutch Jewish community, and the

gravestone symbolism reflects these similarities even though the cemeteries are physically

located across the world. The Dutch Jewish community (which was extended to Curagao) was

given religious freedoms by the political power and was thus not directly affected by political

religious intolerance such as the Inquisition while under Dutch authority. However, the Dutch

Jewish communities were historically shaped by these cultural factors, considering that the

Dutch Jewish community was founded by Jews who had to flee from the Iberian Peninsula. In

short, while the Curagao Jews were granted religious tolerance, the community was historically

oppressed. In this paper I am interested in determining the cultural factors behind the unusual

gravestone symbolism seen in Curagao; specifically, these factors are: Judaism, Dutch political

religious tolerance and other political religious intolerance, professional experiences such as



7 Ibid.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


trade, and communal values and beliefs. These experiences and cultural influences are echoed in

the gravestone symbolism in Curagao and express the interaction between cultural factors and

religion through the inclusion of unusual Jewish death symbols in conjunction with traditional,

more widely seen Jewish symbols.


When I refer to unusual Jewish symbols in terms of their presence on gravestones, I am

specifically referencing: images of people, heavenly beings such as angels and heavenly hands

and arms, depictions of secular professions, and depictions of biblical scenes that include people.

When I refer to traditional, more widely expected Jewish symbols seen on gravestones I am

referencing: decorative patterns, floral motifs, the tree of life, geometric designs, the hands of

blessing and the pitcher of water which reference religious group associations, which are

essentially reflective of religious professions. This distinction is significant considering the

Jewish religious prohibition against graven images which are typically thought to include

depictions of God, angels, people, and even animals, which will be discussed further in this

paper. Often, Jewish symbolisms avoid these things, but some of the graves in the Dutch

Sephardic Jewish cemeteries of Curagao and its parent community in Ouderkerk depict these

very detailed images. Since this was a conscious reinterpretation or avoidance of the religious

prohibition against graven images, it suggests that cultural factors besides religion influenced

these gravestone symbols.


The cemeteries studied by Dethlefsen and Deetz were used between the 1680s and early

1800s.8 Emmanuel dates the cemetery in Curagao back to 1659.9 This means that the cemeteries

historically overlap. This is relevant because a variation of the "death's head" that Dethlefsen

8 Ibid., 503.

9 Emmanuel, Precious Stones of the Jews of Curagao, 34.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


and Deetz study is also visible in the Curagao cemetery, the skull and crossbones (see figure 1).

This suggests that the symbol is not necessarily specific to religious tradition since Dethlefsen

and Deetz study Christian cemeteries and the Beth Haim is a Jewish cemetery, and may in fact

rather be connected to the historical time in which it is present in both areas. Dethlefsen and

Deetz describe the symbol: "Death's Head. Usually some type of winged skull, this design is

early in New England and is found on the oldest stones as the most common motif. At times it is

combined with other elements such as bones, hourglasses, coffins, and palls."10 Dethlefsen and

Deetz's study illustrates that changes in symbolism are connected to other cultural factors, and

this is true for the cemetery in Curagao and can be seen by the combination of traditional Jewish

burial symbols with unusual Jewish burial symbols on some of the gravestones.


In general, cemeteries evoke numerous feelings in the observer. When I visited the

cemetery in Curagao, what I experienced most was amazement at the vast amount of information

the cemetery offers: both about individuals, but also about history in a wider context. Rochelle

Weinstein writes about the history of one family's experiences in Europe and Curagao, and also

connects their gravestone images with their art collection and their life experiences." While

Weinstein focuses on the Senior family, it follows that others in Curagao had similar influences

that impacted their choices in gravestone symbolism at the Curagao cemetery as well. Weinstein

discusses the gravestone symbolism in Curagao as an expression of the relationship between

Judaism and the historical environment in which the gravestones were made: "The stones are our

visual, metaphorical connection to a group of people whose skills and motivations, conditioned

in part by their religion and national origin, brought them into the center of history at a critical

10 Dethlefsen and Deetz, 503.

" Rochelle Weinstein, "Stones of Memory: Revelations from a Cemetery in Curagao" in Sephardim in the
Americas, ed. Martin A. Cohen and Abraham J. Peck (United States of America: American Jewish Archives), 1993.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


moment."12 This focus on the relationship between religion and environment is extremely

significant when studying the gravestone symbolism in Curagao, including traditional symbols

and also symbols of people, secular professions, and heavenly beings. In Curagao some

gravestones contain very detailed, specific images that are striking to the viewer. They are

fascinating because they contain traditional elements of Jewish symbolism (such as the tree of

life) but also contain depictions of people, and biblical scenes featuring biblical characters who

relate to the deceased either through name, profession, or experience. This combination of

traditional symbolism and specified symbolism suggests a focus on tradition within the context

of a changing cultural environment.


The cemetery contains many languages: English, Dutch, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and

Portuguese, but beyond written language the visual language of the cemetery is significant due to

its relationship with traditional Jewish symbolism and the prohibition against graven images.13

Emmanuel notes the variations of the gravestone images found in Curagao, specifically images

of people portrayed on gravestones:


On the whole it was very difficult for Jews, forbidden to make images, to portray
anything outside of arabesques, plants or synagogal objects. Our cemetery, like that of
Amsterdam, presents an anomaly. The second commandment: 'Thou shalt not make unto
thee any graven image' was not always abided by, not even on tombs reserved for the
Chief Rabbis. The subjects, moreover, were depicted with a liberality that one is amazed
to find in a Jewish cemetery dating back two hundred fifty years.14

While the laws against graven images generally refer to not worshipping images of people or

animals, they do not necessarily prohibit depictions of people or animals as artistic forms. These



12 Ibid., 131.

13 Isaac S. Emmanuel, Precious Stones of the Jews of Curagao, 111.

14 Ibid., 123.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


can be seen in numerous ancient Jewish settings.15 These images were used in Jewish art for

many years before they were employed on the gravestones in Curagao. The symbols themselves

are not necessarily surprising, but what Emmanuel and others are responding to when they note

the difficulty in portraying images of people on Jewish gravestones is that the prohibition against

graven images has been interpreted by many people differently over time and many

interpretations include representations of people, animals, and angels in general to be prohibited,

while others conclude that only worshipping these images is prohibited. The "liberality" that

Emmanuel is responding to is in terms of the strict interpretations of the prohibition against

graven images. Even some ancient Jewish representations of "graven images" of people and

animals have been destroyed by other Jews who did not think they were appropriate.16 This

illustrates the controversy behind images of people and angels and animals in Jewish art as an

issue throughout much of Jewish art history. Rachel Hachlili notes that ancient Jewish burial

practices reinforced elements of community, and she also correlates changes in burial practices

in the Second Temple period with political changes.17 This is relevant in terms of the symbolism

in the Jewish cemetery in Curagao because it shows that cultural context influenced Jewish burial

practices for centuries.



15 See Rachel Hachlili, "The Zodiac in Ancient Jewish Art: Representations and Significance" Bulletin of the
American Schools of Oriental Research no. 228 (Dec. 1977). Accessed through JSTOR:
1lip "', %, %, jsi i ,i.,' ,'si.ikbl/1356500. This article discusses examples of zodiac symbolism in ancient Jewish
synagogues. See also Edwin R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period. Abridged edition, ed.
Jacob Neusner. Bollingen Series, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988. See especially Chapter Four, "Pagan
Symbols in Judaism: Astronomical Symbols" beginning on page 116.

16 Ibid. Hachlili writes: "The synagogue floor at Na'aran is especially interesting because of its destruction by
Jewish iconoclasts who removed the human and animal figures, leaving the inscriptions," 61. Further, Hachlili
writes that there was Roman influence on the chosen zodiac symbolism. This cultural relationship behind the choice
of symbolism, similarly to the Curagao cemetery centuries later, suggests that it was influenced by the outside, non-
Jewish culture and modified to fit the Jewish religious situation in which these symbols were used. Thus, the
presence of these symbols-sometimes considered "graven images"-shows an element of the relationship between
religious practice and place, or surrounding culture and context.

17 Rachel Hachlili. Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Land of Israel. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1988, 100.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


It is important to recognize that ancient Jewish art contained representations of people,

animals, angelic figures, and other decorative elements. Hachlili writes: "Jewish figurative art is

an extensive and essential part of Jewish art in Late Antiquity." Again, the important factor is

interpretation of the prohibition against graven images: "At the time, the rabbis emphasized the

latter part of the sentence 'Thou shalt not worship them,' the prohibition concerning the worship

of idols. The Jews of this period were indeed unafraid of idolatry."19 Because these depictions

were permitted as long as they were not worshipped, they occur frequently in ancient Jewish art.

Hachlili makes a point to note that many of these images are depicted on floors that were

"continually being trodden upon" which, she suggests, shows the avoidance of worship of these

images.20 This shows that even though the actual images were permitted, the prohibition of

worship of graven images was consciously observed in the ways that the images were displayed.

