The participants come from Parimaribo, Suriname.
The Kulanu press release indicated that they hoped it will help the young Jews of Suriname, isolated for generations, to strengthen their Jewish roots and ensure Jewish continuity in their country. The trip, envisioned for many years and finally a reality, is expected to have a profound impact on the lives of the young people and on their community.
Most of the young people are descendants of Jews who traveled to the jungles of Suriname some 380 years ago from Spain and Portugal to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Others are descended from Jewish immigrants from Holland, Germany and Poland who arrived later and joined the community. Family names, such asDespite a jungle climate, economic and political upheaval over the centuries, the community has survived. It is the oldest continuing Jewish community - with some 150 people today, who speak Dutch - in the Western Hemisphere. Suriname's Jews worship at the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Parimaribo, the capital.
Abarbanel, Beuno de Mesquita, Robles de Medina, De Costa, Duym and Fernandes, echo the history of Iberian ancestors and their proud struggle and determination to survive and flourish in a far away land.
For more than 40 years, they had no permanent rabbi or Jewish educator until California Rabi Haim Beliak spent three months there last winter.
During their visit to Israel, the young people will visit the newly restored Zedek v’Shalom Synagogue, originally located in Suriname, which has been rebuilt in the Israel Museum. The synagogue served the Portuguese Sephardic community in Parimeribo until 1999. Today the Jewish community worships together at the Neve Shalom Synagogue.
The Birthright Israel trip for these young people is being supported through various organizations: Kulanu, Good People Fund, World Union for Progressive Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism in North America.
In 2008, a Kulanu volunteer spent six weeks in the community, initiating a Hebrew teaching program for children ages 6-12. Since then, Kulanu board member (and Suriname coordinator) Jacob Steinberg has raised funds for diverse projects. These include fencing the historic cemetery, renovating the 150-year old mikvah, renovating the old rabbi’s house, developing a Suriname Jewish community website, and buying mezuzot for homes and community buildings.
In 2010, Kulanu helped pay for matzot and kosher wine sent from New York for the community’s Passover seder.
For more information, see Kulanu's Suriname Page and the Suriname Jewish Community website.