A Brief History of Jodensavanne, Suriname

Bird's eye view of the ruins of Beracha VeSalom Synagogue
Bird's eye view of the ruins of Beracha VeSalom Synagogue
(Oct. 2014, MediaVision on behalf of Jodensavanne Foundation)

They were 3 major waves of Jewish migrations to Suriname. The first Jews arrived around the 1630s via Brazil. They settled near the old capital of Suriname, Thorarica. The second group of Jews arrived in 1652 and settled on a savanne near the Cassipora Creek and the third group arrived in 1664 from Cayenne. They also settled near the Cassipora Creek. The group that settled near Thorarica also moved there.

The Jews community in Suriname were granted several very important privileges on August 17th 1665 by the British colonial government, which were continued by the Dutch.  These privileges made them the only Jewish diaspora group in the world to have political and religious autonomy before the founding of the state Israel. Because of these privileges the Jews were able to lay out a cemetery, establish a Jewish militia, build schools and a wooden synagogue at Cassipora near 1671.

In 1684 the Jewish community at Cassipora left and moved to a hill overlooking the Suriname River. This is where they established their village, Jodensavanne, also referred to as ‘Jerusalem by the riverside’. By the end of the 1600s there were approximately 600 Jews owning around 40 plantations and 9000 slaves. In 1685 they inaugurated a majestic brick synagogue named 'BerahaVe Shalom' (Blessing and Peace). This was a large building with vaulted roof supported by columns. The women had a broad gallery. There were four streets leading from the synagogue to the village.

Jew’s Savanne prospered for a century and eventually came into a decline by 1787. In 1832 Jodensavanne was destroyed by a great fire that ruined almost all the homes. After that nearly no one lived there. Services were held until 1860 in the synagogue. After that the jungle took over Jodensavanne.

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