Ancient Jewish art and gravestone symbolism in Curagao are separated by many years and

religious and historical events in Judaism. However, the cautious yet frequent representation of

figurative images in ancient Jewish art offers important background information that is necessary

for understanding the symbols on the gravestones in Curagao in terms of their role in Jewish art

history and within the context of "graven images."


In terms of Curagao, we can interpret the presence of depictions of people, professions,

biblical scenes, death scenes, and angels as evidence that the people who used them did not

consider the depiction of these images as sinful, but rather probably focused, like the ancient

Jewish rabbis, on the prohibition against worshipping them. In this sense, they are informative

elements of material culture: they show how this community at this time interpreted the

18 Ibid., 285.

19 Ibid., 287.
20 Ibid., 379. Italics in Hachlili's text.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


prohibition of graven images, and also employed these images as communicative tools on

gravestones. The Jewish community in Curagao was extremely focused on religious belief and

practice and was an observant community that would not depict scenes on their gravestones

which they considered sinful. Throughout Emmanuel's Precious Stones of the Jews of Curacao

and History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles, he shows how significant religion was to the

life of the early Jews of Curagao.21 The Inquisition seriously affected the religious lives of Jews

during this time, causing many Sephardic Jews to have to live as Christians. Emmanuel lists

reasons for the gravestone symbols in Curagao, and of these he includes: Christian influence

from Portugal, art, and grief for the loss of the person.22 Clearly, the gravestone symbols are

loaded with religious, historical, communal, and personal meanings.


An important element of the Curagao cemetery is the beautifully detailed gravestones, but

these gravestones have a function as tools for memory and I believe that the images and symbols

employed on the gravestones are influenced by place. By "place" I mean not only physical

location, but also the cultural factors associated with place such as politics, history, and available

resources. Roberta Halpom contrasts the Curagao gravestone images with Sephardic cemeteries

in the United States from the same time.23 She writes: "The simplicity of the New York stones is

even more remarkable because there was constant travel between the two Jewish communities,

and the Americans must surely have known what the southern markers looked like."24 The burial


21 Isaac S. Emmanuel and Suzanne A. Emmanuel, History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles (Cincinnati:
American Jewish Archives, 1970). See specifically Chapter Six, kIeliigill Zeal 1717-1740" which describes the
funding for the synagogue as well as experiences of "Marranos" re-converted back to Judaism.
22 Emmanuel, Precious Stones of the Jews of Curacao, 124

23 Roberta Halporn, "American Jewish Cemeteries: A Mirror of History," Ethnicity and the American Cemetery ed.
Richard E. Meyer (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Press, 1993).

24 Ibid., 136.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


symbols differ between locations, and this suggests that cultural factors that influenced the

interpretation of death symbolism in these communities, including life experiences, were

affected by place. David de sola Pool also notes these differences in gravestone symbolism

between the Jewish cemeteries in New York and Curagao:


One looks in vain for any of that elaborate baroque, but sometimes masterly, carving of
Biblical scenes or coats of arms in relief which distinguishes many of the older stones in
the cemetery of the parent Sephardic community in Amsterdam, or in that of Middelburg,
Hamburg-Altona, Venice, Leghorn, or Curagao. Here in New Amsterdam and the later
New York, there is nothing but the bare legend of the epitaph.25

Halporn notes that the Curagao cemetery displays typical Christian symbols.26 This blend

of Christian and Jewish symbolism in Curagao, while unusual for Jewish cemeteries, can be

expected in Caribbean Jewish cemeteries when one considers the blended religious life

experiences of the people who used the cemeteries. Further, many of the gravestones in Curagao

were made in the Netherlands (possibly by Christian sculptors) and shipped to Curagao.

Interestingly, de sola Pool also notes that some of the gravestones in New York were imported

from Europe because it was probably difficult for the Hebrew epitaph to be carved in New York

at that time.27 This reinforces the relationship between place and gravestone symbolism; many of

the gravestones in Curagao were made in Europe and shipped to the island, yet they display

detailed images.


Gravestones are marked with emotional and psychological significance. The observations

that both Emmanuel and Halporn make about the unique symbols of the Curagao cemetery show



25 David de sola Pool, Portraits Etched in Stone: Early Jewish Settlers 1682-1831. (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1952), 162.

26 Halporn, 133.
27 De sola Pool, 166.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


that many of the Curagao graves were thoughtfully considered by either the person whose grave

it was to be or by their family, meaning that the symbols were carefully chosen. Anything made

by humans is shaped by human intention and consideration, and the gravestone symbols in

Curagao- in connection with the rules and interpretation of graven images-imply that the

Curagao Jewish community who commissioned, maintained, and utilized these gravestones

either avoided the graven image prohibition or interpreted it in a way that did not include these

scenes.


David Goberman focuses on gravestones in Europe, but his observations about Jewish

cemeteries and imagery are relevant for this study because Goberman offers many visual

references to other Jewish gravestones in other places and sheds light on the issue of graven

images. Goberman discusses gravestone symbols:


We need to remember that the development of Jewish art was constrained by the
widespread acceptance of the famous Biblical prohibition against the depiction of the
animal world, so that such images would not, like the golden calf, become an object of
veneration. In reality, such imagery existed in Jewish art from ancient times...Human
images are extremely rare on the gravestones. In those situations where a human being is
represented, the artist will show, instead of the whole figure, only an arm, the part in
place of the whole, or the carver will substitute an animal or a bird for a human
being...Human virtues are represented by images of the animal world.28

Goberman's observations about European Jewish gravestones offer an interesting contrast to the

cemetery in Curagao where detailed, specific images of people are depicted on some

gravestones, in addition to arms from above and angels. There are differences between

Ashkenazi and Sephardic burial customs that must be taken into consideration, and one example

of this is seen through the orientation of gravestones in cemeteries. Sephardic cemeteries



28 David Goberman, Carved Memories: Heritage in Stone from the Russian Jewish Pale (New York: Rizzoli
International Publications, Inc., 2000), 16-17.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


typically have flat gravestones, whereas Ashkenazi graves are typically raised.29 This variation in

ritual surely also accounts for differences in gravestone symbols. However, both communities

were restricted by the prohibition of graven images.


The central factor for understanding the role of "graven images" and gravestone

symbolism is interpretation of the prohibition. Steven Schwarzchild presents a discussion of

graven images from the Schulchan' Aruch:


What God, man, and angelic beings have in common that excludes them from all possible
artistic representation is the possession of spirit, or soul; clearly the thesis of the Law is
that spirit as such is unsusceptible to depiction. God, who is all spirit, can, therefore, not
be pictured.3

However, Schwarzchild also presents that the specifics behind what exactly is allowed

(body parts as representation of the whole, distorted figures, etc.) is debatable. Clearly, this is

one of the attention-grabbing aspects of the symbolism in the Curagao cemetery; in Curagao one

can see angels, people, and heavenly hands cutting down the tree of life on gravestones. These

depictions are not often allowed in Jewish cemeteries. However, considering that the specifics of

what exactly is allowed are so debatable, I interpret these gravestone symbols in Curagao as

reflective of a society who did not consider them sinful but rather employed them as

communicative tools that expressed the relationship between religion and culture: "The history

of Jewish funerary art is replete with various types of ornamentation...The tension between the







29 Ben-Ur, "Still Life: Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and West African Art and Form in Suriname's Jewish Cemeteries."

30 Steven S. Schwarzchild, "The Legal Foundation of Jewish Aesthetics." Journal of Aesthetic Education 9:1.
Special Issue: Aesthetic Education in Civilization Perspective (Jan., 1975). Accessed through JSTOR:
http://www.jstor.org/stable/3331762, 33.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Biblical prohibitions and actual practice was often a function of relations between Jewish and

non-Jewish society at a given time."31


For example, in the Curagao cemetery, which was a largely Sephardic community,

children's graves often depicted angels and also referred to the child as "anjo" (angel) on the

gravestones.32 This metaphorically associates the child with a heavenly being and uses what may

be considered a graven image (an angel) to do so. This shows that the understandings of graven

images are largely up to interpretation, and also shows the emotional impact that the community

felt at the loss of a child and the ways this was expressed through gravestone symbols. This

further illustrates the ways in which symbolism enhances a gravestone's communicative quality.

If the stone simply was engraved with the word "anjo," its communicative elements would be

restricted by language barriers. However, the word "anjo" as well as the widely recognizable

depiction of an angel on the small gravestone of a child captures these emotions more powerfully

and expresses to the viewer that this is the grave of a young child, since "anjo" is typically only

on graves of those who died under the age of 13, and that the family felt tremendous grief at their

death and expressed this through written and visual language (see figure 2).3


In order to understand the impact of the gravestones in Curagao, it is necessary to

consider Jewish symbols that one can expect to find in many Jewish cemeteries around the

world. This provides a clearer comparison between traditional symbols and the intricate

depictions of people, professions, and angels seen in Curagao's Beth Haim. Halporn discusses

general Jewish burial symbols:

31 Minna Rozen, 53.

32 Mariette Kamphuis and Emmar van Duin. They That are Born are Destined to Die and the Dead to be Brought to
Life Again (Curagao: Congregation Mikv6 Israel-Emanuel, 2001).

