CARACAS (JTA) — Venezuelan Jewish groups partnered with a leading developer to restore the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in South America.
The Venezuelan Israelite Association and the Center for Sephardic Studies are working with Constructora Sambil, a commercial developer owned by Salomon Cohen known for building some of the largest malls in Latin America, to repair the 177-year-old Jewish cemetery in Coro, located about six hours west of the nation’s capital, Caracas.
The cemetery had been mostly neglected for nearly 40 years.
“With the magnificent help of Salomon Cohen, we finally had the resources to repair the site,” said Hernan Henriquez Lopez Fonseca, an 82-year old descendant of one of the original families and one of two Jews left in Coro.
The site consists of 165 tombs dating back to 1832. Older Jewish resting places in Brazil, Suriname and Curacao that dated from the 1700s no longer exist.
Sephardim first arrived in the northwestern Falcon peninsula from the nearby Caribbean island of Curacao, establishing a permanent presence in 1830.
Over the past century, the Coro cemetery steadily deteriorated as the Jewish community there, which never numbered more than 200, assimilated and largely lost its religious identity.
By 1970, the Venezuelan Israelite Association officially closed the site to protect it from further damage. But Henriquez, who runs a small foundation to preserve Jewish heritage sites in the state of Falcon, never gave up hope of restoring the cemetery. He is hoping to get the resting place registered on the international list of cemeteries recognized for their universal patrimony.
“My entire family is buried there — my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles,” he said. “I’m on the waiting list.”