Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Island Community

As the chill of winter settles in, Jewish Treats brings you warm thoughts of the Caribbean - of Barbados to be exact.

The first known Jews to arrive on Barbados were refugees from the formerly Dutch region of Recife, Brazil, which had recently been conquered by the Portuguese who enforced the laws of the Inquisition. Because it was under British control, Barbados became a haven for Jews, and a place where many could practice Judaism openly for the first time. By the year 1654, these former conversos (Jews who hid their identity under insincere conversions to Catholicism) had established Kehilat Kadosh Nidchei Israel (Holy Congregation of the Dispersed Ones of Israel) in Bridgetown.  A second synagogue, Kehilat Kadosh Samech David (Offspring of David), opened in Speighstown. Sadly, this synagogue was destroyed in a riot in 1739.

Under British rule, Jews lived in relative peace. There were, however, some discriminatory laws put into place in 1668 (as a result of the fear of Jewish mercantile expertise). These laws included residential restriction, trade rules and a limitation in the ownership of slaves.

In 1831, a massive hurricane destroyed Bridgetown and much of the rest of the island. The Jewish community never recovered, and many left to try their luck elsewhere rather than rebuild. By 1925, there was no real community of which to speak. 

During World War II, several dozen Jewish refugee families arrived in Barbados. They began to  build the community anew. The Bridgetown Jewish cemetery was restored and the Nidchei Israel synagogue, after being moved to a new location, was rededicated. (The old building is now a museum.) In 2008, archeaologists uncovered the synagogue's 17th century mikveh (ritual pool).

Today is the anniversary of Barbados’ entry into the United Nations. 

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