In September 2009, I traveled to Portugal on behalf of CVJHP to raise awareness among the Lisbon Jewish community and the descendants of the Jews of Cape Verde, many of whom reside in Lisbon. I met with members of the Benros, Benoliel, Cohen, Wahnon, Seruya and other families at a meeting organized by Mr. Pedro Benros and Viriato de Barros. I also had the pleasure of meeting the President of the Lisbon Jewish community, Mr. Jose Bensaude Carp, a cousin of former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio. Distinguished businessman and historian, Roberto Bachmann also attended as did the vice president of the Jewish community, Esther Mucznik, and Cantor of the Lisbon Synagogue, Isaac Assor.
I also visited the Jewish cemetery in Faro, Algarve. This Jewish cemetery is an inspiration to me as it was restored in the same way we hope to restore and preserve the small burial plots in Cape Verde. Thanks to Isaac "Ike" Bitton, a Portuguese - born Jew of Moroccan descent, who lived in Illinois, the Faro Jewish cemetery has been registered as a Portuguese National Monument!!! We are trying to do something similar in Cape Verde! Unfortunately Ike passed away a few year ago, but not before he shared his passion and advice with me. Moroccan-born Sephardim "returned" to the Algarve at the behest of Marques de Pombal in the late 1700's. He reportedly told them that they would be "safe," even though many came before the Inquisition had officially been abolished. Marques de Pombal said Portugal needed the expertise of their former Jewish inhabitants, many of whom fled to Morocco at the time of the Inquisition. Although the Faro cemetery has many more graves than all four Cape Verdean Jewish cemeteries combined, it stands as a physical and spiritual inspiration for our work in Cape Verde. To Ike Bitton, a gregarious, proud Portuguese Jew --- May you rest in peace knowing that you are spurring us to replicate your good work in Cape Verde. Thanks to Ralf and Judy Pinto who manage the cemetery for their kind hospitality.
In Lisbon, I also met with senior officials at the Gulbenkian and Luso-American Foundations. Objective ---obtain funding and / or support for research into the families of the Jews of Cape Verde. We need to field researchers who can comb archives in Portugal, Morocco and Cape Verde to obtain more information about the commercial and professional activities of the Jewish families, many of whom contributed greatly to Cape Verdean development. We know that David Benoliel literally fueled the economy of Boa Vista in the early 1900's. We need to know more based on archival and oral history. Gulbenkian has an international fellowship program to which we plan to field a scholar next year (2011). And, I asked Cantor Isaac Assor, Portuguese Jew of Moroccan descent (whose lilting Hebrew chanting is divine) to be CVJHP religious advisor. His background as a scholar of Hebrew and Sephardic culture will help us decipher the meanings of the Hebrew and Portuguese etchings on the tombstones in Cape Verde.
In November 2009, I made a slide presentation on the Jews of Cape Verde for the Washington DC's Jewish Study Center. Joining me was John Wahnon, former President of AMICAEL, distinguished descendant of the grand Wahnon family. John is researching and documenting his family and provides invaluable support to me and CVJHP in general. John and I have become a veritable duo -- talking to groups about the Jews of Cape Verde and the need to honor their memory by preserving their burial grounds and documenting their legacy.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Following the successful reception at the Moroccan Ambassador's residence in March 2009, CVJHP accomplished quite a bit behind the scenes. B'nai B'rith International, whose executive vice president, Daniel Mariaschin, is on CVJHP's honorary board, sent veteran journalist Larry Luxner to Cape Verde in June 2009 to investigate and write about the islands' Jewish heritage. Thanks once again to TACV - The Cape Verde National Airline - for sponsoring the transatlantic flight and providing discounts on the inter-island legs for Larry. See Larry's fabulous article entitled "Rediscovering the Jewish Heritage of Cape Verde," in the December 2009 issue of B'nai B'rith Monthly on our web site: http://www.capeverdejewishheritage.org/. Speaking of the web site, it is being re-designed and upgraded by Paul Wind and Lauren Newman, CVJHP newest volunteers. We hope it will be up and running by July 2010. It will be more attractive, user-friendly, and interactive. We want to reach out to descendants of the Jews of Cape Verde around the world and have them post memories or connect with one another. In August, I submitted a letter to the Cape Verdean Minister of Culture to request that all the Jewish cemeteries and other distinct places of memory be designated as "Cultural Monuments." We believe that this designation would not only go a long way in preserving the Jewish burial grounds and other buildings constructed or owned by the Jewish families, but would also help us to raise funds from foundations. By recognizing the cemeteries as "cultural monuments," the government of Cape Verde also acknowledges their unique historical and cultural value. Foundations and individuals are more inclined to donate to a Project when they see stakeholders, such as the government of Cape Verde, taking concrete supportive actions such as this.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
In March 2009, the Moroccan Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Aziz Mekouar hosted a reception to honor the Moroccan roots of Cape Verde's Jewish presence. More than 100 people attended. B'nai B'rith International Vice President Daniel Mariaschin, who is on the CVJHP honorary board, participated. Cape Verdean Ambassador to the U.S. Fatima Veiga and Portuguese Ambasssador Joao de Vallera were also present. Jacinto and Carmen Benros, descendants of the Jewish Benros family that hails from Tangier, drove from Providence, RI to celebrate CVJHP which honors their ancestors. We received ample press coverage from the Jewish Telegraph Agency, The Forward, Washington Jewish Week and the Diplomat On-Line. We raised some needed funds and hope to garner more in the weeks and months ahead from special friends of the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Last year, I made trips to New York City, Providence, Rhode Island; Boston, Massachusetts and Los Angeles to meet with Cape Verdean - American and Jewish communities and inform them about the goals of CVJHP. Thanks to a generous grant from the Stanley and Marion Bergman Family Charitable Fund and to the Cape Verdean Airline, TACV, I was able to travel to Cape Verde in December 2008 to visit and assess the state of the Jewish cemeteries. I also met with local officials and descendants of the Jewish families who vowed to resuscitate AMICAEL--the Cape Verde-Israel Friendship Society in an effort to assist with all aspects of the Project in Cape Verde. During that trip, I also established relationships between CVJHP and the mayors of the islands where the cemeteries are located. They pledged strong cooperation and support. Prime Minister Jose Neves, Minister of Culture Emanuel Veiga and Minister of Foreign Affairs Jose Brito as well as other officials, reiterated their commitment to the Project.
Much progress was made in 2008 to move the Project foward in the US and Cape Verde. We built a strong board and advisory board. We also had some success in fundraising. I traveled to New York City, Providence, RI; Boston, MA and Los Angeles to inform and sensitize Cape Verdean American and Jewish communities about CVJHP goals. In the process, we also managed to identify and contact potential funders and sponsors. Thanks to the Stanley and Marion Bergman Family Charitable Fund for their generous contribution which made possible my visit to Cape Verde earlier this month. I traveled to Sao Tiago, Sao Vicente, Santo Antao and Boavista to evaluate the state of the dilapidated Jewish cemeteries and meet and establish partnerships with local officials and descendants of the Jewish families. A big thank you also to TACV -- Cape Verde National Airline for providing transatlantic air fare and a discount on inter-island flights. Needless to say, we are grateful for the generous support and advice from our board members: Allan Reich, Jack Edlow and Ambassador Herman Cohen, all of whom have provided invaluable financial and in-kind support to our effort to honor the Jews of Cape Verde and their descendants.