33 Ibid.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


The pitcher and ewer, standing for a Levite (or servant of the priests); The hands of
blessing, which signify a Cohen, descendent of the ancient priests of Israel; The Lulav
and Etrog, a palm branch and citrus fruit, associated with the harvest festival of Sukkot;
The Ez Chaim, the Tree of Life...Another ancient symbol frequently employed is a
representation of the door of the Ark which contained the Torah... The symbol of learning
and religiosity was also represented by a bookcase full of scholarly tomes...In the middle
European Jewish cemeteries, the custom developed of creating images which were
representations of the meaning of a person's name...Other representations are less literal
(and in some instances not solely restricted to Judaic symbolism), such as broken lilies
for a small child, a serpent swallowing its tail as an emblem of infinity, or the crown, a
symbol of both learning and piety.34

As both Goberman and Halporn show, these symbols on gravestones are loaded with meaning.

As seen in my photographs of the cemetery in Curagao, as well as Emmanuel's detailed

photographs within Precious Stones of the Jews of Curacao, the Beth Haim cemetery contains

gravestones with beautiful and individualized depictions that focus on remembrance and act as

tools for communication to the viewer of the stone. Each gravestone tells a brief history about

the individual buried there through symbols and text, and when multiple gravestones are

considered, more can be learned about the community who used and maintained the cemetery.

Erwin R. Goodenough's central question for exploring ancient Jewish art and symbolism is

applicable to the study of these gravestones in Curagao:


The question regarding Jewish symbolism is, then: If the designs were not put into the
synagogues and tombs casually, just to look pretty, but to do something to those who
made them, to those who looked at them as they worshipped, and for those who finally
were buried beneath them, what was their value, what was it hoped that they would do?35

Symbols have a function. In Curagao, they communicate the experiences of the people who used

them. They shed light on the geographical, historical, and cultural environment in which they

were used. In terms of the influence of place and religion, Isaac S. Emmanuel discusses the

influence of life in the Caribbean on Jews in Curacao:

34 Halporn, "American Jewish Cemeteries," 152-154.

35 Goodenough, Abridged edition, 59.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


The Curagaon Jew sailed the seas either as navigator, bookkeeper, supercargo or
merchant. En route, despite his religious zeal, it was impossible to observe to the letter all
the rabbinic prescriptions, especially those relating to ritual diet. Arriving in Curagao
after a long absence, he would bring with him the first symptoms of a discreet
liberalism...However, there were several basic concepts in which he believed absolutely.
He had an ardent faith in God, belief in the immortality of the soul, future life,
resurrection of the dead, divine reward and punishment, and divine clemency. All of
these ideals are expressed in their wills and tombstones.36

While Emmanuel relies on tombstone inscriptions and wills for many of his assertions of

religious belief, the symbolism further enhances this and even carries with it additional

significance. Emmanuel separates gravestone art into different categories including: "decorations

and allegorical representations, bas-reliefs indicating the profession, quality or rank of the

deceased, scenes recalling the last day of the deceased; biblical tales relevant to the names of the

interred or his wife."37


The most informative of these symbols are the more personal categories: those about the

last day of the deceased's life and also about professions. These stones are fascinating because

they not only capture larger religious themes, but also personal stories. Through these personal

experiences depicted in the gravestones, we are able to interpret cultural values. Emmanuel

describes one such powerful gravestone scene:


Seeking solace for the loss of his wife, the husband would have engraved on her tomb the
last mournful scene which claimed her life...A more touching scene is that found on the
tomb of Rachel [Alvares Correa] (yr. 1705, C 2063), wife of Abraham de Chaves, where
four women, one of whom is beside the bed, and the bearded father in the background are
bewailing this premature death, while a nurse is suckling the child.38

From this image, we can learn that women died in childbirth and that this impacted the person

who commissioned the making of the tombstone so much that they memorialized the scene on

36 Emmanuel, Precious Stones of the Jews of Curagao, 108.

37 Ibid., 124.
38 Ibid., 127.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


the grave, passing the personal history onto future viewers of the stone. The multiple occurrence

of death during childbirth scenes on graves in Curagao suggests that motherhood was culturally

valued and that death during childbirth was particularly devastating. Through this, we are able to

better understand the cultural role of women as wives and mothers as a responsibility that was

respected and memorialized. Without this scene on the gravestone, the viewer would need to rely

on the epitaph for information about how the woman died. This raises several problems. First,

one must be able to read and understand the language engraved on the stone. Second, there are

many stones in Curagao with unreadable epitaphs due to environmental pollution, yet often their

images remain visible.39 This is also an issue of interpretation: images on gravestones strike an

intuitive element in the viewer that words on gravestones may not; I believe that gravestone

images can typically cause more of an immediate emotional reaction than epitaphs because of

this intuitive quality. Third, epitaphs do not always mention how the person died. All of these

issues are clarified with the inclusion of beautifully depicted scenes on the gravestone, thus

further emphasizing the use of the gravestone as a communicative tool and making the

interpretation of the graven image prohibition in favor of these detailed scenes appropriate within

the cultural context.


If we compare the gravestone symbolism as described by Goberman and Halporn with

the scene described by Emmanuel, the symbolisms offer different types of information to the

viewer. In order to understand the deeper significance of the symbolism discussed by Goberman

and Halporn-"traditional" Jewish symbolism-one must recognize what the symbols mean;

therefore, the viewer must be familiar with the cultural and religious significance of the symbol

and decorations in order to understand what is being communicated. However, the scene of a

39 Ben-Ur discusses how imagery in the cemetery in Suriname has aided in interpretation when the inscription has
worn away, "Still Life," 58.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


woman who died in childbirth depicts an event that any viewer of the gravestone could

recognize. This suggests that the gravestones in Curagao are meant to memorialize in ways that

would be more easily recognizable to a larger audience, whereas the other symbols require

additional information for interpretation. This is not to say that the Curagao cemetery does not

display these traditional elements of gravestone symbolism, but that it also contains a variety of

personalized symbols that are understandable regardless of religion, location, and even time. If

we consider the significant role of gravestone symbolism in this way, the symbolism which is

chosen influences the accessibility of the message that the gravestone communicates to the

viewer.


Section Two


Historical Context and Specific Gravestone Symbolism in Curagao


Curagao is a Dutch island in the Caribbean, off the coast of Venezuela. This Caribbean

island is a valuable resource for study because it contains a blend of cultures, languages, and

influences. When I visited Curagao, it was on a family vacation, and I learned about the

synagogue and cemetery while on the "Jewish Heritage Tour" of the island (see figure 15).

Michelle M. Terrell expresses the surprise felt by many people when learning about Judaism in

the Caribbean, "Pushing aside the creeping vine that obscures the Hebrew, Portuguese, English,

or Dutch epitaphs, modem visitors gaze upon the stones and wonder aloud, "What were Jews

doing here?"40 In Curagao, the unusual gravestone symbols enhance this curiosity.





40 Michelle M. Terrell, The Jewish Community of Early Colonial Nevis, A Historical Archaeological Study.
(Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2005), 7-8.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


The cemetery in Curagao has become an historic tourist attraction on the island. With

increased tourist visitation to the cemetery, people will see the gravestone images in Curagao and

are likely to compare them with other Jewish cemeteries with which they are familiar. This is

significant because it relates back to the communicative quality of the gravestone symbolism in

Curagao, such as Emmanuel's description of the gravestone carving of a woman who died during

childbirth41 (see figures 10 and 11). The Beth Haim cemetery does exhibit traditional Jewish

gravestone symbols that a visitor expects to see (the Hands of Ble,,ing. Tree of Life, see figures

3 and 8) in addition to carvings of people on gravestones (see figure 4). The scenes in Curagao

that are striking to viewers because they conflict with some interpretations of graven images, and

are also the scenes that are most emotionally effective: death scenes, biblical narratives featuring

characters, and professional images, especially the ship.


These scenes on the tombstones are also the most informative because they are the most

personal. One does not need to know that the woman dying in childbirth may be a biblical

reference to the story of Rachel in order to understand what it is communicating at a basic level

and feel its symbolic significance, but one does need to know that the pitcher of water represents

the Levites in order to understand it-this symbol requires religious knowledge and limits the

audience to whom the image communicates. This is not to belittle the traditional religious

symbols of their beauty and communicative quality, but rather is to note that the combination of

more widely seen Jewish gravestone symbols and those less widely seen within the Beth Haim

cemetery offers a variety of information to the viewer of the gravestones. It is important also to

consider that the more personalized gravestone scenes, such as the grave of a woman who died in

childbirth, are also the more universal. This type of symbol also is very emotionally evocative:

41 Emmanuel, Precious Stones of the Jews of Curacao, photographs between pages 128 and 129.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


the people viewing the stone remember that they are not just viewing artistic gravestone

symbols, but that they are viewing a monument to a person and that the symbols were specially

chosen to communicate a message about the person buried there. The idea of monuments is

important within any cemetery. At a very basic level, the function of gravestones is to

memorialize someone, and even gravestones without symbols or any decorative quality still at

least contain names and dates. It is the symbolic elements of gravestones, though, that speak at

an emotional level and also act as material evidence of cultural values and ideas-in graves

without symbols or decorative elements, their lack of presence suggests much about the

individual or community's understanding of the role of gravestones, including whether or not

they could afford a decorated stone or whether they valued simplicity.


