image: Neve Shalom Synagogue

Chai Vekayam

The Neve Shalom Synagogue Chai Members Newsletter

June 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

image: Purim show

Purim show in Paramaribo, March 2009.

After few months of intensive work, our web site is up and running! Please visit it. Your comments and suggestions on how to improve it are welcome!

Also, in this edition I’ll describe my family trip to visit Jews in a different environment – Suriname. In March 2009, instead of a Bat Mitzvah party, my youngest daughter Heather requested that we’ll have a family trip to Suriname. We all thought it was a brilliant idea, and brilliant it was.

Chesed without Borders

I’d like to tell you a story that really touched my heart. A story of generosity and in my opinion, a wonderful act of Chesed (good deeds).

In neighbouring Guyana (formerly known as British Guyana) there are hardly any Jews living. An elderly Jewish woman, Mrs. Leonie Ades and her son Raphael from Georgetown (the capital city) approached the Suriname Jewish community few years ago with a special request: they wanted to celebrate the Passover Seder but the cost of importing Mazot and Kosher wine from England or the USA was too high. Since the Suriname Jewish community orders Mazot and Kosher wine from New York every year and distributes it to its members, the Community decided to do a mitzvah and every year send the Mazot and wine for a kosher Seder free of charge to this family.

Unfortunately Mrs. Ades passed away on April 30th 2009 at the age of 92. With no Jewish community in Guyana nor Jewish cemetery, her son contacted the relatively wealthy Jewish community in Caracas, Venezuela (15,000 people) to help him arrange a Jewish burial for his mother; but they could not help. According to the Caracas Chabad Rabbi, it is too long to travel with the body. As the days passed by with no solution, the son contacted the small and relatively poor Jewish community of Suriname for help.

image: Plaque on Mrs. Ades grave

Mrs. Ades grave.

Lilly Duyn, the community Vice President immediately called an emergency Board of Directors meeting. Within minutes the community agreed to bury Mrs. Ades in the Jewish cemetery in Paramaribo, Suriname free of charge. Unfortunately, the Custom Service in Suriname was on strike and the ferry boat between Guyana and Suriname was not in service. The only option was to fly the body in a commercial flight from Guyana to Trinidad and then to Suriname, but to get permission from the Government of Trinidad to fly the body through the country would take at least another week. This was not an acceptable solution, so the Suriname Jewish community immediately arranged the required permits from the Government of Suriname, and a small airplane was chartered to fly the body directly from Guyana to Suriname on May 5th. The volunteers of the community’s Chevra Kadisha performed the Tahara procedures and the funeral took place on May 6th.

Mrs. Ades was buried in a Jewish cemetery in a country she never visited and by the good people she never met.

On June 8th, the Shloshim (30 days) Yizkor ceremony took place where a plaque was put on Mrs. Ades z’l grave.

This is a wonderful example of Chesed without borders! Yishar Koa’ch to the community leadership on their decisive action and generosity!

Meeting Jews in Another Environment

Suriname is no doubt a nature lovers paradise. Over ninety percent of the country is covered by dense rainforest jungles and rivers. The jungle is home to some of the rarest birds, frogs, turtles, butterflies and cats in the world. The rivers are rich with a variety of the strangest fish you can think of.

Although it is the smallest country in South America (less than half a million people), the country’s population is a mosaic of distinct ethnic groups such as Hindustanies (from India), Javanese (from the island of Java in Indonesia), Maroons, Creoles, Indigenous Amerindians, Chinese, Europeans and mixed race.

image: Neve Shalom synagogue during the storm

In front of the Neve Shalom Synagogue during the storm.

image: Dense jungle in Kabalebo

The dense jungle in Kabalebo.

The people live in harmony and respect with each other. That is where Heather wanted to have her Bat Mitzvah trip, to meet the existing oldest Jewish community in the Americas and to see their historical Jewish sites in the jungle.

We arrived to the capital city Paramaribo, also known as the “wooden city” (a UNESCO heritage city) in what is known as the short dry season. The weather was all but dry! Days of non stop torrential rain flooded the city and we were inches away from a real catastrophe as the Suriname river which runs along the downtown, almost overflowed its banks.

After touring this beautiful city for two days we flew in a small plane to a nature resort deep in the jungle called Kabalebo.

