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dead, the Hevra kadisha (burial society) led the men in seven circuits around the body in the House of the Rounds.17 These circuits not only embedded the dead into the memory of the community, but also helped transition the deceased from the world of the living to the world to come. In Judaism, seven is a holy number symbolizing God, completion, and the covenant. Although most Jews could visit the dead after burial, those descended from the priestly family (Cohenim) are not permitted to walk in cemeteries. Thus, Beit Haim Bleinheim Cemetery provided a vantage point for them in the house of the Cohenim from which they could visit the dead and yet not violate Jewish law. Both the buildings and iconography of the Bleinheim Cemetery emphasize in allegiance to Jewish traditions of purity, resurrection, and the afterlife. The 1860s marked a change in Jewish life, and hence death, on the island. Slavery was abolished in 1863, and the emancipation of slaves impacted not only the island’s economy, but also social life: as racial assignment became more fluid, islanders increasingly used wealth and status displays to reinforce social privilege within ethnic groups. Thus, during this era, Curaçao’s Jews began to build elaborate tombs (Fig. 1). Moreover, theological rifts within the Jewish community became more extreme and necessitated separate cemeteries. Thus, the Curaçao Jewish Reform Community of 1864 purchased land for a cemetery in Berg Altena (Fig. 4, No. 2), northeast of the Protestant graveyard in that district. Several years later, the Orthodox community established their own burying ground adjacent to that of the Reform community. When the Reform and Orthodox Sephardi congregations merged in the 1960s, the cemeteries united as well and the dividing wall came down (Fig. 7).18 During this era distinctions between Sephardim (Spanish Portuguese Jews) and Ashkenazim (Eastern European and German Jews) became more pronounced. In Papiamentu, the local language used on Curaçao, there are two words for Jews that reflect differences in social status: hudiu (“Jews”), which refers to Spanish-Portuguese Jews, and the rather derogatory term polako (“Poles”), which refers to Ashkenazim. Whereas Spanish-Portuguese Jews have lived on the island since the seventeenth-century, most Ashkenazi Jews arrived in the 1920s-1930s, drawn in part to the island by work at the oil refinery.19 Anthropologist Alan Benjamin notes that the two groups are considered to be different social groups, though there is intermarriage between the two.20 In addition to having different synagogues and different minhagim (religious traditions), the two have separate sections of the modern Jewish cemetery.21 Indeed the largest changes in burial practices are not between the orthodox and reform sections of the Berg Altena cemetery, but between the Sephardi and Ashkenazi sections (Fig. 7, Nos. 1-3). Although Curaçaoan Ashkenazim use flat “Sephardi-style” stones to protect their shallow graves,22 the iconography of the Ashkenazi stones is like that found in

Profile for Chris Davis

Markers XXVII  

Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies

Markers XXVII  

Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies

Profile for cvdavis
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