Emmanuel presents further insight into the significance of what was considered

controversial gravestone memorials within the Curagao community:


In 1852 Jacod Piendo Jr. died in Baranquilla and three years later the youth Moises de
David Jesurun in New York. Their bodies were brought to Curagao for burial. Later their
respective families erected two costly monuments facing each other. Hakham
Chumaceiro took exception to the two busts adorning the columns, but the interested
families refused to remove them. Chumaceiro thereupon wrote to three rabbis in
Amsterdam for advice. When they, too, condemned such sacrilege, the busts were finally
taken down over the protests of Isaac Pinedo Jr., brother of the first deceased and Vice-
President of the Community, and David Abraham Jesurun, father of the second
unfortunate.42

This situation shows what different rabbis and families in the community considered "sacrilege";

it is clear that the controversy was not over carvings of people on the gravestones, but rather over

"costly" busts. What is further interesting is that Chumaceiro consulted rabbis in Amsterdam for

advice and they agreed with his concern. The "protests" from the families shows that they did

not consider the monuments "sacrilege" even though they were being removed. This illustrates

42 Ibid., 124.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


differing positions on "graven image" among rabbis and community members, but on a larger

scale also illustrates different interpretations of appropriate gravestone monuments between

different communities: Curagao and Amsterdam. Beyond that, it shows that families were willing

to "protest" against the Rabbi's decision regarding the monuments for their family members.

This further emphasizes the important element of emotion in symbolic choices. Clearly the

differing interpretations of the "graven image" restriction shows that, much like today, different

people interpreted religious rules differently, even within the same community. The more that I

have studied the symbolism at Curagao's cemetery and at other Sephardic cemeteries from the

same time period, the more it has become evident that depictions of people, angels, and

professions on gravestones are not as rare as I expected due to the restriction of "graven images."

As discussed earlier, these symbols are prevalent in ancient Jewish art and also can be seen in the

Ouderkerk cemetery in the Netherlands, and other Caribbean Jewish cemeteries also exhibit

certain unusual gravestone symbols.


What does this say about the Jewish community in Curagao? Emmanuel suggests that

there was "liberalism" in Curagao's Jewish community due to the lifestyle of the Caribbean.43

However, Rochelle Weinstein shows that the Ouderkerk cemetery in the Netherlands contains

similar depictions on gravestones. Weinstein also says that many of the Curagao gravestones

were made in the Netherlands.44 This raises the question: is the depiction of people and

professions on gravestones in Curagao influenced by the Caribbean, or Dutch culture? Weinstein

discusses the function of the figures on the gravestones in the Netherlands:




43 Ibid., 108.

44 Weinstein, "Stones of Memory," 85.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Inscribed on the tombstone, the names and images served to remind those who inherited
the names of their forebears and of their religious and social responsibilities. The atypical
Baroque Jewish monuments with figured reliefs are found only in regions governed by
the Dutch or near the free city of Hamburg, whose official religion was Lutheran...In
their exuberance and visual appeal these monuments are unlike any other markers
associated with traditional Jewish or Protestant monumental ritual.45

Since many of the gravestones in Curagao were made in the Netherlands, and Curagao was a

Dutch island, the similarities between the Curagao Beth Haim and the Ouderkerk Beth Haim is

not surprising, but does suggest that the Dutch freedom of religious expression was an influence

on the reinterpretation of "graven image." Weinstein goes on to write:


Recognizing the unique historical situation of the Dutch Jews and of certain Sephardic
families in particular, plus conditions of religious and artistic monumental style in the
Dutch Netherlands, we are better prepared to comprehend the nature of the Sephardic
monuments typified by those of the Senior family and others like them at Ouderkerk and
Curagao. The monuments express not only an attitude toward the Jewish religion but a
sense of being at home, at last, in a specific moment and place, in a long history.46

Weinstein considers the gravestones to be an expression of personal and religious celebration at

finally being able to express themselves religiously in the tolerant Dutch communities in a time

when Jews were suffering persecution all around the world. This relates back to the

communicative quality of the gravestone images and symbols: behind the representations of

people and professions in the Curagao cemetery, which are not commonly recognized forms of

Jewish gravestone symbols, there is a history being communicated to the viewer. If we consider

that gravestones and death monuments act as material tools that communicate cultural

information, the cemetery in Curagao presents images that illustrate values of the religious

community (Hands of Bleinw. Tree of Life) and also personal symbols (Ships, Death scenes).

While epitaphs offer direct personal information such as birth dates and death dates, language


45 Ibid., 91.
46 Ibid., 95.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


barriers can restrict their communicative quality; these barriers can be both the requirement of

knowledge of the language, and also the limits of written language at conveying emotion in the

same ways as images. As mentioned earlier, Curagao's cemetery exhibits multiple language

epitaphs, which shows that the community was linguistically diverse. However, images and

symbols can potentially be universally understood based on their required background

information. In order to understand the function of the gravestone symbols, it is important to

consider the cultural environment of the Caribbean.


When studying Jews in the Caribbean, it becomes evident that the islands' history of

colonialism had an influence on, and was influenced by, Jews who had experienced life changes

such as having to convert or flee from Spain and Portugal because of the Inquisition. The

gravestone symbolism, as an expression of cultural understandings, values, and beliefs, was also

obviously affected by this. This makes sense because gravestones reflect cultural changes, as

seen in the study by Dethlefsen and Deetz. Terrell suggests that this influence was global: "These

influences upon the Jewish migration into the Caribbean operated on a global scale, resulting in

the formation of Jewish communities not only in the Caribbean, but also in North Africa, the

Ottoman Empire, North America, and South America."47 Terrell also states that Jewish

communities are known in the Caribbean on Barbados, Jamaica, Nevis, Curagao, St. Eustatius,

and St. Thomas.48 This is relevant to this paper because in order to understand the gravestone

symbolism in Curagao, one must consider many cultural influences on symbolism, not just

religious influences.




47 Terrell, The Jewish Community of Early Colonial Nevis, 12.
48 Ibid.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Depictions of ships on gravestones in Curagao show that secular professions were

important to the people of Curagao (see figures 13 and 14). Consider the traditional depictions of

religious professions on Jewish tombstones (also seen throughout the cemetery in Curagao): the

symbols of the hands of blessing (see figure 3) and the pitcher. However, the fact that these

religious symbols are in the same cemetery that depicts secular professions on tombstones, such

as ships, suggests that this secular profession was considered important enough to be depicted on

tombstones. Beyond that, the specific example of a ship as a symbol for maritime professions

(merchant, captain, navigator) suggests that these \le, if', professions carried importance. This is

interesting when contrasted with Suriname, where religious occupational symbols seem to carry

significant importance over secular professional symbols.49


When one considers the historical and political context of Jews in Curagao, it is not

surprising that this ship motif is popular. Curagao Jews were continuing religious practices in a

cultural environment that offered religious tolerance during a time in history when this was rare.

Beyond that, the Dutch political environment allowed the Jews of Curagao not just religious

freedom but also professional freedoms, and many Jews in Curagao were very successful. When

ships are on graves in Curagao, a viewer may be surprised by the secular symbol on a religious

artifact, a grave, but the presence of ships on gravestones shows just how important this

profession was to the people of Curagao because it allowed them to move to the "New World"

(Curagao) where religious tolerance was offered. This is especially significant considering that

many of the Jews of Curagao were affected by the Inquisition. Because of their skills as

merchants and ship captains, Dutch Jews were protected from persecution while at sea by the





49 Ben-Ur, "Still Life," 61.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


1648 Treaty of Miinster.50 Ships are in no way a random decorative symbol, but rather are

images loaded with cultural and even religious messages: because Curagao needed merchants,

traders, and ship captains and crews-secular professions-the Dutch had to grant religious

freedoms to Jews.51 Thus, the ship takes on a larger symbolic meaning when it is placed on a

gravestone. This ship motif needs to be interpreted within the cultural and religious environment

in which it was used: "In the second half of the 17th century, ships bearing Hebrew and Biblical

names sailed the waters of the Caribbean."52


Emmanuel presented the relationship between cultural influence and religion in his

reasoning behind what he considered "liberalism" in the Curagao community. By studying other

Jewish cemeteries in the Caribbean, such as the cemetery that Terrell presents from Nevis,

perhaps the relationship between the gravestone symbolism in Curagao, such as depictions of

people and professions, can be better understood within the context of the Caribbean and

Judaism. Terrell discusses the gravestone symbols seen in Nevis:


While most of the inscriptions are carved on plain square-cut stones without additional
embellishment, three of the stones exhibit beveled edges, one has an incised outline, and
three others bear carved images. Included in this last group is the gravestone of Daniel
Cohen...His stone exhibits the distinctively Jewish grave image of a carving of two open
hands...The second decorated Nevis gravestone is that of Abraham Cohen Lobatto... His
stone exhibits two common symbols of death: an hourglass and a skull. Hourglasses,
skeletons, skulls, and crossed leg bones, although not typically Jewish grave images, have
been documented in the Sephardic cemeteries of Ouderkerk in the Netherlands and
Spanish Town, Jamaica, among others...The remaining decorated stone in the Nevis
Jewish cemetery is the elaborately carved tomb of Bathsheba Abudiente and her infant

50 Rochelle Weinstein, "Sepulchral Monuments of the Jews of Amsterdam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Centuries." (Ph.D. Diss., New York University, 1979). University Microfilms International, 1990," 117.

