Bermuda part III
Donald H. Harrison
Third in a series
Hamilton, Bermuda (special) -- A scion of one of Bermuda's founding families has been worshipping with this island's tiny Jewish community for 30 years but does not want to convert formally to Judaism.
Collwyn Bourne said he was introduced to Judaism by a girl. "It didn't work out relationship-wise, but I stuck with it even after the relationship ended," he told HERITAGE in a recent interview.
Although Bourne regularly attends Jewish services and is quite knowledgeable about Judaism's history and tenets, he plans to remain unaffiliated with any faith.
"All I want to do is sit in the back of the room, enjoy the service and leave," he said. "I am not married -- what is the point? If I were married and had children, I would make sure that I was (converted)."
He told a story of Jews who escaped the Portuguese Inquisition by moving to Amsterdam, Holland, only to be told by the Dutch Jews that their Sephardic ways were not really Jewish. As philosopher Baruch Spinoza once was ex-communicated by such Dutch Jews, Bourne said his own highly individualized interpretations of Judaism probably would land him in hot water with practicing Jews of today.
"I don't need a piece of paper to tell me what I am," he said. "If I did have a piece of paper, how soon would they excommunicate me? And if I were excommunicated, so what?"
Nevertheless, Bourne identifies with the Jewish community even to the point of taking sides in the kind of fraternal conflicts that unfortunately are common in Jewish communities throughout the world.
While today Bermuda has only one congregation serving approximately 110 affiliated Jews, in the not so distant past there were two congregations, Bourne said. The other congregation, to which he belonged, broke away both because of personality differences and a dispute over using more Hebrew in the service.
When the split came, the breakaway congregation decided not to use more Hebrew even though that supposedly was what the dispute was about, Bourne said. Meanwhile, the original congregation decided maybe incorporating more Hebrew into the service was a good idea after all.
Bourne said that the second congregation dissolved after its lay leader-- a South African--was prosecuted on charges that he illegally employed a foreigner as a maid. In Bermuda, foreigners generally are eligible to work only in those jobs for which no Bermudian can be found.
Bourne contended that the charges against the man and his wife were false; that the couple actually had offered the refuge of their home to a Black political refugee from South Africa's apartheid regime. Nevertheless, the couple was forced to leave Bermuda -- and the congregation that they founded "disintegrated to nothing," Bourne said.
Although he rejoined the original congregation, other members of the break-away congregation simply severed their ties with organized Judaism, Bourne said.
Owner of a store where islanders can pick up their mail, send a fax, photocopy their documents or take advantage of other office-type services, Bourne loves to shmooze not only about the doings of the small Jewish community, but also about the history of Bermuda in which his Anglican family members played an important part.
During the American Civil War, his paternal great-grandfather served in Bermuda as an agent for the Confederacy.
Part of his job was to help circumvent the embargo placed by the United States of America on the purchase of goods or crops emanating from the Confederate States. This involved transferring cotton, rice, and other crops from Confederate ships to the ships of neutral countries so they could be sent safely to ports in the American North. With agents of the North also maintaining residence in Bermuda, this process was very much like an international game of cat and mouse.
In St George, the town which was once Bermuda's capital, a museum operated by the Bermuda National Trust is located in what was formerly the Globe Hotel. According to the museum's brochure, the hotel "became the centre of controversy when the agent for the Confederate States of America located his offices here to oversee the trans-shipment of war materials from Europe to the southern states through the Union blockade."
"The exhibit, 'Rogues and Runners: Bermuda and the American Civil War' details this era of excitement, risk and profit in St. George's."
The mother of Bourne's great-grandfather had grown up in Charleston, South Carolina, and maintained connections to prominent families in that state even after immigrating to Bermuda, Bourne said.
"According to the family tradition, my great-grandfather received a message one day that if he were to go somewhere off Bermuda in some skiff to a certain point on the map that he would meet a certain vessel there, and that if he did go out, he would be asked if he would like to be a Confederate agent. He went out, and accepted the offer, and the rest is history."
Family connections go back much earlier in Bermuda history.
Great-grandfather Bourne's wife was a member of the Tucker family, for which the Bermudian community of Tucker's Town is named. The family included a director of the East India Company, a captain, a colonel, and the president of the governor's council -- the latter known in Bermuda history books as President Henry Tucker.
An avid compiler of his genealogy, Bourne says he can trace his family back to a William Tucker who lived in Milton, Kent, England in the late 15th century. "There was a Tucker in the 16th century who went on some expedition with one of the explorers and died in Florida ... And there was another Tucker who was secretary to Queen Anne," he said.
There was also the cantankerous Gov. Dan Tucker who in 1616 became the second governor of Bermuda and whose contradictory nature was celebrated in the folksong that begins "Old Dan Tucker was a mighty man; Washed his face in a frying pan".
But President Tucker was the most famous of the clan owing to the fact that he lived during some of Bermuda's most exciting times.
"When the governor leaves Bermuda and before the next one comes, the president of the council then becomes acting governor, so he was acting governor for periods of three months at a time," Bourne said.
The home once owned by President Tucker in St. George is another museum operated by the Bermuda National Trust. A pamphlet informs visitors that President Tucker moved into the house in 1775 and "was quickly embroiled in a major crisis. On the night of Aug. 14 that year, a group of Bermudians brought several whale boats into Tobacco Bay on the North Shore of St. George's (Parish). They crept up the hill to the small building which served as Bermuda's arsenal, broke into it and stole gunpowder, sending it to the Revolutionary American forces besieging Boston.
"President Henry's father, the colonel, was alleged to have been part of the conspiracy. So was the President's brother, St. George. ... President Henry himself was married to the daughter of the fiercely patriotic Royal Governor, General George James Bruere, and the days that followed must have been ones of anguish and crisis for him.
"The powder was stolen because the Continental Congress had declared a ban on exports to all British colonies not taking part in the revolt. The 13 mainland colonies were the granary for Bermuda and the ban was a shrewd blow. An unofficial Bermuda delegation to Philadelphia asked that the ban be lifted but the Congress refused--unless Bermuda supplied the powder in the Colony's magazine. This the Bermudians did and the ban was eventually lifted."
Another member of the Tucker family was the President's younger brother, Thomas Tudor Tucker, who had moved to the 13 Colonies, and following American Independence "became the third, and longest serving, treasurer of the United States," according to the pamphlet.
The Tucker and Bourne family histories are not Jewish history nor is Jewish history really Bourne's. But this highly individualistic Bermudian who regularly hosts afternoon tea at his home for islanders and visitors alike is a link who makes the two histories more than nodding acquaintances.