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 Judah in Bermuda-Part ll


Bermuda

 
 

Under the surface, a troubled 
past for Jews in Bermuda

Second in a series

S. D. Jewish Press-Heritage-Oct-29-1999

 
 
By Donald H. Harrison 

Hamilton, Bermuda (special) -- One reason the identified Bermuda Jewish community may be so small (about 110 people, including children) is the historical unfriendliness which the British colony showed toward Jews. Today, on the surface, those policies no longer exist. But what lies under the surface is fodder for a debate.
If you study a map of Bermuda, you might get the false impression that the nation's settlers frequently consulted their Bible when deciding upon place names. Boaz Island, Daniel's Island, Deborah's Bay, Eve's Pond, Jacob's Point, Rebecca's Road, and Ruth's Bay sound like signposts along a gambol through Hebrew Scriptures.

However, G. Daniel Blagg who painstakingly compiled Bermuda's Atlas and Gazetteer, sets the record straight. "In popular usage over the years, Bowe's Island became Boaz Island," he wrote in that thick volume.

FRONT STREET Deborah Levine, member
of four-generation Jewish family in Bermuda,
remembers as a girl taking a ferry to Front 
Street in Hamilton and then walking to her
grandfather's office.
`Daniel's Island was named after Daniel Tucker who served as Bermuda's governor in 1616 in such eccentric and contrary style that a folksong written about him said: 

Old Dan Tucker was a mighty man; washed his face in a frying pan
Combed his hair with a wagon wheel; died with a toothache in his heel.

Deborah's Bay perhaps is named for a Deborah "who according to folklore was an Indian slave brought to Bermuda from Virginia" and who lived to the age of 115.

Eve is the surname of an old Bermudian family. Blagg reported that "a 17th century resident of Tucker's Town was Adam Eve, whose given name was sometimes recorded as Adaman. His parents must have been extremely religious or had an advanced sense of humor."

Jacob's Point may have been named for 17th century boat builder Jacob Jacobsen, a Dutchman. Rebecca's Road likely remembers Rebecca Perinchief who lived with her husband John nearby in the 1660s. Ruth's Bay possibly commemorates 18th century residents Ruth Higgs, Ruth Skinner or Ruth Hayward.

However, there is no mistaking the Jewish origins of one place name in Bermuda: Jews Bay. 
Blagg wrote that the name dates back at least to 1663 when it was included on the map of surveyor Richard Norwood. While some people think Jews Bay is simply a counterpart to nearby Christian Bay, Blagg speculated it may have been named after a Jew or party of Jews who conducted some business on the island. 

A law adopted by the Bermuda Colony in 1694 was titled "An Act Laying an Imposition on all Jews, and reputed Jews, Trading or Merchandising on These Islands." It levied a five pound tax on any Jew, or "reputed Jew" wanting to do business in Bermuda. 

Why? According to the bill's preamble, Jews "have come to and resided in these islands, and have sold and vended great quantities of goods, wares, merchandizes and commodities, and the monies thereby received and gotten do still send out and carry away from these islands into foreign and remote parts and places, to the great impoverishment, hurt and prejudice of their majesties subjects in these islands."

To the chagrin of 18th century Bermudians, the bill worked all too well. The odious measure was repealed in 1760. This rather candid explanation was written into the repeal bill: "For as much as these islands are supported by trade only it must be very prejudicial to prevent any person from trading in the said islands. And for as much as our neighboring islands who have permitted Jews to trade there have reaped great advantage therefrom, the said act so laying an imposition on all Jews trading here must have been very prejudicial to the inhabitants of these islands...."

No hint of an apology there, just an acknowledgment that the highly discriminatory law had been bad for business.

Jews did not rush to Bermuda in response. They continued to do their business in North American ports like Newport, R.I; New York, N.Y.; Charleston, S.C.; and Savannah, Ga., as well as in such Caribbean ports as Bridgetown, Bardbados; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and Curacao in the Dutch West Indies.

Through the next century, references to Jews on the historical record are quite scant. A marriage act in 1847 sets out regulations for weddings conducted on the islands, including those for Jews. On Bermuda, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are major denominations, and in accordance with the traditions of those churches, the law calls for the publication of notices before a wedding. However, the law stipulates that Bermuda's governor may waive the requirement--particularly for Quakers and Jews.

