History of the Jews in Barbados

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Barbadian Jews

Old synagogue in Belleville, Bridgetown, Barbados.JPG

Old Synagogue located in Belleville, Bridgetown, Barbados
Total population
est. ~100[1]
Regions with significant populations
English, Portuguese, Hebrew

The history of the Jews in Barbados has existed almost continually since 1654, when Sephardic Jews arrived on the island as refugees from what was formerly Dutch Brazil after it was captured by the Inquisitorial persecuting Portuguese colonizers who were consolidating their hold over all of Brazil.

The Jewish refugees brought with them expertise in the production and cultivation of sugarcane and coffee, expertise which contributed to the development of Barbados as a major producer of sugar.[1]

Unlike the case in Suriname, very few of the Barbadian Sephardim were plantation owners. Given the small size of Barbados, all the arable land was already occupied by the 1660s. Consequently, Jews settled in Bridgetown as merchants with a smaller community in the northern town of Speightstown. As an examination of the Barbados telephone directory will show[2][citation needed], several of the original Jewish last names from the Brazilian Jews can still be found in Barbados, either held by the white or mixed race descendants of the various Sephardic families or adopted by the original slaves of the Jewish families which held them in bondage.

Emigration and assimilation eventually took their toll on the original Jewish population of the island; the Jewish population it is believed vanished by 1929 when it is said that the last of the practising descendants of the Brazilian Jews left the island. As a result, the community's synagogue fell into a state of disuse.[1] A Jewish presence returned to the island in the aftermath of World War II, in the form of Ashkenazi Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe.

Although small, the existing Jewish community has taken steps to preserve its heritage; for instance in maintaining a functioning synagogue, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, in the capital city Bridgetown.[1] In January, 2008, the Nidhe Israel Museum was opened. The museum tells the story of the Barbadian Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities using inter-active displays. In 2008 as well, the archaeology of the yard of the seventeenth century synagogue is being investigated by historians/archaeologists and students from the University of the West Indies. Though the focus is on the long destroyed rabbi's house, excavations have revealed the intact 17th-century mikveh which was constructed over a still-running freshwater spring.

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