Silent Witnesses: Migration Stories through Synagogues Transformed, Rebuilt, or Left Behind
Miriam Benjamin and her husband Mel Alexenberg participated in this exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Center in conjunction with the Conference of the Council of American Jewish Museums, Detroit, February 2012
My Synagogue Came on Aliyah by Miriam Benjamin
I came on aliyah in 1949 from my birthplace, Paramaribo, Suriname, when I was 9 years old. 60 years later, my synagogue followed me and came on aliyah. The Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue established in 1736 on the northern coast of South America was dismantled and shipped to Israel and reconstructed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
My father, Moshe Yehuda Benjamin, chanted the Torah portion on Shabbat in the two synagogues in the Dutch colony, both the Tzedek ve-Shalom (Justice and Peace) Sephardi synagogue and the Neveh Shalom (House of Peace) Ashkenazi synagogue. Neveh Shalom, established in 1735 and reconstructed in 1835, still stands in the center of Paramaribo next to a mosque built in 1984.
I rushed to be the first person in synagogue on Friday evenings after the sand floors were raked smooth so that my footprints would be the first to show. Both synagogues had sand floors to symbolize the Diaspora wanderings of the Jewish people just as they wandered in the Sinai desert sands on their way to the Land of Israel.
My grandmother was born in Suriname and moved to Amsterdam where she married the son of the Chief Rabbi of Holland Yosef Tzvi Dunner. They were murdered in Auschwitz. Their daughter, my mother Anna Benjamin, passed away several months after giving a Hanukah piano recital at Beit Juliana in Herzliyah, Israel, at the age of 101. She enjoyed her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren thriving in the Land of Israel.
Miriam Benjamin is an artist who works in ceramic sculpture, environmental art and collaborative projects. She has created Jewish ceremonial objects, clayscapes inspired by geological forces in the Negev desert, and monumental artworks made in collaboration with elders from different ethnic communities of Miami. Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries and museums in New York, Miami, Washington, and Honolulu. She studied at Columbia University, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Massachusetts College of Art, and earned her M.F.A. at Pratt Institute. Benjamin was artist-in-residence at the South Florida Art Center and has taught at colleges in Israel and New York.