In the St. George parish registry of burials for the 1860s is an entry that S. Swab, "a Jew" was laid to rest. And the Bermuda Archives keeps on record its 1965 answer to the inquiry of Admiral G.B.H. Fawkes of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club about Bermudian connections to submarines.
One item of interest, the Archives replied, "concerns a Captain Mark Golinsky, an American of Jewish origin, who was well known in Bermuda, and, for many years, was resident at 'Golden Gates', Smith's Parrish; he first appears on the Bermudian scene in the late 1880s when, under an old Bermuda act, he 'represented' a local widow shen she challenged some clauses in her wealthy father's will. From the slight evidence available at that time Captain Mark Golinsky was, or had been, skipper of a sailing craft, and it can be presumed that the title of captain dated from his blue water days.

"He was not without humour, and, from letterheads, not without inventive genius -- this genius covered such plans as arrowhead steamships (he petitioned the House of Assembly for quite a large sum of money to satisfy the twin aims of building one of these super vessels as well as providing Bermuda with a steamship service), and, germane to this letter, a submersible battleship. It was, no doubt, Captain Mark Golinsky who gave the Royal Gazette reporter the information -- a submerged battleship which can destroy without being destroyed and which, according to the captain's statement, will be the worship of the future. For 1906, this was, indeed, prophetic."

Warming up to his subject, the unidentified archivist wrote further: "But Captain Mark's interest in 1906 was directed more to the selling of a consumptive cure for which magic elixir -- it contained six wonder ingredients one of which was derived from the Bermuda onion. Thus he entered into contracts, with obvious advantage to himself, with local growers to supply him with onions, and on occasions, addressed them at Hamilton Hall. The reports of these meetings indicate that he was an able speaker, and was quick to capture the attention of his audience with spontaneous and homely wit. ...At one of those 'onion' meetings he announced that he intended to marry a widow with a family -- this he must have done for later in the year a wife appears on the scene. She formed 'The Women's Agricultural Society' and acted, when he was engaged in local litigation, as his court clerk."

In another answer, this time to a J.F. Durant, the archivist wrote that Golinksy "was also the inventor of folding fruit boxes and an ingenious method for speedy refuelling at sea." No doubt, grinning as he wrote, the archivist added: "It will be conceded that he was a man who certainly knew his onions."

Deborah Levine, executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Chattanooga, Tenn., is the expert on 20th Century Bermudian Jewish history. She is a descendant of Alter Malloy, a Russian Jew whose last name was changed in the immigration process before he answered a turn-of-the-century advertisement seeking a tailor for Bermuda.

Writing in the Summer 1998 issue of "Avotaynu," a journal of Jewish genealogy, Levine noted that the Malloy family "lived in Bermuda for four generations....the only Jewish family of this longevity in Bermudian history."

The American Jewish Archives of the Hebrew Union College gave Levine a grant to research a book on the Jewish history of Bermuda, a volume which is awaited eagerly by the Jews who now live on the island. 

In a telephone interview, she told of Alter Malloy's son, the "born salesman" Meyer Malloy , who was her grandfather. "In the early days, he joined his older brother Barney, who founded the Bermuda Trading Company back in the '30s, perhaps even earlier," Levine said. "He worked for Barney for many years and they were very well-known people--very well-known businessmen and very well-known as being Jewish." 

Her grandfather eventually went to work for himself, opening Meyer Malloy Realty Co, with a partner. She recalls from her girlhood in the 1950s that the family lived in the Warwick area of Bermuda. "We would walk to the ferry from the house, my grandmother and I, my brother and who knows, the whole family, get on the ferry, go across the harbor...and you'd end up in town at the Ferry Station. ...You would be basically at Front Street in Hamilton and then you would go and do everything. My grandfather's office was in Hamilton."

Grandfather Malloy had lived for some period of his life in the southern portion of the United States, and "the feel of him was southern," Levine said. "I remember him in a white suit with a carnation on the lapel. He was a very dapper man and enjoyed life tremendously."

