Book Review: The Knell of Parting Day

A few years ago at the Conference for the Association for Gravestone Studies, some of us were lamenting that there weren't more books available on Jewish cemeteries. While a few old standards were available, they tended to be out of print, hard to find, and extremely expensive. The situation is starting to change, and one fine example of where the field is headed is Marilyn Delevante's The Knell of Parting Day: A History of the Jews of Port Royal and the Hunt's Bay Cemetery.

Portuguese Jews first settled on the island of Jamaica between 1530-1640, during the era of Spanish occupation. After the English conquest of the island, the community was able to openly worship as Jews and settled primarily in Port Royal and later in Spanish Town and Kingston. The Hunts Bay Cemetery served the historic community of Port Royal. As in Venice, Amsterdam, and Curacao, the deceased were carried by boat across the water to the cemetery.

This richly illustrated volume is a show case of the kind of new work being done in gravestone studies. In addition to a complete list of transcriptions and translations of the inscriptions from the cemetery and accompanying photos of the stones, the book provides a history of the Jews of Jamaica and Port Royal and places them within the larger story of the Sephardic diaspora. Attention is paid in chapter ten to the types and symbolism of the images used on the stones. Throughout the book are high quality color photographs by Jono David, whose online galleries of Jewish cemeteries are worth viewing.

This is the sort of book that will non-specialists will find fascinating and researchers will find invaluable. Copies can be purchased from the author for $35.00 US (softcover) or $45.00 U.S. (hardcover) at

In the meantime, you may enjoy looking at this picasa web album of stones from the cemetery.

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