Oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere

Oldest – Mikve Israel in Curacao

In the Caribbean, Curacao is home to the oldest synagogue – Mikve Israel – in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere; it was founded in 1651.

Second oldest (?) (Though not in continuous use) – Synagogue of Bridgetown, Barbados

The first synagogue on the site was built about 1651 by Jews from Recife, Brazil, fleeing Portuguese lands to English territories during the Inquisition. The original building was destroyed in a hurricane in 1831, and rebuilt two years later. (Curacao’s synagogue, built in the 1660’s, is the oldest continually operating synagogue in the hemisphere.) The Bridgetown synagogue, deconsecrated early in the century, was seized by the Barbados Government about five years ago and scheduled for demolition. But through the tenacity of the island’s tiny Jewish community, it is now a Barbados National Trust property and is undergoing a $1 million restoration. The building, a short walk from the main shopping district, is to be rededicated as a synagogue when the restoration is finished by next winter. It will remain a National Trust property.Today, the building’s exterior, with its balustraded roofline, lancet-shaped windows and thick walls with rounded corners, appears much as it did in the 1830’s, the prosperous days of Barbados’s Jewish community, which led the island’s sugar industry.

Third oldest – St. Thomas Synagogue Virgin Islands

The third oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, this gracious building has a sand floor. This signifies the time during the Spanish Inquisition when practicing Judaism was punishable by death. Jews would worship in cellars with sand on the floors to absorb the sound.

Oldest synagogue – non-continuous use: Kahal Zur Israel, Recife Brazil.

Flanked by bustling cafes in downtown Recife on Brazil’s northeastern coast is a little-known treasure of Jewish history in the New World – the oldest synagogue in the Americas.Sephardic Jews built the two-story Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue before 1641 – most likely in 1636 – when they enjoyed religious freedom under the Dutch, who ruled part of the northeast region from 1630 to 1654 to control sugar production.

The Mikve Israel Congregation in Curacao, a Dutch Antilles island in the Carribean, was considered by some to have been the first congregation in the Americas. But it was founded only in 1651, also by Sephardic Jews from Holland.

Oldest synagogue in North America – Touro Synagogue, Newport Rhode Island

For over two centuries, the small synagogue standing on top of a hill on a quiet street in the New England seaport community of Newport, R.I., has occupied a unique place in American history — not only as a part of the American Jewish experience but also as a symbol of religious freedom for all Americans. It is her “that the right of the individual freely and without governmental restraint to follow the dictate of his own conscience in religious worship could be exercised without danger to the state”

UPDATE: Life at full volume visited Mikve Israel and has an account as well as a link to a set of photos of the Shul.

Well it turns out that Larry and I visited the oldest, Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, while we were on our honeymoon in Curaçao.We were there in June of 1992 and it was absolutely gorgeous.After a bit of digging I found a roll from our trip and I’ll share a few of the pictures we took of the synagogue and the Jewish Cultural Museum. First up is a picture of the organ and some of the chandeliers inside the sanctuary.

It was beautiful inside the building. My pictures really don’t do it justice, the dark mahogany wood, the bright sunlight streaming in and the white paint conspired to confound my film. But I did get a few good shots and if you click through the picture it will lead you to the picture set. I don’t remember much, other than the building being very cool and airy inside.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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