51 See Yosef Kaplan's "The Curaqao and Amsterdam Jewish Communities in the 17th and 18th Centuries," American
Jewish History 72:2 (Dec. 1982). Also see Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi's discussion of the economic role in Europe of
Jews expelled from the Iberian peninsula in "Between Amsterdam and New Amsterdam: The Place of Curagao and
the Caribbean in Early Modern Jewish History," American Jewish History 72:2 (Dec. 1982). See especially pages
175-177.
52 Kaplan, "The Curacao and Amsterdam Jewish Communities," 195.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


son, both of whom died postpartum in 1684. This lavishly decorated stone is strikingly
carved in relief, unlike the other stones in the cemetery, which have incised
lettering...The uppermost panel is a pair of crossed palm branches encircled by a wreath
and joined together by a bow and ring; the middle panel is the carving of two blossoms
with intertwined stems; the bottom carving is that of a winged hourglass surmounted by a
rose and sitting on a sloping hill with a small plant to either side. This style of carving is
reminiscent of Sephardic gravestones in the Netherlands.53

Terrell's presentation of the gravestone symbols in Nevis are very similar to some of the

gravestone images seen in Curagao (see figures 1 and 3), and she notes the gravestone

similarities with the Sephardic gravestones in the Netherlands.


Curagao's cemetery acts as a historical reference for Judaism in the Caribbean. When

tourists visit the cemetery, the images of people in death scenes and biblical references, as well

as professions seen through ships depicted on the stones, seem striking and unusual, but the

variety of gravestone symbolism exhibited on the island catalogue the historic relationship

between place and religious practice; since many members of the Sephardic community in

Curagao had suffered persecution and fear based on religious intolerance, the Dutch tolerance in

the Netherlands and Curagao possibly created a cultural environment favorable for artistic

religious expression. Rochelle Weinstein thoroughly explores the artistic influence behind some

of the gravestone symbols in Ouderkerk and Curagao in her Ph.D. dissertation and relates the

artistic context of the selected images to the cultural experiences of the people who

commissioned the stones.54 I think, however, beyond art historical contexts, the gravestone

symbols and scenes which were chosen in Curagao can inform viewers of the stones about the

community and ultimately learn more about the experiences of Jews in the Caribbean.


Section Three

53 Terrell, The Jewish Community of Early Colonial Nevis, 62-63.
54 Rochelle Weinstein, "Sepulchral Monuments of the Jews of Amsterdam in the Seventeenth and
Eighteenth Centuries." Ph.D. Diss., (New York University 1979). University Microfilms International, 1990.
28






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Other Sephardic Cemeteries and Symbolism


The Ouderkerk Jewish Cemetery


The images in Curagao which may strike viewers as unique can be found in the Jewish

cemetery in Ouderkerk, the Netherlands, as well as other Caribbean Jewish cemeteries.55

Emmanuel and others have discussed Christian influence, and experiences of the Inquisition,

resulting in many Sephardic Jews of the time having to live in violent Christian environments in

which they had to adopt Christian lifestyles.56 I interpret these specific and beautifully detailed

depictions in the Curagao cemetery to be tools of communication that reflect the diversity of

Jewish community in Curagao. Ken Worpole compares cemeteries to libraries in their

informative quality, "burial places and cemeteries also function as libraries of past lives, beliefs,

and artefacts, able to be read again and again by succeeding generations. Like libraries,

cemeteries are quiet, catalogued and annotated."57 I agree with Worpole's comparison, but also

extend it in terms of Curagao's Beth Haim cemetery symbolism not just to function as reference

for future generations, but also for the diverse community in the time in which the cemetery was

used. Consider the variety of languages seen in Curagao epitaphs as a representation of the

variety of backgrounds and experiences of the community. Also, people in the seventeenth and

eighteenth centuries viewed Curagao as the central Jewish community in the Caribbean which


55 David Mayer Gradwohl, "Benditcha Sea Vuestra Memoria: Sephardic Jewish Cemeteries in the Caribbean and
Eastern North America" Markers: The Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies 15, vi., (1998), 1-
29.

56 For more information on these historical inspirations behind Sephardic gravestone images, see Emmanuel's
presentation of the gravestone symbolism in Precious Stones. Also see Weinstein's discussion in "Stones of
Memory," as well as Gradwohl's presentation in "Benditcha." For further discussion of burial customs, see Herbert
C. Dobrinsky's Chapter 5 in A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs (Hoboken: KTAV Publishing House, Inc.),
1986.

57 Ken Worpole, Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West (London: Reakton Books Ltd.,
2003). See Worpole's pictures from the Ouderkerk cemetery in Figure 17.


29






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


other Jewish communities on other islands looked to for inspiration.58 In order to understand the

history behind the gravestone symbols in Curagao, it is important to explore the influential

factors behind the community who built and used the cemetery. One of these factors was the

Dutch Jewish community and the Ouderkerk cemetery, which exhibits remarkably similar

gravestone symbolism to the Curagao cemetery. Both cemeteries are called Beth Haim (House of

Life).


The land for the Ouderkerk Jewish cemetery was purchased in 1614 by the Portuguese

Jewish community in Amsterdam.59 It is worth noting here the remarkable historical significance

of the Inquisition, not only as a historical event of violence, cruelty, religious persecution and

injustice, but also as a factor that shaped the experiences and history of many communities

around the world. The gravestone symbolism seen in these Sephardic cemeteries is just one

remnant of this tragic historic event, but also shows through the symbols elements of the Jewish

relocation around the world and cultural interactions that they experienced. Gradwohl notes that

the ruling of prohibition against Jews in Spain was not formally changed until 1969, and in

Portugal has never been officially changed.60 This places further historical significance on the

Dutch religious tolerance in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries:


At a time when most of the Jews in continental Europe were ghettoized, or repressed in
myriad other ways, these Jews engaged in an almost untrammeled range of economic





58 See Harry A. Ezratty's 500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean: The Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the West Indies,
(Baltimore: Omni Arts, 1997), 21.

59 L.A. Vega, Het Beth Haim van Ouderkerk (The Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel) (Assen: Van Gorcum,
1979), 12-13.
60 See Gradwohl, ]lic iklll.,," 1.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


activity, bore arms in militias, owned land and ran plantations, and were represented in
local councils.61

This Dutch religious tolerance was a series of historical change that, by the sixteenth

century, allowed for elements of religious freedoms for Jews in the Netherlands. As discussed

earlier in this paper, Weinstein presents that the gravestone symbolism in Curacao and

Ouderkerk can be interpreted within this perspective as depictions of celebration of religious

freedom, and is especially true in Biblical scenes associated with people's names on gravestones.

This is relevant considering that many Sephardic Jews of this time, or their family members, had

to take on other Christian names and lifestyles. Harry Ezratty notes that on gravestones in Jewish

cemeteries in the Caribbean sometimes both names are engraved, as seen on the grave of Joseph

Jessurun Mendes/ Lewis Dias in Barbados.62


The Ouderkerk cemetery contains depictions of skulls and crossbones, hourglasses,

angels, biblical scenes, and depictions of people and professions (see figure 16). Other more

widely depicted and more recognizable as Jewish gravestone symbols include trees being cut

down by a hand to signify a life cut short, hands of blessing, and religious symbols such as those

presented in Section One from Halpom and Goberman. The gravestones in Curacao were made

in the Netherlands and shipped to the island. The similarities in artistry between Ouderkerk and

Curacao are clear, especially when the images are of people and biblical scenes. The similarity

between Ishak H. Senior's grave in Curacao and Moses De Mordechai Senior in Ouderkerk is

noticeable (see figures 4 and 22).63




61 Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, "Between Amsterdam and New Amsterdam: The Place of Curagao and the Caribbean
in Early Modern Jewish History," 172-192.

62 Harry A. Ezratty, 500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean, 7-8.
63 See Weinstein "Stones of Memory" for further analysis behind these gravestones and the Senior family.

31






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


L.A. Vega provides detailed photographs of the Ouderkerk gravestones (See figures 17-

22). Most striking of these are the graves of Samuel Senior Teixeira and his wife Rachel Teixeira

de Mattos (figures 17-20).64 Samuel's grave shows the scene from 1 Samuel 3, and Vega notes

how this is "a portrayal one might have thought unimaginable on a Jewish cemetery."65 This is

the biblical story of God calling to Samuel while he sleeps, but Samuel thinks Eli is calling him.

