Tuesday, October 30, 2007


My fond memories of Israel Benoliel, son of Salomao Benoliel and Carolina Benoliel Carvalho Benoliel, were revived this month during the traditional Jewish "unveiling" ceremony. Israel died on February 5, 2007 on his 90th birthday. Born in Boa Vista, Cape Verde, Israel Benoliel was educated in Porto and Lisbon, Portugal and eventually made his way to the United States where he worked as a telecommunications engineeer in Virginia. He is survived by his wife Sylvia, two children and two grandchildren. His untimely death symbolizes the urgency with with we must chronicle the lives of the Jews of Cape Verde and their descendants, lest the memories be forgotten. Israel insisted on a Jewish burial--a wish that his wife--who is Catholic by birth, lovingly honored. Also in keeping with a more recent Jewish tradition, an "unveiling" ceremony took place this month. It's the formal dedication of the tombstone. Israel was fiercely proud of his Jewish ancestry. His parents were also born in Boa Vista, but his paternal grandparents, Esther Benathar and Abraham Benoliel hailed from Rabat, Morocco and immigrated to Cape Verde in the mid 19th century. (See my first entry to understand the reasons behind the immigration of Sephardic Jews to Cape Verde, then a Portuguese colony.) The Benoliel family was so powerful and benevolent that they practically fueled the economy of Boa Vista.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Cape Verde is so so tiny that it does not even appear on most maps of Africa!! Such was the case at a recent leadership forum sponsored by the Africa Travel Association (ATA) in New York City where Cape Verdean Prime Minister Jose Neves delivered a facsinating presentation about tourism in the island nation. Joking about the glaring omission from the ATA map, Prime Minister Neves quipped after his address, "I hope I have succeeded in putting Cape Verde on the map." As more people learn about the natural beauty of Cape Verde---its pristine beaches, its mountains, its delicious seafood, its extraordinary music, its warm and hospitable people, and why not, its Jewish cemeteries, mapmakers of the world will have to take notice!!! No longer will they get away with omitting this beautiful country from its rightful place off the coast of Senegal!!!

Monday, August 20, 2007


In addition to hearing from the descendants of the Jewish families that immigrated to Cape Verde, I am eager to hear from academics and experts in Moroccan and Portuguese Jewish history. Historically speaking, in your view, what are the primary reasons that prompted some Jews to leave Morocco for Cape Verde, a Portuguese colony, during the mid-late 1800's?

Monday, July 30, 2007


Welcome to the Jews of Cape Verde blog! I would like to share with you a fascinating and little-known story about the Jewish heritage of Cape Verde. The Republic of Cape Verde is an archipelago of ten islands off the coast of Senegal, West Africa. As a result of over 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule, Cape Verde is predominantly Catholic. However, beginning with the period of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition through the late 19th century, Cape Verde received Jews fleeing religious persecution or seeking greater economic stability.

I am in the process of creating a not-for-profit organization called "The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project," which will honor and document the presence of the second wave of Jewish immigration. These Jews came primarily from Morocco and Gibraltar in the late 1800's for largely economic reasons. (Jews have lived relatively peacefully and harmoniously with their Muslim brethren in Morocco for more than 2000 years!) We know from the Portuguese and Hebrew etchings on the tombstones in the small Jewish cemeteries which dot several islands that the majority hailed from the Moroccan cities of Tangier, Rabat and Mogador (now Essaouira) bearing distinctive Sephardic names such as Auday, Anahory, Benoliel, Benros, Benchimol, Benathar, Brigham, Cohen, Levy, Maman, Pinto, Seruya and Wahnon.

These families landed primarily on the islands of Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, Boa Vista and Sao Tiago and engaged in international commerce, shipping, administration, and other trades. The Jews lived, worked and prospered in Cape Verde. However, because their numbers were few relative to the larger non-Jewish community, widespread intermarriage with the predominantly Catholic population diluted their affiliation with Jewish customs and rituals. As a result, there are virtually no practicing Jews in Cape Verde today. Nonetheless, the descendants of these families speak with pride of their Jewish roots and want to revive and chronicle the memory of their ancestors. The first democratically elected prime minister of Cape Verde, Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga, is of Jewish descent! The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project has these major objectives:
  • Rehabilitation and re-dedication of the small Jewish cemeteries that dot the archipelago.
  • Publication of a book about the Jews of Cape Verde based on archival research and oral testimonies of descendants and friends.
  • Promotion of Jewish Heritage tourism in Cape Verde.
I look forward to your feedback and help. I would love to hear from those who are of Cape Verdean Jewish descent. Even though I have established relationships with many of the major families and have garnered much information, I am seeking more testimonies.