The Republic of Cape Verde is an archipelago of 10 islands about 300 miles off the
coast of Senegal, West Africa. As a result of over 500 years of Portuguese colonial
rule, Cape Verde is predominantly Catholic. However, beginning with the period of
the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition through the late 19th century, Cape Verde
received Jews fleeing religious persecution or seeking greater economic stability.
These families landed primarily on the islands of Santo Antao, Sao Vicente, Boa Vista,
and Sao Tiago and engaged in international commerce, shipping, administration, and
other trades. The Jews lived, worked, and prospered in Cape Verde. However, because
their numbers were few relative to the larger Catholic population, widespread intermarriage
occurred. As a result of this assimilation, Cape Verde today has virtually no practicing
Jews. Yet, descendants of these families, whether in Cape Verde, the United States,
Portugal or Canada, speak with pride of their Jewish ancestry. They wish to honor
the memory of their forebears by preserving the cemeteries and by documenting their
The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project, Inc began as far back as 1995, but it had
a different name: “Jews of Cape Verde: Preservation of Memory.” Essentially it was
a subsidiary or American partner to AMICAEL, but without firm legal status. Subsequently,
B’nai B’rith International based in Washington, DC provided a nonprofit, 501(C) 3
“umbrella” for the project and even set aside a line-item in the budget for contributions.
However, this association was short-lived and was eventually was terminated. In 2006,
I had the good fortune of meeting a benevolent lawyer, Richard Popkin, who was involved
in Jewish cemetery restoration in Cuba. He generously offered to create a private
foundation entitled “Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project,” and to apply for nonprofit
tax exempt 501(C) 3 status from the IRS which we obtained in December 2007. However,
I was constantly inspired by people along the way, notably by Mr. Isaac Bitton, a
Portuguese Jew who lived in Woodstock, Illinois. He succeeded in successfully raising
funds to restore the Jewish cemetery in Faro, Portugal, the site of a large, mostly
Moroccan Jewish community—not unlike that of Cape Verde. He was the one who told
me of the importance of creating a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization and of mobilizing
the help important political figures. Thanks to his inspiration and counsel, I hope
to emulate his good works. Sadly, he passed away last year.
WHAT TYPE OF ENDORSEMENTS DOES YOUR ORGANIZATION HAVE TODAY?
First and foremost, the government of the Republic of Cape Verde has endorsed the
project at the highest levels. We have an eloquent letter from Prime Minister Jose
Maria Neves. His predecessor, Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga, who is of
Jewish descent, also endorsed the Project. Mr. Andre Azoulay, counselor to King Mohammed
VI of Morocco, has also endorsed CVJHP. We enjoy strong support from B’nai B’rith
International as well as from the American Jewish Committee and the American Sephardi
Federation of New York.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION?
To physically restore, preserve, and maintain the small Jewish cemeteries; to publish
several articles, pamphlets, and books about the contribution of the Jews to Cape
Verdean society based on the memories of the descendants and archival research; and
to encourage Jewish heritage tourism to the islands