When Samuel says, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening," God comes down and talks to

Samuel.66 What is significant here is that "The Lord came, and stood there, and He called as

before."67 God does not just talk to Samuel, he stands before Samuel. This detail is relevant in

the interpretation of the depiction on Samuel Senior Teixeira's gravestone because it depicts this

scene-it depicts God standing before Samuel! In my research on gravestones in Curacao, I have

not found any direct depictions of God, but this example from the Ouderkerk cemetery shows

that there certainly was not a concern about graven images.


Rochelle Weinstein interprets the gravestone images in Ouderkerk within the context of

illustrated Jewish Bibles. Weinstein discusses Teixeira: "A relief supposedly portraying Samuel

visited in his sleep by God or an angel, commissioned for Samuel Senior Teixeira, repeatedly

demonstrates its real origin in scenes depicting the Creation."68 While I appreciate Weinstein's

analysis of the gravestones in the art historical context and I recognize the significance as

culturally influenced material culture, I also think that the informative quality of the stone is not




64 L.A. Vega, The Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, 50.
65 Ibid.

66 1 Samuel 3:9-11. JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2000), 577.

67 Ibid.

68 Ibid., 25.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


only in its reference to other works of art but to the fact that these Jewish communities used them

to tell their stories. I think Weinstein provides an excellent cultural background for

understanding the atmosphere of the Jews of Ouderkerk. However, I think it is important to view

the stone for what it is and how Teixeira (and others) used them. By viewing these gravestone

images contextually through art that inspired them, Weinstein adds to their historical content, but

I also think that this reduces their symbolic significance because it focuses not on the use of the

image on the gravestone but rather on its inspiration. Clearly the background of the stone's art is

significant for understanding the environment in which it was made, but I think that focusing too

much on what it is inspired by takes away from the importance of how it was used.


Teixeira died in 1716 and his wife died in 1717. Her gravestone depicts the biblical

character Rachel, wife of Jacob, dying in childbirth (see figures 19 and 20).69 Depictions of

women dying in childbirth are more universally recognizable, and while specific in their content,

signify that the women who are buried under these striking gravestones were wives and mothers.

This gravestone imagery of women dying in childbirth communicates its message successfully in

that it is not restricted by language, religious interpretation, or time. Yes, Rachel Teixeira's stone

is a biblical reference, but the scene is universal. Viewers of this tombstone can therefore relate

to it, regardless of their background or even when they view the stone. If cemeteries are

interpreted as libraries such as Worpole suggests, images of women dying in childbirth offer a

wealth of knowledge on the life of the women buried there. The use of this image on tombstones

communicates sadness, a powerful emotion that the viewer recognizes centuries after the stone

was made: "The scene has therefore been conceded to be a timeless, idealized representation of

the centrality of the woman as life-giver and life-supporter of the lamenting family so


69 Vega, The Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, 50.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


disrupted."70 Most important, though, is that these images remind viewers that these stones are

not just beautiful art, but that they are memorials for people's lives. This makes the stones not

only incredible resources for historical study, but also shows how visual references to people's

lives on gravestones, while possibly in contrast with some interpretations of the law against

graven images, provide a timeless reaction.


The Ouderkerk cemetery also contains a variety of professional images. Vega's

photographs show depictions of musicians, with images of King David playing the harp on the

grave of David da Rocha (See figure 21). It is not just a reference to his name, but also his

musical ability.71 The gravestone of Esther de la Penha-Gabay Henriques (1697) depicts her

house and references Psalm 128:3, which Vega shows connects a wife to her home, and thus can

be interpreted as a professional image for women at that time.72


Vega's photographs show that not all of the gravestones in Ouderkerk are so detailed,

much like the Curagao cemetery. Some gravestones just contain writing and a few decorative

elements, such as flowers or patterns. Vega notes that depictions of people and angels "cease to

occur after the end of the eighteenth century."73 This suggests that factors in the community

changed or that perhaps people began to be more traditional in their interpretation of graven

images. Chaim Potok offers an interesting analysis of the challenge of interpreting images in

cemeteries:



70 Rochelle Weinstein, "Women of Valor in Commemorative Imagery" Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress
of the Jewish Studies, Division D (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1982).

71 Vega, The Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, 48.
72 Ibid., 42.

73 Ibid., 22.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


That commandment (Exodus 20: 4-5) tells us: "You shall not make for yourself a
sculpted image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth
below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve
them." Is the image forbidden in homes, schools, and synagogues but permitted in
cemeteries? Did our forefathers avoid images in life only to accept them in
death?74

Potok also notes that "Virtually none of these cemeteries in these pages exists in a viable

contemporary Jewish community."75 The Sephardic communities are still present in the

Netherlands and Curagao, but Potok and Vega are making similar observations-that the images

of people and angels ("graven images") are not usually found in these Jewish cemeteries after the

eighteenth century. This means that after this there was something changing within the attitudes

of Jewish communities regarding symbolism and representations on gravestones.


Potok discusses Moses de Mordechai's gravestone in Ouderkerk (See figure 22): "Ponder

this: a sculpted image of Moses carrying the commandments in which the sculpted image is

forbidden!"76 I think the change in gravestone symbolism is probably connected with changing

attitudes about graven images, but also may reflect generational cultural changes among the

people who commissioned the detailed gravestones with people, angels, professions, and the

people who commissioned gravestones without them. If we build on Weinstein's presentation of

the Ouderkerk and Curagao Beth Haim cemeteries in "Stones of Memory," then the depictions of

people, angels, and professions can be understood as a response to finally having religious

freedom of expression. Perhaps this passion was not as striking to later generations who

commissioned gravestones without these symbols, which would again reinforce the function of

gravestones as communicative tools of cultural values.

74 Chaim Potok, ,I Iic', .I in Arnold Schwartzman's Graven Images: Graphic Motifs of the Jewish Gravestone,
(New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1993), 8.

75 Ibid., 9.
76 Ibid., 10.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Other Sephardic Jewish Cemeteries


Aviva Ben-Ur presents a detailed study of the symbolism in the Jewish cemeteries in

Suriname. Suriname is located north of Brazil and is a former Dutch colony with Dutch as the

official language.7 The Dutch religious tolerance of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

influenced the Jewish community, much like Ouderkerk and Curagao, and similar gravestone

symbols and styles are employed in the Sephardic cemeteries of Suriname dating from 1666-

1873.7 It is also notable that these gravestones were imported from the Netherlands, as seen in

Curagao, and Ben-Ur writes, "Whether executed by a Jewish or Gentile sculptor, the consumer

was Jewish. Not only did the client presumably have a say in choosing or styling the design, but

he or she also imbibed that design with Jewish cultural meaning."79 I find this significant because

some may suggest that the only reason the gravestones have these "graven images" is because

they may have been sculpted by Christians, not Jews, but Ben-Ur does not think this matters-

what matters is that Jews used them. I completely agree with Ben-Ur's assessment and in fact

think that the use of these controversial images in a Jewish cemetery is what is striking about the

stones, not who made them.


The Suriname Sephardic cemeteries, like those in Ouderkerk and Curagao, have flat

gravestones. Ben-Ur notes that the symbolism in Suriname's Sephardic cemeteries reflects

Messianic hopes and worldviews, and also that only the wealthy could afford to buy elaborate

gravestones shipped from Amsterdam. This is important because it provides perspective behind




77 Ben-Ur, "Still Life: Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and West African Art and Form in Suriname's Jewish Cemeteries," 34.

78Ibid.

79 Ibid., 48.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


the cultural implications of the symbolism behind these stones. They are not indicators of all

Sephardic gravestones, but only those who could afford them.80


According to Ben-Ur's presentation, the Suriname Sephardic cemeteries exhibit images

discussed throughout this paper such as: the tree of life, Lulav and Etrog, priestly hands,

professional references, trees being cut down by a hand from the clouds, skulls and crossbones,

hourglasses, and childbirth deathbed scenes. Ben-Ur interprets the presence of trumpets on

gravestones as symbols of hope for the resurrection of the dead.81 Much like Vega and Potok

note about the Ouderkerk cemetery, Ben-Ur says that the "ornamental slabs in the four oldest

cemeteries ceased to be fashionable after the 1850s."82 Ben-Ur is also interested in the scenes of

death in childbirth:


Unlike the almost animated pictographs representing life pursuit through occupational
tools, or tribal affiliation through manual symbols and ewers of water emptied into
basins, the startling images of paturients convey the intensity and paradox of bringing
forth life while descending into death.83

It is not that surprising that the gravestone images in Curagao, Ouderkerk, and Suriname

are similar because the communities were Sephardic, living in Dutch colonies, and the

gravestones are from the same time and were made in the Netherlands. However, Ben-Ur notes

that while the cemeteries in Suriname do display "faint reflections" of Teixeira's gravestone in

Ouderkerk, they do so by symbolizing heavenly hands and body parts, not God.84 In my research

on Curagao's gravestone symbolism, I find the same thing-that there are elements of depictions

80 Ibid., 49.
81 Ibid., 60.

82 Ibid., 49-50.

83 Ibid., 63.
84 Ibid., 70.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


of heavenly beings with heavenly hands and angels, but not direct depiction of God as seen in

Ouderkerk. Teixeira's gravestone image is rare and surprising, but its location in Ouderkerk

rather than one of the Caribbean locations may suggest an even greater sense of religious

freedom felt by the Ouderkerk Jewish community rather than the Jewish communities in Curagao

or Suriname. This may be due to geographical location and politics. The Netherlands offered

security because it was a religiously tolerant place and had the central government, whereas

Suriname and Curagao were just colonies, and Curagao and Suriname were close to other

countries that were practicing the Inquisition, such as Colombia, and may have felt less secure

than the community in the Netherlands.

