30 May 2009

Caribbean: Jewish heritage sites

It must be travel time. If you are thinking about the Caribbean, here's a glimpse at Jewish heritage sites there, along with some history and websites for more information.

Read the article here. Here are some of the highlights:


In 1651, Joao d’Yllan, a Jewish merchant who migrated to Holland from Portugal as a result of the Inquisition, convinced the Dutch West Indies Company to colonize Curaçao. He and a small group set sail for the island that summer, and soon several independent Jewish businessmen from Amsterdam followed. In the spring of 1659, another group of Jewish immigrants brought Curaçao’s first Torah scrolls. Since that time, the Jewish community of Curaçao has remained one of the most active in the Caribbean islands.
Mikve Israel synagogue, with its sand-covered floors, was established in 1651, and today also houses the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum, home to a permanent collection of art and artifacts. Among the treasures is the original Torah scroll brought to Curaçao in 1659. Nearby Blenheim Cemetery is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere and has smore than 5,000 graves. For more information, click here.


In 1754, Moses Solomon Levie Maduro, a prominent member of a Sephardic Jewish family in Curaçao, established himself in Aruba with his wife and six children. There, Levie Maduro founded a branch of the Dutch West Indies Company. Over 250 years later, Maduro and Sons operates as the main shipping company in Aruba.
Beth Israel Synagogue blends both Sephardic and Ashkenazi, with some 70 local and 180 overseas members. The Sephardic cemetery has graves back to the 19th century. For more information, click here.


When the first Jewish settlers arrived in 1511, Jamaica was a Spanish territory ruled by the family of Christopher Columbus. The island welcomed Jews, and when England conquered Jamaica in 1655, there was no attempt to expel or limit the Jewish presence. Jewish life flourished, and during the 17th century a small synagogue was established. The United Congregation of Israelites in Kingston recently celebrated its 350th anniversary with a permanent exhibition on Jewish contributions to Jamaica.
The new Jewish Her­itage Center offers important Jewish artifacts, an art exhibit by Jewish Jamaican artists, a family history center, and a reference library.For more, click here.


The Jewish history in Nevis is vast and has had a prominent impact on the United States. It is suspected that Sephardic Jews first came to Nevis as traders from Barbados sometime after 1654. By the late 17th century, the Nevis Jewish community established a complete enclave, including a cemetery, a synagogue and a Jewish school. In fact, Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury of the United States, was born in Nevis and attended Jewish day school. Though its numbers have since dwindled, at one time the Jewish community constituted one fourth of the island’s population.
The Jewish cemetery dates to 1679 and was rededicated in 1971. Jewish cemetery dating back to February 1679. For more, click here.


The British first colonized Barbados in 1627 and actively promoted Jewish settlement during the years that followed. Later, Barbados became the first British territory where Jews obtained full political rights. In 1654, the Jewish community in Bridgetown established a Sephardic synagogue, and by 1679, nearly 300 Jews lived on the island. Many Jewish settlers engaged in sugar and coffee cultivation, and soon tensions between Jewish and British merchants rose. In 1668, the government forced Jews to live in a Jewish ghetto and forbade them from engaging in retail trade; the discriminatory laws were removed in the early 19th century. Despite persecution, the Jewish community thrived in Barbados until 1831, when a massive hurricane caused significant damage to the island, displacing some residents.
The Bridgetown Jewish Syna­gogue remains in use today. For more information, click here.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Jews first settled on the then Danish-ruled island of St. Thomas in 1655. After granting Jews religious freedom in 1685, the island has since had three Jewish governors. At its peak, around 1850, the Jewish population made up half of the island’s white community. After the opening of the Panama Canal, however, the number of Jewish residents declined. St. Thomas boasts the oldest synagogue in continuous use in a U.S. territory. Known as the Congregation of Blessings and Peace, the St. Thomas Synagogue was originally established in 1796 and was later rebuilt several times.
The present Sephardic-style synagogue was built in 1833. Everything in the historic building is original, and a small museum was added in 1996. For more, read here.

The article also includes information for those who observe kashrut.

1 comment:

  1. Brooke Schreier Ganz12:45 PM

    Great post, Schelly. A few years ago, I visited the old synagogue in the city of Charlotte Amalie in the US Virgin Islands. Photos are online here: http://tinyurl.com/nfqrh8