THE CARIBBEAN - THE JEWS OF CURAÇAO(Lesser Antilles) _____________________________________
by by Ralph G.Bennett
Curacao is part of the Lesser Antilles, the southernmost group of islands in the Caribbean, quite close to the mainland of South America just above Venezuela. The Dutch were much more tolerant of Jews than the Spanish, Portuguese, or French. The Jews were allowed to build up their businesses, contributing to the success of the Dutch in the Caribbean. By 1650, there were twelve Jewish families living on Curacao. The Dutch West Indies Company was in charge of administering the Dutch colonies. The company ordered the governor to give these new settlers land, slaves to work the land, livestock and tools. The Jews settled in an area still known as Jodenwyk (Joden is "Jewish" in Dutch). In 1651, a large number of Jewish settlers, in flight from the persisting battle between the Portuguese and Dutch in Brazil, arrived in Curacao. By 1750, the population of Jews reached 2,000.
Curaçao has the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas—dating to 1651—and the oldest synagogue of the Americas, in continuous use since its completion in 1732 on the site of a previous synagogue. The Jewish Community of Curaçao also played a key role in supporting early Jewish congregations in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, including in New York City and the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island.
SYNAGOGUES IN THE SAND - CURACAO Forward, Julie Kay February 27, 2012
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.