Questioning Jewish Caribbean Identities lends a fresh, psychological approach to identity and Jewishness in the Caribbean. It explores the ways in which individuals in the islands have maintained their connections to Judaism as lineage, as a religion and as a culture. Transported overseas from Spain and Portugal in the 1500s while fleeing the Inquisition, and later during the second wave of exodus from Europe under threat of World War II, the Caribbean provided safe harbours for a number of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. There is no doubt that their presence in the Caribbean and Latin America over the last 500 years has had a tremendous impact on the growth and development of industry, modern commerce and culture. Their contribution to their new island homelands has been a lasting one. From the technology for the cultivation of sugar and the development of trade and commerce across the Atlantic, to the arts and education, Jewish life within the region has left and continues to leave an indelible mark.
For the author, there have been many stops along the way in completing this book. She has travelled and interacted with Jews across the globe, and these encounters were the genesis of the questions she asked herself about Jews of all descriptions. Indeed, many of the questions and their answers arise from an existential need to rationalise her own thoughts about her personal identity. This is a pattern that the author has noted among a number of the theorists included in this work. From Erickson with his Danish-Jewish background and the subsequent elaboration of his psychosocial theory; to Stuart Hall’s cultural theory, born out of his own mixed heritage and later inter-ethnic marriage; and Nathan Blumenthal, who changes his rather Jewish name to Nathaniel Branden as he becomes known for his psychology of self-esteem. Of course, it is impossible to speak of identity without acknowledging the seminal contribution of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory as a way of making meaning for ourselves in the world. Common to these theorist and many others, readers will encounter their own struggle with national, personal and ethnic identities while exploring the pages of this book. Claiming an identity suggests an autonomous act of loyalty to chosen identity, and for some this can mean the abandonment of previous ways of seeing themselves. This is the central threat of acts of identity; it signals, “I am with them” and equally, “I have no allegiance to you”. These are the sentiments over which battles are waged, causing people who appear indistinguishable from each other to obliterate neighbouring nations. This book is a story of the survival of a people, practice, culture, and religion. (Nova)
“The search for an identity beyond that of testing one’s DNA or working the genealogical records is the métier of Karen Carpenter’s journey through time and space. She begins with the known, her parents, and reaches across to a wide variety of sources in four language and cultural groupings. This traveling also includes sociological, physiological and philosophical examinations of these Caribbean peoples. These searches have raised the questions by some as to who am I and again why do I want to know? The final answer must be found by Karen Carpenter herself and, hopefully, as she finds herself, you the reader will find yourself in her research. It has been a classic story of over 300 to 500 hundred years of questioning Jewish Caribbean Identity. This tour de force will enrich the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, not only in the Caribbean but those who left the shores of the islands for mainland economic gains. May you all have reached this state of knowing by perusing this work to the bitter and indeed joyful ending. May you know from whence you have come, who you are and where you can go.” - Ainsley Cohen Henriques, Director/Chairman of the Heritage Center Committee
"The modern history of the Americas began in the Caribbean. The Jews were among the ancient peoples who arrived and contributed to this New World multi-ethnic experiment, and they contributed importantly to both the region's body and mind. In this book Karen Carpenter tells their story from the point of view of a pioneering psychologist and sexologist who is also sensitive to philosophical thought." - Earl McKenzie, Former Lecturer in Philosophy, University of the West Indies, Mona