The Jewish Cemetery in Curacao
In 1659, with the arrival of the second group of Jewish settlers, cemetery Beth Haim was consecrated. The oldest tombstone dates from 1668, making it one of the first cemeteries in the New World. This historic cemetery located some twenty minutes from Willemstad.
The cemetery contains 2500 graves; the tombstones of many of these have been adorned with beautiful sculpture representing biblical passages, often relating to the name of the deceased. The most common designs are depictions of biblical scenes related to the name of the deceased. On the tombs of males named Abraham, the Patriarch is seen contemplating the stars. On the tombs of males named Elijah, the prophet is seen a fiery chariot carrying him to heaven. Sometimes, the engraving will hint at the cause of death, such as a tree being truncated at its root, symbolizing an untimely death, or a ship on stormy water, indicating the victim perished at sea. Mortality among women in childbirth was frequent. On the tomb of Rachel, wife of Yitzhak Pereira, the father is shown handing over the newborn child to another woman before the dead mother. Approximately one hundred, of the 2,500, 17th and 18th centuries, are still somewhat visible and readable today. Replicas of some of the elaborate tombstones can be seen at the entrance to the Curacao Jewish Museum located adjacent to Mikve Israel-Emanuel Sunangoue in Punda.
Originally laid out in open country near the first agricultural settlements belonging to the original Sephardic settlers, the cemetery is unfortunately surrounded today by a tremendous oil refinery and its stones are perpetually subjected to the deteriorating and corrosive influence of this refinery's fumes. The last burials held in this cemetery were in the 1950s.
Amongst the anonymous graves some famous Jews are buried; Ribca Spinoza, half-sister of Baruch Spinoza, died on January 25, 1695. Jahacob Alvares Carrea, an assistant of Malag-born Eliau Lopez, the chief rabbi of Curaçao in 1693, died on June 25, 1714.
The antiquity, art and historical heritage make the cemetery at Blenheim an extraordinary international monument.
Many of the gravesites have both Jewish and non-Jewish symbols on them. Skulls and crossbones and hourglasses on the tombstones show the marks of Iberian Jews and more assimilated Jews who brought customs of the larger community to the Caribbean Jewish community.
The newer, “modern” cemetery located on Berg Altena, is much closer to Willemstad. Originally much smaller than it is today, Reform Congregation Temple Emanuel purchased and consecrated “Beit Haim Berg Altena”, for its own use after the split from the then Orthodox Mikvé Israel in 1864. Some twenty years later, Congregation Mikvé Israel purchased a large piece of land adjacent to the cemetery and started burying there as well. The boundary walls physically separating the Mikvé Israel and Emanuel plots were demolished as the first act of the “de jure” merger of the two Sephardic congregations in 1964.
Orthodox Congregation Shaarei Tsedek used the Beit Haim cemetery at Blenheim in the beginning. When Blenheim was no longer available for burials, they continued their burials in the northeast corner of the Mikvé Israel’s cemetery in Berg Altena.
Visits to the old Jewish cemetery at Blenheim are by appointment only (+5999) 461-1067. The new Jewish cemetery is open from 8:00am until 5:00pm and is located on the way to Punda on the left side off the Schotegatweg.
More on the Beit Haim: http://www.snoa.com/snoa.html