Saturday, 25 August 2012

The St. Thomas Synagogue - Snapshot Saturday

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Few people know but the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere is found on the Dutch island of Curacao in the southern Caribbean; the oldest synagogue in an American territory, however, is found on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.  The Jewish congregation was founded on St. Thomas, then part of the Danish West Indies, in 1796 and remained quite small until 1803 when 22 families were registered as members.  By 1831 when much of Charlotte Amalie, the capital, was destroyed by fire along with the synagogue, the congregation numbered 64 families.

The present building was constructed in 1833 and is located on Synagogue Hill.  My daughter and I spent a few days on St. Thomas recently soaking up the history and these were taken during our visit to the synagogue.

The membership remains small, numbering about 120 family and single member registrants.

The US flag is flanked by the territorial or USVI flag and the flag of Israel.

When my daughter asked why the floor was covered in sand, I told her it represented the forty days and the forty nights the Jews wandered in the desert after Moses led them out of Egypt.  Then I read the brochure and had to explain that apparently it was the custom of Spain's "crypto-Jews" or conversos to spread sand on their floor thus allegedly muffling the sound of their songs and prayers while they held services in their cellars.  (Luckily we'd done the Inquisition before launching into Columbus so she understood what being caught would have meant for the Jews - exile or execution.)

Very interesting exhibit through these doors on Jewish history with pictures of some of the earliest settlers in the then Danish West Indies.

The lovely and shady Jewish cemetery is a brisk 20 minute walk from the synagogue.

My area had a 33-hour power outage last weekend so while my post went up as scheduled I wasn't able to enter the meme.  If you're interested in seeing my pix of our annual festival, please click here.


  1. Thanks for sharing! I always enjoy learning something new in these photo sharing moments. Beautiful traditions....


  2. How interesting! Thanks for sharing your tour with us.

  3. Interesting pictures! I have never seen a synagogue -- these provided a little insight for me!

    Here is my Saturday Snapshot post.

  4. Thanks for sharing an interesting bit of VI history.

  5. wow, that is such a unique piece of history, great place to visit too :) Thank you for sharing, Book Savvy Babe

  6. I'm so intrigued with your choice of visiting, what a wonderful historical visit. I could easily join you, I love these adventures in history.

  7. I wouldn't have noticed the sand in the photo had you not pointed it out. It blends right in being so white. I wouldn't have guessed what it was for.

  8. What an fascinating post! The whole bit about the sand on the floor is fascinating - and frightening. I love how you came up with the 40 days and 40 nights explanation before you realized the real reason for the sand on the floor. Very creative!

    1. I prefer the Moses theory - if I were an Inquisition official and noted that converso houses had sand all over the floor I'd be a wee bit suspicious. I mean - no sand, then Inquisition, you convert, and suddenly sand. Hmmm.

  9. That is really interesting, especially the sand on the floor.I don't know anything about synagogues, but you've made me want to learn more. My Saturday Snapshot is very brief this week but it's sad - a site where lepers once lived

  10. Great photos and fascinating history. It's terrific when you have a story to go with the photos. Here's Mine

  11. What a lovely synagogue. Thanks for giving us the history. Here's my Snapshot.

  12. Enjoyed the historical info...sorry you had to endue a power outage♫