image: Neve Shalom Synagogue

Chai Vekayam

The Neve Shalom Synagogue Chai Members Newsletter

February 2009

Dear Chai members;

Chai Vekayam (“live for the future” in Hebrew) is the newsletter for the Chai members of the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Suriname. The objective of this newsletter is to keep you informed, at least twice a year, on the recent events in the Suriname Jewish community.

Chai Membership Update

I was very excited to see the Mikvah operating during my last visit in January 2009. The renovation was well done and lots of members and guests had the opportunity to use it during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

We have started working on our new project: building a fence around the active Askenazi cemetery in town. Unfortunately the place is used as a dumping ground for some of the locals.

image: Chanukiyot

Two weeks ago we received the city of Paramaribo’s permission to build the fence. We have already received some very generous donations from new Chai members and their dollars will be put to good use to build this fence. One of the new members is the Berg family. Knowing first hand the condition of the Jewish cemeteries in Suriname, the Bergs joined as a lifetime Chai members, and provided a very generous donation to start the project. A special thank you to the Berg family for their contribution, which is not their first. Mr. and Mrs. Berg participated as volunteers ten years ago in a project, led by Rachel Frankel, documenting the Jewish tombstones of the Jodensavanne. Mr. Berg, a lawyer and historian, wrote a fascinating article named: Among the Dead in Jewish Savannah. If you are interested in Mr. Berg’s article, please email me and I’ll send you a copy.

The High Holidays in Suriname

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur brought the whole community together. The Synagogue was full with members and guests. We had a very special guest this year: 16 year old Yehuda Webster from Newark, New Jersey. He studied a semester in Suriname, helped as a second Chazan (Cantor) during the high holidays and during all the Shabbat and Friday night services. Yehuda has a beautiful voice and his great personality added a special flavour to the services. His older sister, Keturah, a freshmen at Brown University, also spent 3 months in Suriname two years ago. The Websters are African-American Jews and are active members of the Conservative congregation Oheb Shalom in South Orange, New Jersey.

The Chanukah celebration was also a great success.

image: Yehuda Webster, Shul Donk & Jack van Niel

Second Chazan: Yehuda Webster (Center), our President
Shul Donk (Left) and our Chazan Jack van Niel (Right)

Lots of the young kids built their own Chanukiya and we had a lovely ceremony where all the kids lit their Chanukiyot.

In March we’ll be getting ready for Purim. My family will attend the Shabbat service and the Purim celebration afterwards on our trip to Suriname during March break. I’ll report on it in our next newsletter.

image: Chanukah candle lighting

Kids Chanukah candle lighting ceremony.

Israel’s Museum Lease of the Zedek ve Shalom Synagogue’s Judaic Contents

We are very disappointed to report that the new 10 year lease of our old Zedek ve Shalom (Justice and Peace) Synagogue’s Judaic contents is not progressing well. The Israel Museum has leased the contents for the last 10 years, and as the new lease renewal approaches, they indicated that they intend to renew the lease but they refuse any payments! Knowing that we are a small and poor community that can not afford lengthy litigations in Israeli courts, we are extremely disappointed and upset. The minimal lease fees paid for our treasures was used to help to maintain the buildings and pay our bills. With the help of some good lawyer friends in Toronto, we are assessing our options and are trying to find volunteer Israeli lawyers who will be willing to take our case through the legal system in Israel to obtain justice. We will keep you updated. Any contacts with Israeli lawyers will be highly appreciated!

Meet our Members

image: Rudie Wolfert photo

Rudie Wolfert

Rudie was born in Suriname 74 years ago. Rudie’s mother is a descendent of the famous and distinguished Sephardic Abarbanel family. They arrived with the third group of Jews to the Jodensavanne in 1664. Visitors can see the gravestones of his ancestors in the Jodensavanne cemetery.

Rudie worked until his retirement in 1994 as a civil servant. Since then, Rudie can be found every day in the Synagogue, working as a volunteer doing any task required to keep our Synagogue in good shape. Rudie is single and lives with his sister in Paramaribo.

Restoration of the Bracha ve Shalom Synagogue, Jodensavanne

On Sunday June 22, 2008, the Jewish community of Suriname held an emotional ceremony in honour of the completed restoration and preservation of the 324 year old Bracha ve Shalom (Blessing and Peace) Synagogue in the Jodensavanne.

image: Synagogue restoration ceremony

The ceremony

Jodensavanne (the Jewish Savannah, in Dutch), also known as Jerusalem on the River, is the name of the Jewish settlement founded in 1652. The Jodensavanne was a flourishing agricultural community where the Jews enjoyed freedom of religion, the right to own land and have their own court of justice. The community developed rapidly and in the early 18th century, the Jews owned 115 of the 400 sugar and coffee plantations. The Jodensavanne became the major economic pillar of the entire colony of Suriname at that time.

The renovation work consisted of adding a wooden floor where the main level of the Synagogue had been, allowing visitors to go inside the remains of the Synagogue.

image: Benjamin Duym blowing the Shofar

Right: Benjamin Duym blowing the Shofar. Left: Shul Donk,
the President of our Jewish Community

The ceremony was attended by many members of the Jewish community, members of the Jodensavanne Stichting (a non-profit organization that preserve and manage this historical site), members of Suralco (the Suriname subsidiary of Alcoa, who generously donated most of the funds for the renovation) and the local media.

For all who attended, the ceremony was a powerful and inspirational reminder of the remarkable history of the Jewish community of Suriname, the oldest existing Jewish community in all of the Americas.

image: Yehuda Webster photo
After the ceremony, a new energy illuminated the youth, leaving many inspired and motivated to continue the legacy of their great, great, great grandparents into future generations, as many are soon becoming of age to take their place as the leaders of the Suriname Jewish community.

Saying Goodbye

We are saying good bye and wishing good luck to Yehuda Webster (16) who recently returned home to New Jersey. Yehuda, it was such a pleasure to enjoy your beautiful voice reading the Torah during your 3 month stay in Suriname. Thank you so much and hope to see you again soon!


I’d like to thank Lilly Duym, Shul Donk and Sarah Goldenstein for their contribution to our third newsletter. Also, special thanks to Paul San A Jang who took Yehuda Webster’s photos.

Please let me know if you have any comments, suggestions or ideas on how to make this newsletter better. Please feel free to contact me at:

As Ever,
Jacob Steinberg.