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November 18, 1988 - Image 63

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-11-18

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A gravestone in the Nevis cemetery.

I

p

t was a stunningly beautiful day,
a perfect day in the tropics. But
I wasn't sitting on the magnifi-
cent Pinney's Beach with the few
other tourists who were on the
remote islnd of Nevis.
Instead I was sitting in the island
police station.
The police officer was speaking on
the phone in a patois I couldn't
understand.
He turned to me. "Make a right
on Government Road. You'll see the
funeral home?' he said. "They have
the key!'
A few minutes later I was open-
ing a rusty gate and found myself in
an old, but well kept burial ground.
Seventeen worn gravestones lay
recumbent The engravings on them
were barely decipherable. Most of the
gravestones appeared to be inscribed
in either Spanish or Portuguese and
Hebrew.
• The shade provided by a large fig
tree had helped to preserve one stone
in its entirety. It read: "Here lies the
body of Bathsheba, the beloved wife
of Roland Gideon!' Bathsheba died in
childbirth on Aug. 8, 1684.
Bathsheba was a member of an
all-but-forgotten Jewish community
that once flourished on the cap-
tivatingly lovely Caribbean island of
Nevis.
Few people have heard of this
now-tranquil Leeward isle. Yet during
the 18th century, Nevis was a very
popular place indeed and European
aristocracy flocked to the island,
especially to partake of the local hot
mineral springs which were said to
cure rheumatism and other assorted

Rediscovering
Nevis

now a rubbled - ruin, sits adjacent to
the island's power station. The school
and baths have never been found.
There is a path, known as the Jew's
Walk, which leads to the cemetery.
And the cemetery, with its mute
gravestones, is all, really, that re-
mains. And if it weren't for one man,
it's doubtful we'd even have the burial
ground to stir our memories.
Thirty years ago, while on a
cruise, Philadelphia attorney, Robert
D. Abrahams, and his wife, Florence,
learned about the Jewish history of
SUSAN LUDMER-GLIEBE
Nevis from a New York rabbi. They
Special to The Jewish News
had never been to Nevis but they
decided to visit the island.
They promptly fell in love with
ills. The British built "great houses" salt, sugar and molasses and return-
ed to her tropical home with timber, Nevis and purchased a ruined sugar
and gave lavish dances and balls.
plantation called Morning Star,
During the island's heyday, Nevis soap and European goods.
The community was large and which they have spent decades
was also home to a substantial
Sephardi Jewish community, one that wealthy enough to have a synagogue, restoring.
The plantation wasn't the only
had been in existence for over a cen- mikvah, graveyard and school.
tury. One quarter of the island's white There's even a tale that Nevis native thing Abrahams wished to bring back
son Alexander Hamilton received his from the past. "I got permission from
population was Jewish, in fact.
Historians tell us that most of the elementary education at the Jewish the island government to restore the
Jews of Nevis were merchants, many school. His illegitimate status sup- graveyard?' Abrahams explains.
In 1972, after considerable work,
of them involved with the sugar and posedly denied him admission to the
the cemetery was rededicated.
slave trades. These Jews had Anglican parish school.
By 1800, for reasons still unclear, Abrahams insures that the cemetery
migrated from Brazil and islands like
the community had disappeared. remains in good shape. "I send a
Barbados.
Roland Gideon, along with his Some say that the hurricane of 1772 gardener every two weeks to keep it
brothers Samson and Abraham, was the cause of the Jews' departure. clean?'
Abrahams, who's a self-confessed
sought their fortunes on Barbados Others suggest that petitions to ex-
pell them, signed by envious traders, history buff, tried to find out all he
and then moved on to Nevis.
Some women, like Esther might have pushed the Jews onwards. could about the community. After
Pinheiro, were more fortunate than Possibly they left the small island — discovering nothing in the local ar-
Bathsheba Gideon. When her hus- it's only 36 square miles — for a chives, he went abroad in his quest for
band, a merchant, died, Esther car- larger Jewish community like that on information.
The Abrahams are the only
ried on his trade. She and a crew of St. Thomas.
Over the centuries, the remnants known Jews on Nevis. As I walked
five were frequent visitors to the port
of New York. Arriving on her sloop, of the once-thriving Jewish communi- back to the center of town, I wondered
the Neptune, she sold the colonists ty fell into disarray. The synagogue, about the two couples who were

The remnants of a forgotten Jewish
community are rescued from the
encroaching jungle

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

63

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