Questioning Jewish Caribbean Identity


Karen Carpenter
Director, Caribbean Sexuality Research Group, Jamaica West Indies

Series: Dialogues among Civilizations and Cultures
BISAC: SOC002010

Questioning Jewish Caribbean Identities lends a fresh, psychological approach to identity and Jewishness in the Caribbean. It explores the ways in which individuals in the islands have maintained their connections to Judaism as lineage, as a religion and as a culture. Transported overseas from Spain and Portugal in the 1500s while fleeing the Inquisition, and later during the second wave of exodus from Europe under threat of World War II, the Caribbean provided safe harbours for a number of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. There is no doubt that their presence in the Caribbean and Latin America over the last 500 years has had a tremendous impact on the growth and development of industry, modern commerce and culture. Their contribution to their new island homelands has been a lasting one. From the technology for the cultivation of sugar and the development of trade and commerce across the Atlantic, to the arts and education, Jewish life within the region has left and continues to leave an indelible mark.

For the author, there have been many stops along the way in completing this book. She has travelled and interacted with Jews across the globe, and these encounters were the genesis of the questions she asked herself about Jews of all descriptions. Indeed, many of the questions and their answers arise from an existential need to rationalise her own thoughts about her personal identity. This is a pattern that the author has noted among a number of the theorists included in this work. From Erickson with his Danish-Jewish background and the subsequent elaboration of his psychosocial theory; to Stuart Hall’s cultural theory, born out of his own mixed heritage and later inter-ethnic marriage; and Nathan Blumenthal, who changes his rather Jewish name to Nathaniel Branden as he becomes known for his psychology of self-esteem. Of course, it is impossible to speak of identity without acknowledging the seminal contribution of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory as a way of making meaning for ourselves in the world. Common to these theorist and many others, readers will encounter their own struggle with national, personal and ethnic identities while exploring the pages of this book. Claiming an identity suggests an autonomous act of loyalty to chosen identity, and for some this can mean the abandonment of previous ways of seeing themselves. This is the central threat of acts of identity; it signals, “I am with them” and equally, “I have no allegiance to you”. These are the sentiments over which battles are waged, causing people who appear indistinguishable from each other to obliterate neighbouring nations. This book is a story of the survival of a people, practice, culture, and religion.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Who is a Jew

Chapter 2. Jewish Identity

Chapter 3. The Caribbean Experience

Chapter 4. Modern Adaptations

Chapter 5. Jewish Lives, Jewish Loves

Chapter 6. Conclusion


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