Synagogues in the Sand
11 Must-See Jewish Heritage Sites in the Caribbean
By Julie Kay
Published February 27, 2012, issue of March 02, 2012.
Sandy Synagogues: For those looking to find Jewish heritage in the Caribbean, there are remnants of historic communities and even synagogues with floors of sand.
For most people, a trip to the Caribbean is all about sandy beaches, crystal-clear water and relaxing in the moment. But for tourists with an interest in Jewish history, the Caribbean is also home to some of the oldest Jewish communities in North America, dating back to the 1600s.
Whether traveling alone or on one of several Jewish-heritage cruises, the old synagogues, cemeteries and even a Torah still in use since 1659 reveal a rich history of Jewish culture that took root here around the time of the Pilgrims.
Harry Ezratty, Baltimore lawyer, historian and former resident of Puerto Rico, wrote the book "500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean." He said American Jews tend to focus on the history of Jews "who immigrated to New York in the late 19th century" and are surprised to learn that Jews were the earliest European settlers to the Caribbean.
Ezratty said that many fled religious persecution in Spain and Portugal, heading first to Amsterdam and then across the Atlantic to Brazil. Later, having learned about agriculture in the New World, they put that knowledge to use in the sugar cane fields of the Caribbean.
Painter of the Caribbean
Sephardi Sea Hawks
A Century Later, A Jewish Pioneer Gets His Due
By the 18th century, half of the Jewish population of the New World was in the Caribbean or Dutch colonies, according to Stephen Berk, a professor of history, the Holocaust and Jewish studies at Union College, in Schenectady, N.Y.
Today, major historical Jewish sites can be found on the islands of Curacao, St. Thomas, Barbados, and tiny Nevis
Read more: http://www.forward.com/articles/151799/#ixzz1noNrbpFl
and St. Eustatius. Here are some must-sees.
On the island of Curacao, the Jewish community dates back to 1651. The first arrivals were 10 to 12 Sephardic Jewish families from Amsterdam's Portuguese community. They established the Reconstructionist congregation Mikve Israel-Emanuel. A second group of settlers followed in 1659, bringing a gift: a Torah scroll still in use today.
For nearly three centuries, Sephardic Jews were the only Jews to inhabit Curacao. Then, in the 1920s, an influx of Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews arrived and consecrated the synagogue Shaarei Tsedek, as well as a social club. The Curacao Community Hebrew School still holds classes four days a week for the 450 Jews remaining on the island.
The Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue. The oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas, Mikve Israel was built in 1703. The building is known for its solid mahogany interior, 18th-century copper chandeliers and famed sand floor.
Jewish Cultural Historical Museum. Connected to the Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue, it houses such religious artifacts as centuries-old circumcision chairs, a Passover table, remains from a 1728 mikveh and 18 Torah scrolls from Spain that are more than 300 years old.
Beth Haim Cemetery. One of the first cemeteries in the New World, it was established in Curacao in 1659 and contains 2,500 graves inscribed in Portuguese, Hebrew, Spanish, English, Dutch, French and even Yiddish.