Monday, 24 December 2007

June 14, 1844 A Letter describing the Congregation

Barbadoes, June 14, 1844.

Reverend and Dear Sir!

Should you not be in possession of any other and more satisfactory account of our people of this island, and you think this likely to interest either yourself, or the readers of your very useful periodical, it is entirely at your disposal. You will regret as much as myself, that nothing documentary can be at this day found within the archives of the Synagogue, that can establish the correct era of their original settlement in Barbadoes, or the country in Europe from which they emigrated hither. The want of this, as well as other desirable information, is doubtless owing to casualties of fire and hurricane, that have, in their frequent visitation through the country, more than once prostrated the sacred edifice of Bridgetown.

I had therefore to “reach it there, where seraphs gather immortality.” Here too time had worked its accustomed change “of growth and decay” since my last visit to the sacred spot: but it was familiar to my recollection. I quickly found myself beside the same venerable tomb before which I stood forty-three years ago, and, as now, deciphering with the same intense though boyish curiosity its much worn face. After some time spent in clearing and cleaning, I succeeded to make out the year of interment to be A. M. 5418 (1658). This is decidedly the oldest, and to all appearance the first stone laid in the ground; those neighbouring are —d Mercado, 5420, and Levi Resio, 5421 (1661). All intermediate to that of David Ralph Mercado, 1685, (which is of marble and in handsome preservation,) are of a very friable substance and are completely defaced and much broken. I am thus particular, in order to show that no mistake has been made in the first noticed. There is space at the back or commencement of the ground, which, although slabs have never been laid down, has, from every appearance, been filled up with mortal tenants, and oral testimony seems to corroborate the fact. This taken into consideration, we may add thirty years for residence and death, which would extend their first settlement to A. M. 5388, corresponding to 1628, or so long back as two hundred and sixteen years. John Payer, in his History of Barbadoes, (to which your inquiring mind has likely had access), speaks of Jews in 1680, as of long and settled residents of the island. He thus remarks of them: “Their testimony in courts of law had been long rejected, but a more enlightened policy prevailing over an unjust prejudice, they were now admitted, by a law passed for that purpose, to give their testimony in all civil suits, and not otherwise, upon the five books of Moses.” It would appear that they continued under similar disabilities till the administration of Sir Bevil Granville, in 1706, who, for the consideration of £200, granted them (though against the law) some other privileges, but what they were we are not informed. Their Hazanim have been from time immemorial elected through the vestry of the Portuguese Synagogue of London, and they have obtained their Hahamim through the same medium. The names of three or four are to be seen in the Beth ahayim.

The rebuilding of the Synagogue, which was destroyed by the hurricane of 2d Elul, 5591, (August 2d, 1831,) cost $14,000. The corner-stone was laid 20th March, 1832, and opened for consecration on the 9th March, 1833. The architects were Messrs. John Herbert, jr., and T. R. Wilkes. The committee appointed to superintend its erection (for whose activity, taste, and foresight, much praise is due) were Messrs. M. D’Azevedo, Myer Abrahams, D. M. C. Baesa, D. M. Lobo, and M. A. Finzi.

I am indebted to the latter gentleman for the order and minutiae of building, which are as follows:

It is built of rough native stone, with brick coins and jambs, and contrived outside to imitate squared freestone. It is thirty-seven feet high, fifty long, and forty wide; walls two feet thick, which receive great strength by the rounding of its angles, which are capped with censers, uniting a balustraded parapet all around. The windows in the upper part are eighteen in number, and lancet-shaped; those below are elliptic. A double flight of stone steps, on the north side, covered with a gothic hood, leads to the ladies’ gallery, which occupies three sides of the building, supported by ten gothic columns. The Hehal, Tebah, and Banca, are of mahogany; the benches of a wood called determer, very much resembling the above. The area is paved with alternate squares of white and black marble, and the ceiling painted in relief. The roof is peculiar, being formed of timber laid direct across with massive knees, or angles, of iron. The necessary current, which is three inches in ten feet, is given by blocking its beams. The whole is covered with sheet copper, the edges of which are lapped over ridges of plank running longitudinally down the roof, and these are capped with lead. The ceiling is attached immediately to the under side of the beams, so that the whole depth from the outer to the inner surface of the roof does not exceed eighteen inches.

The K. K. Nidhe Israel is not now, nor ever has been, a corporated body. It subsists purely by the tender mercies of “the powers that be.” They have to obtain license, by petition to the legislature of the island, to conduct their affairs, which grants its sanction to such constitutional laws of which it may approve. It is likewise necessary, should it be required to enforce payment of arrears due the Synagogue by any of its members, that the same go before the governor in council, who, according to the “ordinance made and provided,” “examine, conclude, and determine,” before a suit at law can take place. Every thing appertaining to the concerns of the congregation is conducted with much order, and the service performed with appropriate solemnity every alternate week. by Messrs. Edward Moses, Parnass, Abm. Finzi, and M. S. Daniels. The usual routine of worship is adhered to, and all offerings, as well as the prayers for government are said in the Spanish language. We may presume, therefore, from the intelligent and enlightened character of the present generation, that some more modern and consistent improvement will soon be resorted to.

I am, Reverend and dear sir, yours,

D. N. Carvalho.
[D. N. Carvalho was the father of S. N. Carvalho.]

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