A book review from Jewish Voice New York. Follow the link to the original report to view some of the absolutely gorgeous photographs by Wyatt Gallery. I simply love his work!
Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean (Schiffer, winter 2017) presents over 200 exquisite color images by the award-winning photographer Wyatt Gallery that highlight the little-known history of the earliest Jewish communities of the New World, as seen through the remaining historic sites in Barbados, Curaçao, Jamaica, Nevis, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Eustatius, and Suriname. These synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, some of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, reveal the strength of the Jewish people and the diverse cultural history of the Caribbean. The photographs were taken from 2009 to 2015 and are organized by location and in chronological order by the earliest known Jewish communities.
In the 1600s and 1700s, the West Indies became a place of salvation for Sephardic Jews who had fled to Amsterdam after the Spanish Inquisition and the Portuguese Expulsion. Although initially they did not have full rights, La Nación, as these Jews called themselves, were fundamental in shaping the early Caribbean economy through their unique knowledge of sugar cane cultivation, agriculture, and their expansive trade network.
Jews became merchants, politicians and bankers to the American colonies, creating financial success for the European powers, while managing to prosper and retain their culture, religion and customs. This led to the continuation and support of Judaism throughout the Americas. The Jewish communities of the Caribbean were once so strong and influential that they helped fuel the success of the American Revolution and partially financed the first synagogues in the United States, located in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island.
Once home to thousands of predominantly Sephardic Jews, these communities are rapidly dwindling and could soon disappear. Only five synagogues remain in use and many of the original cemeteries are either falling apart, or have been lost to natural disasters, vandalism, and pollution.
Since the Southeast Asia Tsunami of 2004, Wyatt Gallery has documented the aftermaths of almost every major natural disaster. After photographing the remnants of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Port au Prince, Haiti that was destroyed by the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, he realized this same tragic fate could happen to the remaining historic synagogues in the Caribbean. He writes, “I felt it was my calling to photographically document these modern day treasures of the Jewish experience to ensure that all future generations will be able to visually experience this exceptional story of Jewish survival and the birth of Judaism in the new world.”
Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean has garnered praise from Jewish scholars and educators. Jane S. Gerber, Professor of History & Director at Institute for Sephardic Studies at The Graduate School of the City University of New York writes: “Wyatt Gallery’s photographs of the Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean capture the dignity and grandeur of its Sephardic past, its deep root in Iberia, as well as its fragile present and uncertain future. He skillfully evokes the dramatic and largely unknown story of the dignity and perseverance of the Caribbean Jewish experience with an unerring eye for beauty and rich historical detail.”
Wyatt Gallery, a person not a place, is an American fine art documentary photographer who received his BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in 1997. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and the Rosenberg Travel Grant, and has been named to prestigious lists, including the PDN 30, the PDN Rising Stars, and 25 Under 25 Up-and-Coming American Photographers by Duke University. His photographs are in numerous public and private collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the George Eastman House, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Worcester Art Museum, Comcast, Twitter, and American Express.
His work has been featured in Esquire, Departures, Condé Nast Traveler, Mother Jones, and the New York Times, and on Oprah’s OWN Network, and NBC, amongst others. A former adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, he continues to give lectures at New York University, the School of Visual Arts, the New School, and more. His book Tent Life: Haiti was featured in an exhibition at George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, while his #SANDY was selected for Best Photo Books of 2014 by American Photo magazine. 100% of the royalties from both books supported rebuilding efforts in Haiti and New York City. His work is represented by Foley Gallery and Redux Pictures in New York City. For more information, go to: www.wyattgallery.com.
Stanley Mirvis is a postdoctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He received his doctorate in history from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and has taught Jewish history at Hunter College in New York. Stanley has published several articles on the history of Sephardic Jews in colonial Jamaica and is currently completing his monograph, The Jews of Colonial Jamaica: Western Sephardic Society and Family Life in the Eighteenth-Century Caribbean.
Dr. Jonathan Sarna, who gives the Foreword to this book, is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History and Chair of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. He is also the president of the Association for Jewish Studies and Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.
Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s 50 most influential American Jews, he was chief historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community and is recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion, and life. In 2009, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has written, edited, or co-edited more than 30 books and is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History. Winner of the Jewish Book Council’s Jewish Book of the Year Award in 2004, it has been praised as “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”