The Malloy clan helped to hasten modernity in Bermuda. "Meyer's and Barney's sister, Rose, married a young man who was brought into the business.... He had taken a course in refrigeration and he came down and ... establish(ed) this soda fountain on the island. "

"For many years, growing up, it was a big thing to go downtown and go to the Phoenix (the shopping complex where the soda fountain was located), pick up a newspaper for my parents and for us ice cream or some of the British candies, and then go over to the Post Office. When we grew up, they didn't have (postal) delivery."

Levine happily recalled that "my grandfather had a car -- a terrible driver -- but he was one of the 
very few who had a car. Cars were not legal in Bermuda for civilians until the late 40's. He loved contraptions." Driving from Warwick to Hamilton, "there was one stop light on the edge of town. And there would be no other cars but you would stop. And then you would go about your business. And the installation of that stoplight was the talk of the island. Modern times had come."
Her mother, Estelle (Malloy) Levine, told stories of how excited Bermudians were when an airport was built during World War II on the island. Up to that point, the only air travel between Bermuda and the United States was by seaplane.

* * *

During World War II, Bermuda hosted an ignominious conference on European refugees -- one remembered for avoiding the issue rather than for doing anything to save the lives of Jews and other Holocaust victims.

Held in April of 1943 -- the same time as the heroic uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto -- the Bermuda Conference brought together small delegations from the United States and Great Britain to discuss what the Allied response should be to persistent reports that Jews were being murdered wholesale by the nazis.

Unwilling to give full credence to the reports of Jewish genocide, the delegates were instructed to discuss the problem of European refugees generally. That little would come from the conference was presaged by a telegram from a British official to the Bermudian hosts: "Our point of view which is being made clear to Americans is that excessive publicity is to be deprecated as calculated to raise exaggerated hopes. Outcome of meeting which must perforce be of a largely exploratory character."

Britain was represented by Richard Law, parliamentary undersecretary of state for foreign affairs; Osbert Peak, parliamentary undersecretary of state for the home department, and George Hall, financial secretary to the admiralty. A much lower ranking delegation was sent by the United States. Headed by Princeton University president Harold Dodds, it included U.S. Sen. Scott Lucas (D-Ill) and Rep. Sol Bloom. Although Jewish, Bloom - who served as chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs -- was protested by American Jewish groups as being unsympathetic to the plight of his co-religionists.

Three venues were made available to the delegates for their meetings and lodgings: the Belmont Manor Hotel, the Mid Ocean Club and the Horizons, all of which still are in existence today. 
As Bermuda's colonial government only hosted the meeting but played no role in its proceedings, its archives do not include reports of what went on inside the meetings. An article in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust -- forwarded to Heritage by officials at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum -- said the choice of Bermuda as the venue was calculated. "Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long suggested the island of Bermuda, which, because of its inaccessibility during wartime, would allow both sides control of the press, and the conference itself could be kept free of the representatives of private agencies such as the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the World Jewish Congress."

The encyclopaedia article was written by Henry L. Feingold, author of The Politics of Rescue. "The composition of the American delegation; the refusal to include Joseph Schwartz, head of the European branch of the JDC; the rejection of rescue suggestions by Joseph Proskauer, head of the American Jewish Committee, and by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, head of the American and World Jewish congresses; and the fact that the State Department limited the number of press correspondents to five, representing the major news agencies, convinced even the most hopeful rescue advocates (mostly, but not exclusively, American Jewish groups) that the Bermuda Conference would be simply a ploy to deflect an aroused public opinion," Feingold wrote.

The only member of the American delegation who was concerned for the Jewish victims of the nazis was "George Backer, whose leading positions in the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) and the Jewish Telegraph Agency made him especially knowledgeable about the fate of European Jewry," according to Feingold.

Backer tried to get the conference to back aggressive rescue efforts, specifically proposing a campaign to save "125,000 Jews in eastern Europe who faced certain death" as well as pleading "to save thousands of children who could assure a Jewish future." Both pleas were rejected.
Instead of sympathy for Jews and other victims, "both delegations manifested the fear that Berlin would 'dump' refugees with the Allies and use them as a weapon to compromise the Allied drive for final victory," according to the encyclopaedia article's author. 

Subsequently "The American Jewish press was virtually unanimous in condemning the conference," he wrote. "Some spoke of it as particularly cruel duplicity in the midst of a mass-murder operation. Public protest, rather than being stilled, reached new heights."
Today, there is little institutional memory of the Bermuda Conference on that island. When I asked an official at Bermuda College whether anyone on his faculty was expert on this local Holocaust chapter, he confessed that he never had heard of the conference. Members of the Jewish community were similarly unaware of it.