Other Sephardic Jewish cemeteries are found in the Caribbean, including Nevis, Jamaica,

the Virgin Islands, and Barbados. From my research, it is clear that these cemeteries exhibit

similar symbols including: floral patterns, the hands of blessing, the pitcher of water, trees being

cut down by an angel, and the skull and crossbones.85 However, depictions of people and angels

in the same detail as seen in Curagao, Ouderkerk, and Suriname are difficult to find. This reflects

a number of issues. Firstly, the most obvious explanation is that the Curagao, Ouderkerk, and

Suriname gravestones-since all (or most) imported from the Netherlands-may have either

been made by the same sculptors or influenced by a similar sculpting technique. I think it is

notable that the Dutch influenced cemeteries are the most symbolically specific and detailed.

This reflects a relationship between religion and surrounding political culture. Even though there

may have been other factors behind the gravestone symbolism in the Dutch influenced

cemeteries, there could also be the understanding of place (Ouderkerk and Dutch colonies) and


85
8See Roberta Halporn, also see Michelle Terrell. Also see Isaac S. Emmanuel., and Suzanne A. Emmanuel. History of
the Jews in the Netherlands Antilles ( Assen: Royal Vangorcum Ltd., 1970)., and see also Zvi Loker, Jews in the
Caribbean (Jerusalem: Misgav Yerushalaim, 1991).






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


the cultural and religious practice of displaying these graphic gravestones as material evidence of

this relationship.


In the Colonial Jewish cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island, there are gravestone symbols,

but they are not anywhere near as detailed and striking as the symbols in the cemeteries

mentioned above.86 There are depictions of Death's Heads, but they are not very clear or

detailed, and are clearly not as precise as the images seen in Curagao and Ouderkerk.87 It is

important to note that the Jewish community in Rhode Island was also given some religious

freedom under British Parliamentary law, and the cemetery land was purchased in 1677, and yet

the cemetery does not exhibit the same types of symbolism as Curagao, Ouderkerk, or

Suriname.88 This may simply be due to differences between the communities, but also may be

influenced by place and the cultural factors of the surrounding communities. For example,

Gradwohl presents the presence of Death's Heads in the Newport cemetery as reflections of the

Puritan influence, as discussed by Dethlefsen and Deetz. The Caribbean locations of Curagao

and Suriname were influenced by Dutch culture and even had gravestones shipped from the

Netherlands. While the Newport cemetery and the Curagao cemetery exhibit similarities as well

as differences, the communities were in communication and some of the funding for the Touro

Synagogue in Rhode Island came from Jewish communities in the Caribbean, including Curagao

and Suriname.89 Clearly religious communities do not exist in a bubble but rather interact with

the surrounding cultures and historical circumstances, but the gravestone symbolism differences


86 David Mayer Gradwhol, Like Tablets of the Law Thrown Down: The Colonial Jewish Burying Ground in
Newport, Rhode Island. (Ames: The Touro National Heritage Trust, Sigler Printing, 2007).
87 Ibid., see pages 35-40 for images.

88 Ibid., 1-3, 20.

89 Ibid., 3.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


between Curagao and the Newport cemetery are informative when one considers the influence of

place on religious expression.


What does the gravestone symbolism in Curagao tell us about the community who

commissioned and used them? Specifically, what do the representations of people in death

scenes, depictions of angels and heavenly figures, and also professions, tell us about the

historical environment, and the cultural and religious practices of the Jews of Curagao? From

scenes of women dying in childbirth we can conclude that: 1. Women died in childbirth, 2. This

was regarded as not only as an untimely death, but also one that needed to be memorialized on

the gravestones, 3. The images perpetually act as representations of cultural values of respect for

maternity and reproduction, and in these ways validate a woman's role in the community and

mourn her loss. Based on the material evidence of the gravestones, women were appreciated as

wives and mothers, and their death during childbirth was mourned by their families but also by

the community because the means of death were recognized on the tombstones, which act as

individual and communal communicative tools.


The presence of similar gravestones in Ouderkerk and Suriname reinforce the Dutch

religious tolerance as an influence on the unique gravestone symbolism, especially since the

gravestones were made in the Netherlands and shipped to Curagao and Suriname. The presence

of these graphic gravestones in Ouderkerk, Curagao, and Suriname may reinforce the values of

Dutch religious tolerance, freedom of religious expression and possibly influenced the

communities' understandings of religious interpretation of graven images, and the Sephardic

Jewish communities' experiences with Christianity as Marranos or Conversos.90




90 See Kaplan's discussion of Curagao Jews' relationship with Christianity, 199-200.
40






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


It is important that the material evidence is viewed within the context of how it is used-

gravestones. The symbols were not randomly chosen or simply chosen because the person or

their family liked the way they looked, although that may have been part of the reason. They

were chosen because they captured not only the individual experience, but communal

experiences and values. The gravestone symbolism acts as material evidence for the relationship

between place and context and religious practice: whether or not the sculptors were Christian, or

the symbols were used even though they can be seen as graven images, the Jewish communities

in Ouderkerk, Curagao and Suriname used them and they illustrate their historical experiences.

The gravestone symbols are not unusual if we consider them in context including religious

tolerance, religious challenges, and changes in location that all influenced the cultural and

religious practices of Sephardic Jews of this time, and when interpreted this way the gravestone

symbolism that seems so unusual makes perfect sense. They are material evidence for the

experiences of the Sephardic Jews of Curagao and continue to tell their stories.


When one goes to Curagao and views these striking gravestone symbols and feels

shocked while remembering the Jewish prohibition against graven images, they may ask, like

Terrell did in Nevis, "What were Jews doing here?". While the gravestone symbols are what

raise the question, they also contain the answers. When one digs deeper behind the symbolism,

these gravestones reflect historical experiences, and these experiences were very real and present

to the people who used these gravestones. Weinstein notes: "As late as the eighteenth century,

New Christians were burned at the stake in Spain; others had been banished to Brazil for the

heresy of judaizing; still others took refuge from the Inquisition in New World colonies."91 The




91 Ibid., 122.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


fear and experiences of the Jews of Curagao were thus very affected by these historical events

which started centuries before.


Studying the Curagao cemetery is important for a number of reasons, but specifically

relevant is that the images seen on the tombstones of people and professions clearly express the

cultural situation of the community who used them. The cemetery is a historical reference of the

experiences of Jews in Curagao. Elements of these experiences can be seen in the detailed

symbols of professions, biblical scenes, and deathbed scenes in Curagao.


The Jewish community in Curagao built a stunning synagogue, brought commerce to the

island, and prospered both religiously and secularly. The images on the gravestones are striking

and grab the viewers' attentions because they seem to ignore the graven image prohibition, but in

doing so they are able to evocatively illustrate historical, cultural, and religious values and

experiences of the Curagao Jewish community. Symbols are powerful tools of communication. A

ship is not just a ship but rather shows a person's professional experience, which in Curagao was

a means to religious tolerance. A deathbed scene of a woman in childbirth is not just a biblical

reference or a reference to how a woman died, but rather strikes the viewer and reminds them

that these stones were commissioned by people mourning their loved ones.


Symbols by their very nature mean one thing on the surface and then take on additional

meaning the more they are explored and evaluated. A tree being cut down by a heavenly hand is

a metaphor for a life cut too short. Angels playing instruments and sitting on gravestones act as

decoration but also as a connection between the realm of humans and also the realm of the

divine. While the images on the graves in Curagao are what struck my interest in the Beth Haim

cemetery, my research has shown me that there is so much more behind these images than a






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


reinterpretation of the graven image prohibition. If the Jews of Curagao, Ouderkerk, and

Suriname had not depicted people, professions, and heavenly beings such as angels and heavenly

hands and in Ouderkerk even God, the gravestones would not be as striking and would not as

thoroughly communicate the historical experiences and values of these communities.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 1 The Skull and Crosshones (Death's Head) on a gravestone in Curacao. Photo taken hv author.


Figure 2: A depiction of an angel on the grave of a child in Curacao. Note the word "Anjo" on the first line
of the epitaph. Photo taken by author.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis





Figure 3: A detail of Hands of Blessing on a gravestone in Curacao. Photo taken by author.


Figure 4: A depiction of a person on a gravestone in Curagao. Also shows preservation effort to save gravestone arts
from pollution and environmental damage. Photo taken by author.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 5: Angels and the tree of life on a gravestone in Curacao. Notice the pitcher spilling water, as well as the tree
of life behind them Photo taken by author.


