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!
3. VISIT TO SAO VICENTE AND SANTO ANTAO. 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.