In the 1990s, I made my first trip to Bermuda in fifteen years. My family, once the mainstay of Bermuda Jews, were long gone from the island. The first whiff of salty sea air hasn’t changed but the airport is a jumble of construction. A short jog across the tarmac should end in a hushed wait for the appearance of a customs agent, sitting patiently on the dark wood furniture of the terminal’s old-fashioned waiting room. Today, official greeters wave us through a temporary cordoned maze to a terminal with a second story, a food court, and customs agents encased in glass booths. An electronically-enhanced steel band strikes an earnest rendition of “Island in the Sun” where a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth once hung.
(Conclusion to Bermuda Jews History Series)
In May of 1941, my grandparents sent round-trip tickets to their eldest daughter, Estelle, to bring her young man, Aaron Levine, to visit them in Bermuda. Estelle, my mother, had met Aaron when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore at Harvard University. The trip was a chance for Myer and Ida to check out their prospective son-in-law. A photograph of Aaron and Estelle on a Bermuda beach shows two young college students, a sweet-faced girl and a skinny young man. She’s kneeling in the sand, smiling unguardedly into the camera. Aaron stands behind her looking proud, defiant and possessive: Bermuda Jews in the making.
I sat in a restaurant overlooking Hamilton harbor pondering my morning researching Bermuda Jews in the island’s Archives. I’d spent many hours reviewing Bermuda’s Jewish tourism prior to World War II. Yes, my family had mentioned ‘restricted’ places where no Jews were allowed. But mostly I remembered their stories of Bermuda’s war-time kindness to Jews. Dr. Hollis Hallett, the Archives founder, directed me to documents from the 1930s showing the impact of an increasingly global anti-Semitism on Bermuda tourism. What should I write about this ugly period?
(Part #2 of the Bermuda Jews History Series)
In the early 1900s, Jewish tailors among the Eastern Europeans who arrived in America in droves. Only one tailor, my great grandfather, ended up as one of few Bermuda Jews. Picking up an Americanized version of his Russian last name, he became Axel Malloy passing through Ellis Island in New York City. He was better known by the first name of David, a name change that happened when he seriously ill. The family kept to the Eastern European Jewish tradition changing one’s name to hide from the Angel of Death.