Monday, July 5, 2010


After a high-profile signing ceremony on June 10th to solidify a partnership between CVJHP and the Municipality of Praia, Cantor Isaac Assor recited two poignant psalms of King David and chanted a Hebrew prayer to honor the memory of the Jewish men and women buried in Cape Verde.

This was Cantor Assor's first trip to Cape Verde; He is the cantor and religious leader of the Synagogue in Lisbon. A Portuguese national of Moroccan descent, Assor provided much-valued advice regarding the repair and preservation of the Jewish burial plots in accordance with Jewish law and made a presentation about the sacredness of Jewish burial grounds and the tolerant temperament of Morocco --- the origin of most of Cape Verde's Jews.

In two official ceremonies replete with local television, radio and newspaper coverage, I signed agreements on behalf of CVJHP with the Municipalities of Praia and Boa Vista where two of the country's four major Jewish cemeteries are located. It was after the signing ceremony in the capital, Praia, that Cantor Assor chanted and made a moving presentation to dozens of interested citizens--Jewish and non-Jewish alike--and took questions. In fact, one of the guests was a Muslim businessman from Morocco who recently moved to Cape Verde. He was intrigued by the fact that most of the Jews who settled in Cape Verde in the 19th century and who are buried there, hailed from his home country. He intends to spread the word about our efforts to honor Moroccan patrimony in Catholic Cape Verde. The businessman is an important link to Moroccan Jews in Israel who may be interested in doing business in Cape Verde.

What else did we accomplish besides the formal partnerships with Praia and Boa Vista?

1. RESTORATION ADVICE. Cantor Assor made practical and concrete recommendations regarding cemetery restoration efforts in accordance with Jewish law (halacha), which we communicated to our technical counterparts in the Municipalities.

2. GROWING LINKAGES WITH DESCENDANTS. We are attracting and mobilizing more desdendants among the Anahory, Benchimol, Benros, Benoliel, Brigham, Cohen, Levy, Pinto and Wahnon families to become more involved in actively supporting our collective efforts at restoring the cemeteries and documenting the presence of their Jewish forebears. We welcome the collaboration of Dakar-based UNDP senior official Jose Levy; engineer Adilson Varela Moreira (Benchimol); entrepreneur and businesswoman Salamiths Spencer (Benchimol), former Minister of Education, Vera Duarte (Benros); lawyer Sofia Veiga (Wahnon); fabric store manager Esmeralda Anahory; Human Rights Commissioner and historian Zelinda Cohen; three members of the Pinto family in Sao Vicente and engineers Isaac and Israel Benoliel of Boa Vista to name a few!

. The island of Santo Antao (the Jewish capital of the archipelago) boasts two cemeteries; both are located in the Municipality of Ribeira Grande. Thanks to this Municipality's initiative on my first visit in 2008, CVJHP and Ribeira Grande had already signed a partnership agreement. We are in the process of reviewing the restoration needs of the cemeteries in Penha de Franca and Ponta do Sol. While in Santo Antao, I went to the village of Cocoli, where Sulamita Pinto, grand-daughter of businessman Isaac Pinto, lives. She welcomed me with typical Cape Verdean morabeza and regaled me with stories about her well-known grandfather. In Santo Antao, I stayed one night at the beautiful hotel/resort called Pedracin.

4. UNICV - RESEARCH. On behalf of CVJHP, we are seeking a well-established historian who can undertake archival as well as oral research on the Jewish families who immigrated to Cape Verde. In conjunction with the University of Cape Verde (UNICV), we hope to identify a qualified candidate very soon.

5. PORTUGUESE AND AMERICAN EMBASSY EMISSARIES. I spoke briefly with the outgoing American Ambassador to Cape Verde, Marianne Myles, who has always shown strong support for the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project. We will follow-up with the new ambassador and other diplomats at the Embassy. Portuguese Ambassador Graca Guimaraes also demonstrated solidarity with the Project. I met with her briefly just before my departure to Boston.

As a result of this vital visit, CVJHP is moving closer to its main goals of establishing partnerships with Cape Verdean authorities and descendants to restore and preserve Cape Verde's Jewish burial grounds and to document the Jewish legacy. BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to CVJHP. Send your check to CVJHP, c/o Carol Castiel, 400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 812, Washington, DC 20001, USA.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Isaac Assor, cantor of the Synagogue in Lisbon, Portugal, and I are en route to Cape Verde this month - June 2010. We will sign a memorandum of understanding between Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project, Inc. and the municipalities of Praia and Boa Vista. (We already have an agreement with Ribeira Grande in Santo Antao). These agreements with the local governments (mayors), who are responsible for the maintenance of the cemeteries, will complete the groundwork to enable us to move forward with more vigor to raise funds to repair, restore and preserve the beautiful small Sephardic burial plots that dot the archipelago.

In Praia, there is a Jewish section in the Varzea cemetery which needs urgent repair, protection and beautification. Many of the tombstones are literally sinking. Cantor Assor in his capacity as religious advisor for the Project, will advise us on how to best repair and restore the stones in accordance with Jewish law (halacha.)

We will participate in a formal signing ceremony with the Mayor of Praia, Mr. Ulisses Correia, after which Cantor Assor will make a presentation in his native Portuguese about the significance of burial grounds in Jewish tradition among other topics relevant to Sephardic Jewish customs and rituals. All Jewish descendants are invited as are other interested Cape Verdeans, government officials and foreign ambassadors, to attend the ceremony.

While in the capital, Praia, we hope to advance our objective of persuading the central government to designate the Jewish cemeteries as "cultural monuments," so they will receive special care and enable us to raise funds more efficiently and effectively. For that, we hope to meet with the Minister of Culture. In the island of Boa Vista we plan to sign a memorandum of understanding with Municipality President Jose Pinto Almeida. This would confer greater status on and protection for the dilapidated Benoliel cemetery. Rafael Benoliel, architect in Lisbon, creator of the CVJHP logo, and distinguished descendant of the Benoliel family, has designed a blueprint to preserve and protect the small family cemetery and it environs. Next task ---raise sufficient funds to get the job done. We'll let you know how the trip goes, so stay tuned....

Saturday, May 15, 2010


In 2010, we continued with the crucial behind the scenes work which we hope will pave the way for successful fund raising. We estimate the need for roughly US$200,000 to cover the costs of cemetery restoration and preservation, research and publications and promotion of cultural and religous tourism, with attendant pamphlets and training.

In May 2010, I made a slide presentation on the Jews of Cape Verde to the World Jewry Committee of Har Shalom Synagogue in Potomoc, Maryland. We hope to do many more of these types of presentations in the future to raise awareness about the Jewish legacy in Cape Verde and promote travel to the islands by Jews.

I also met with the President of the American Sephardi Federation of New York to build bridges of cooperation. We will be cross promoting each others' web sites among other cooperative activities in the near future regarding Portuguese and Moroccan Jewry. And I also had the pleasure of meeting Raquel Andrade Benoliel de Carvalho ---- a young descendant of the famous Benoliel de Carvalho family. Raquel is converting to Judaism and marrying a Jewish American fellow. There are many more stories about the younger generation of Cape Verdeans who are "returning" to their Jewish roots. Many have converted independently. That warrants a separate post!