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Formula to Preserve Monuments Being Tested in Ancient Cemetery in Curacao

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A monument-saving formula developed by a Jewish chemistry professor at New York University is being tested as a preservative on tombstones in what is believed to be the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere, the famous Mikve Israel Cemetery in Curacao, Netherlands West Indies.

Prof. Seymour Z. Lewin, who developed a compound for preserving stone, was invited to Curacao by Congregation Mikve Israel Emmanuel to try to save the markings on the 17th Century tombstones from obliteration. Some of the stones, which have survived since 1620, are endangered by air pollutants from the nearby oil refineries operated by Royal Dutch Shell. Charles Gomez-Cassires, president of the Curacao Jewish community, arranged with the oil company to provide labor and equipment, and a local paint company agreed to manufacture Prof. Lewin’s formula on the spot. The compound was painted on the marble grave markers and formed durable crystal which, it was hoped, would arrest the erosion process.

The Mikve Israel cemetery was founded by Portuguese Jews who came to Curacao from Brazil to escape the Inquisition. It is believed to be the oldest Caucasian burial ground in the Western Hemisphere and has become one of Curacao’s major tourist attractions.

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