Figure 6: A different example of angels on a gravestone in Curagao. Notice how the angel seems to mourn the
death, and sits near a tree. Photo taken by author.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 7: An example of a star and flowers on a gravestone in Curacao. Photo taken by author.





























Figure 8: An example of a tree being cut down on a gravestone in Curacao. Photo taken by author.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 9: A view of the Beth Haim cemetery in Curacao and the Shell Oil Refinery. Photo taken by author.






a








Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 10: A death scene from a gravestone in Curacao. Photo from Isaac S. Emmanuel's Precious Stones
of the Jews of Curacao, between pages 128 and 129.


Figure 11: A death scene from a gravestone in CuraCao. Photo from Isaac S. Emmanuel's Precious Stones
of the Jews of Curacao, between pages 456 and 457.


Pruo tr 11. s. hivn. Crarto


r- U. r.r- ..t
Cr rr II~j
i . i'l'7 6u
r'Q
;wrs

' ~e ~~
.CI







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 12: The gravestone of Ishac H.Senior. from Emmanuel's Precious Stones, between pages 304 and
305. See also figure 4 in this paper for a more recent picture of the same gravestone.






















































L 11 -r ' tvw^ c`lfrj







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 13: A depiction of a ship on a gravestone in Curacao, symbolizing a profession. Gravestone of
Captain Abraham D. Moreno Henriques. from Emmanuel Precious Stones, between pages 352 and 353.


Figure 14: Another depiction of a ship on the gravestone of Captain Mosseh Henriquez Cotino. From
Emmanuel. Precious Stones, between pages 352 and 353.








Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis



Figure 15: A "Jewish Heritage Tour" in the cemetery in Curacao. December 2007. Photo taken by author.

































Figure 16: Images from the Beth Haim Cemetery in Ouderkerk. Photo from Last Landscapes: The
Architecture of the Cemetery in the West, by Ken Worpole.


r different motifs from headstones at Beth Haim: the hourglass, the skull and crossbones, the chopped-down tree and
splayed hands through which the radiance of the divine flows.


. 1 '1 --.--. D-6- A-rtA]







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 17: Samuel Teixeira's gravestone in Ouderkerk. Notice the depiction of God. Photo from: The Beth
Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel by L.A. Vega. page 50.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 18: A closer look at Teixeira's gravestone, figure 18. Notice the rays of light around God. and that
he is on a cloud. Also notice Samuel's surprise. Magnified detail from a photo from Vega.










.44
































-------- ---
I- E '- a S B t'.. 7 * - .--- ... . . .
y~~~s l^^ g z^*







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 19: Photo of the gravestone of Rachel Teixeira de Mattos in Ouderkerk. Photo from The Beth Haim
of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel by L.A. Vega. page 50.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 20: A closer look at figure 19 Childbirth Death image. Notice the detailed anguish on the faces of
the audience. Magnified detail from a photo from Vega.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 21: The gravestone of David da Rocha in Ouderkerk. Photo from The Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan
de Amstel by L.A. Vega. page 48.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 22: The gravestone of Moses de Mordechai Senior in Ouderkerk. Photo from The Beth Haim of
Ouderkerk aan de Amstel by L.A. Vega, page 54. Consider this picture with figure 13. the gravestone of Ishak
Senior in Curacao, and also figure 4 which shows preservation effort of Ishak Senior's gravestone.







Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Figure 23: A map of the Jewish Caribbean. From "La Nacion" The Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the
Caribbean. An exhibition, Beth Hatefutsoth. The Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora. Tel Aviv:
Spring 1981.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Bibliography

Ben-Ur, Aviva. "Still Life: Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and West African Art and Form in Suriname's
Jewish Cemeteries." American Jewish History 92:1, 2004.

Carabello, Ciro. "Curagao's Jewish Cemetery: A Slowly Disappearing Jewel in the Caribbean."
AGS Quarterly: Bulletin for the Association for Gravestone Studies 22, 3. Summer 1998,
4-5.

Congregation Mikv6 Israel-Emanuel. "Our 'Snoa' 5492-5742." Curagao, Netherlands Antilles,
1982.

De Sola Pool, David. Portraits Etched in Stone: Early Jewish Settlers 1682-1831. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1952.

Dethlefsen, Edwin and James Deetz, "Death's Heads, Cherubs, and Willow Trees: Experimental
Archaeology in Colonial Cemeteries." American Antiquity 31, no. 4 (Apr.1966),
http://www.jstor.org/stable/2694382.

Dobrinsky, Herbert C. A Treasury of Sephardic Laws and Customs: The Ritual Practices of
Syrian, Moroccan, Judeo-Spanish and Spanish and Portuguese Jews of North America.
Hoboken: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1986.

Emmanuel, Isaac S., and Suzanne A. Emmanuel. History of the Jews in the Netherlands Antilles.
Assen: Royal Vangorcum Ltd., 1970.

Emmanuel, Isaac S., Precious Stones of the Jews of Curacao: Curacaon Jewry 1656-1957, New
York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1957.

Ezratty, Harry A. 500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean: The Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the
West Indies, Baltimore: Omni Arts, 1997.

Frank, Ben G. A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America. Gretna: Pelican
Publishing Company, 2005.

Israel, Jonathan I. Diasporas Within a Diaspora Jews, Crypto-Jews and the World Maritime
Empires (1540-1740). Leiden: Brill, 2002.

Gradwohl, David Mayer. "Beneditcha Sea Vuestra Memoria;' Sephardic Jewish Cemeteries in
the Caribbean and Eastern North America." Markers: The Annual Journal of the
Association for Gravestone Studies 15, vi. (1998), 1-29.

SLike Tablets of the Law Thrown Down: The Colonial Jewish Burying
Ground in Newport, Rhode Island. Ames: The Touro National Heritage Trust, Sigler
Printing, 2007.

Goberman, David. Carved Memories: Heritage in Stone from the Russian Jewish Pale, New
York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2000.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Goodenough, Erwin R. Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period. Abridged edition, ed. Jacob
Neusner. Bollingen series, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Hachlili, Rachel. Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Land of Israel. Leiden: E.J. Brill,
1988.

S"The Zodiac in Ancient Jewish Art: Representations and Significance." Bulletin of the
American Schools of Oriental Research. No. 228, Dec. 1977.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/1356500.

Halporn, Roberta, "American Jewish Cemeteries: A Mirror of History," In Ethnicity and the
American Cemetery edited by Richard E. Meyer, 131-155. Bowling Green: Bowling
Green State University Press, 1993.

Huisman, Piet. Sephardim: The Spirit that has Withstood the Times. The Netherlands: Huisman
Editions,1986.

Kampuis, Mariette and Emmar van Duin. They That are Born are Destined to Die and the Dead
to be Brought to Life Again. Curagao: Congregation Mikv6 Israel-Emanuel, 2001.

Kaplan, Yosef. "The Curacao and Amsterdam Jewish Communities in the 17th and 18th
Centuries." American Jewish History 72:2 (Dec. 1982), 193-211.

Karer, Frances P. The Sephardics of Curacao. Assen: Royal Vangorcum Ltd., 1969.

Loker, Zvi. Jews in the Caribbean. Jerusalem: Misgav Yerushalaim, 1991.

Maslin, Rabbi Simeon J., editor. Synagogue Guidebook, Cong. Mikve Israel-Emanuel of
Curagao 1654. Willemstad, Curagao, 1964.

Pearson, Mike Parker. The Archaeology of Death and Burial. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing
Limited, 1999. Published in the United States by Texas A&M University Press, 2000.

Rozen, Minna, Haskoy Cemetery Typology of Stones, Tel Aviv University and the University of
Pennsylvania, 1994.

Schwarzchild, Steven S. "The Legal Foundation of Jewish Aesthetics." Journal of Aesthetic
Education 9:1. Special Issue: Aesthetic Education in Civilization Perspective. (Jan.,
1975). http://www.jstor.org/stable/3331762.

Swartzman, Arnold. Graven Images: Graphic Motifs of the Jewish Gravestone. Forward by
Chaim Potok. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1993.

Terrell, Michelle M. The Jewish Community of Early Colonial Nevis, Gainesville: University of
Florida Press, 2005.

The Jewish Publication Society. JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Philadelphia: 2000.






Kaitlin Wilson-Thesis


Vega, L. Alvares. The Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Trans. D. Swetschinski. Assen:
Van Gorcum and Comp. B.V. Assen, 1979.

Weinstein, Rochelle. "Sepulchral Monuments of the Jews of Amsterdam in the Seventeenth and
Eighteenth Centuries." Ph.D. Diss., New York University 1979. University Microfilms
International, 1990.

"Stones of Memory: Revelations from a Cemetery in Curagao" Sephardim in the Americas,
ed. Martin A. Cohen and Abraham J. Peck, United States of America: American Jewish
Archives, 1993.

"Women of Valor in Commemorative Imagery" Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress
of the Jewish Studies, Division D, Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1982.

Worpole, Ken. Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West. London:
Reaktion Books Ltd., 2003.

Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. "Between Amsterdam and New Amsterdam: The Place of Curagao
and the Caribbean in Early Modem Jewish History" American Jewish History 72:2.
(Dec. 1982), 172-192.




University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs