Creole Jews: Negotiating community in colonial Suriname

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This study presents a refined analysis of Surinames-Jewish identifications. The story of the Surinamese Jews is one of a colonial Jewish community that became ever more interwoven with the local environment of Suriname. Ever since their first settlement, Jewish migrants from diverse backgrounds, each with their own narrative of migration and settlement, were faced with challenges brought about by this new environment; a colonial order and, in essence, a race-based slave society. A place, furthermore, that was constantly changing: economically, socially, demographically, politically and culturally. Against this background, the Jewish community transformed from a migrant community into a settlers’ community. Both the Portuguese and High German Jews adopted Paramaribo as their principal place of residence from the late eighteenth century onwards. Radical economic changes – most notably the decline of the Portuguese-Jewish planters’ class – not only influenced the economic wealth of the Surinamese Jews as a group, but also had considerable impact on their social status in Suriname’s society. The story of the Surinamese Jews is a prime example of the many ways in which a colonial environment and diasporic connections put their stamp on everyday life and affected the demarcation of community boundaries and group identifications. The Surinamese-Jewish community debated, contested and negotiated the pillars of a Surinamese-Jewish group identity not only among themselves but also with the colonial authorities. This book is based on the author’s dissertation. æ Wieke Vink (1971) obtained her Master’s in social history at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She then combined PhD research with an assignment at the Dutch Department of Integration policy (Ministry of VROM). Vink received her PhD from the Erasmus University in 2008; for her dissertation she received the Preamium Erasmianum Research Prize 2009. American Historical Review, December 2011 …. Based upon extensive archival research and a wide range of published and unpublished sources in Dutch and English, Vink’s study explores the social history and the trajectory of the Jewish ethnic groups who made their home in Suriname, analyzing changes in their way of life, the fluctuation of identities, and their status in society over the span of three centuries. Vink’sæ elegant prose eases our passage through thickets of bureaucracy and intercommunal rivalries, separating them from one another with surgical skill while clarifying their relationships with one another. This is an important book for Latin American and Jewish sociology and history.

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