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.