* * *

Nearly nine months before the United States entered World War II as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, bases in Bermuda were leased to the United States military by the British. " I want to express to you my strong conviction that these bases are important pillars of the bridge connecting the two great English-speaking democracies," British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced upon signing the documents on March 27, 1941.

The British had maintained their own installation on the westernmost reach of Bermuda since the American Revolutionary War had deprived their navy of most bases in the western Atlantic. 
Today, those Royal Dockyards house Bermuda's impressive Maritime Museum. Among the 
displays about shipwrecks, sailing vessels, diving and sea explorations, is a section about the American military men who came to protect Bermuda during World War II Jerome Levine, who grew up at 147 W. 230th Street in New York City, was among them. In civilian life, Levine was the manager of an independent grocery store, where his duties included purchasing meat goods, vegetables, dairy products and keeping records. 
 
The military turned Levine into a "cannoneer, a member of the 8-inch railway gun crew." He was a spotter who made corrections for deflection and range in the firing of a gun. He also bossed a gang of 20 men loading cable for mines and was a radar operator, according to documents included in the exhibit. After he completed his military duty, Levine "married a local woman and remained on Bermuda."

But If Bermudians embraced Levine, they were not necessarily so receptive to other Jews who came to the island -- especially not in the 1950's and the 1960's.

Travel agents inquiring after hotel space on Bermuda used to have a discriminatory code, according to Diana Lynn, lay leader of the Jewish community.

MARITIME MUSEUM Building of Bermuda's 
maritime museum are arrayed around the 
former parade grounds of Britain's Royal 
dockyards naval base. One exhibit focuses
on the lives of American servicemen who
protected Bermuda during World War II.
Jerome Levine, who afterwards became a
Bermuda resident, was among them.
"If the Goldbergs wanted to come to Bermuda, they would put an oleander next to their name" to indicate the Goldbergs were Jewish. If the travelers were African Americans "they would put a hibiscus, " Lynn said. "They didn't allow them in some of the hotels."

In such an atmosphere, it is not surprising that the man appointed to the highest office in Bermuda history held by a Jew -- Puisne Judge Hector Barcillon --was circumspect about telling that he was a Jew.

Collwyn Bourne, a member of an old Bermudian family who worships with the Jewish congregation but who has declined formal conversion, said he did not become aware of Barcillon's religious affiliation until 1967. 

Barcillon, whose position was equivalent to that of an associate judge on the Supreme Court, was so moved by the events of the Six Day War in the Middle East that he wrote a letter to the editor mentioning that he was Jewish, Bourne reported.

In 1978, Saul M. Froomkin--who had served as director of criminal law for the Canadian federal government--accepted a job in Bermuda as solicitor general, serving in that post for three years. Thereafter he was promoted to attorney general of Bermuda-- a position that he occupied for a full decade before entering private legal practice.

"I think generally I was made to feel welcome," Froomkin said during an interview at his law offices. "I can't say that the white establishment fell over their heels to open doors for me, but certainly I can't say I was openly discriminated against."

Today, Froomkin is in the middle of a political controversy. Premier Jennifer Smith astounded the Canadian government when she entered an objection to Froomkin being named as his former country's honorary consul in Bermuda.

The move widely was seen as an act of retaliation against Froomkin for representing a political party that wanted to block Smith's appointment of Lois Browne-Evans as attorney general. 
As Bermuda is a British colony with no power over its foreign affairs, Smith's objections to Froomkin are only advisory. Whether the Canadian government will move forward with the appointment anyway, or find another candidate in deference to the premier's wishes, remains to be seen.

In matters of philanthropy, some Jewish residents of the island have taken active roles -- but here is a red flag of caution -- other Jews were reluctant to identify them, fearing they may not want it known that they are Jewish.

One philanthropist actively involved with the Jewish community whom they had no hesitation identifying was Andrew Banks, an American producer, who has been recognized publicly for donations to the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, and for financing the statue of Hamilton's late and colorful town greeter Johnny Barnes.

Otherwise, said Lynn, "the Jewish history of Bermuda is really slim. People try to be quiet."