It is a five year old, small resort in an area where no human being ever lived. Untouched jungle where nothing has changed since the creation of the universe. For four days we travelled with dugout (canoes), kayaks and by foot. It was an experience of a lifetime seeing families of monkeys on the move, toucans and other colourful birds flying above us, beautiful big blue butterflies around us and killer bees on us. We watched anaconda snakes sleeping on tree trunks, cute tiny colourful poison frogs running for a hiding place, and a long list of other amazing wildlife busy with their daily activities. We walked in the dense jungle, visited beautiful waterfalls, and tried our luck in fishing (catch and return). Ilana, my oldest daughter (fifteen years old), caught red eye piranhas and other huge fish in different shapes and colours.

image: Fishing in the Kabalebo river

Fishing in the Kabalebo river.

It was really hard to leave this real paradise, but the plane was waiting to take us back to Paramaribo for the Friday night service in the Neve Shalom Synagogue.

As a result of the flood during the week, the Purim party was deferred and we managed to enjoy the Friday night service and after the Kiddush, a Purim show in Dutch (the official language in Suriname)

image: Poisonous frog in the jungle

Poisonous frog in the jungle.

at the attached community centre by the Surinamese Jewish youngsters. It was great fun and the community centre was packed with almost one hundred members and guests, a huge turnout for such a small community.

In the second week we continued our tour on a small power boat in a three hour ride (each direction) along the Suriname river to the Jodensavanne (the Jewish Savannah), the seventeenth century Jewish village in the middle of the jungle. It was a special experience to visit the remains of the Bracha ve Shalom Synagogue (built in 1685) and the Jewish cemetery with the engraved tomb stones dating back to 1683.

Reading the names on the stones, I found family names such as Robles or Da Costa, the same family names of some of my friends in the current community. (Please read on the fascinating story of the Jodensavanne in the “our history” and “our cemeteries” sections in our website). For a long time after the trip, I was thinking about the amazing experience that the first Jewish settlers must have had, riding their boats along the Suriname river, surrounded by the jungle, clearing the jungle and starting their sugar plantations. Trying to imagine how fortunate they felt to have freedom of religion, freedom to own land, having their own justice system and their own militia/army.

image: Bracha ve Shalom synagogue in the Jodensavanne

Bracha ve Shalom synagogue in the Jodensavanne.

Having all these privileges for Jews in the seventeenth century was unique. No wonder they called the place “Jerusalem on the river”. This piece of jungle was no less than their own promised land.

The next day we toured the Paramaribo Synagogues. We were very impressed with the old mahogany wood Aron Kodesh in the Neve Shalom Synagogue, filled with Torah scrolls several hundred years old;

image: The Aron Kodesh of Neve Shalom synagogue

The Aron Kodesh of Neve Shalom synagogue.

the small Judaic exhibition in the Syangogues’ office and we concluded our day with an eye opening tour of all the Jewish cemeteries in town.

We continued our trip with a three hour drive and an hour long boat trip to Galibi National Park, along the Marowijne river. The river is the natural border between Suriname and French Guyana. We stayed in an Amerindian village called Christian Konde, which had beautiful sandy beaches, palm mangroves and we had a very interesting glimpse into the Amerindian community life.

At night we took an hour ride on a dugout canoe to see the giant sea turtles coming to lay eggs on the beach. We saw the green turtles, each weighing over 250kg, (which is half of the size of the 500kg to 600kg leatherback turtles which come between June to August). The female turtle came ashore, dug a big hole in the sand with her giant flippers and laid 150 eggs, covered them and went back to the sea, all in less than 3 hours. Seeing this is an unforgettable experience.

image: Friendly monkeys near Galibi

Friendly monkeys near Galibi.

We returned to Paramaribo and after the Friday night service in the Synagogue we said thank you and good bye to all our wonderful friends in the Jewish community. We will always remember their warmth and kind hospitality!

As we headed to the airport Heather asked me: “Dad, when are we coming back to Suriname?”

Death of a Friend

Rudie Wolfert

In our last newsletter we introduced you to a dedicated volunteer in the community, Rudie Wolfert. Unfortunately, in April 2009 Rudie felt sick, went to the hospital and within two days he passed away. Rudie was 74 years old. May he rest in peace.


I’d like to thank Lilly Duym, Ilana Steinberg (photographs) and Norma Hutchison (editing) for their contribution to our fourth newsletter.

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: jks1111 @

As Ever,
Jacob Steinberg