THE HISTORIC NIDHE ISRAEL SYNAGOGUE DISTRICT
‘SYNAGOGUE OF THE SCATTERED OF ISRAEL'
THE OLDEST SYNAGOGUE IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
The Synagogue Today
The Historic Nidhe Israel Synagogue stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Jewish people in Barbados.
The Synagogue Historic District, covering an entire city block in the heart of Bridgetown, Barbados, falls under the umbrella of the "Barbados National Trust" and since 2011 has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mikvah, museum, archives, cemetery and Synagogue provide a fascinating insight into the lives of the early Jewish settlers in the Caribbean.
The Agreement between The Barbados Government, The Barbados National Trust and The Barbados Jewish Community
1985 was a successful year for the Barbados Jewish Community, who celebrated the transfer of The Nidhe Israel Synagogue building and surrounding site to the Barbados National Trust
On May 15, 1997,the Barbados Government approved the vested ownership of the lands and hereditaments of the Jewish Synagogue in the Barbados National Trust. The provision being that the above could only be sold back to Government.
By agreement with the Trust, The Barbados Jewish Community and Synagogue Historic District 1654, collectively, are responsible for the upkeep and administration of the site which includes the temple, the cemetery and more recently the interpretive and interactive museum.
FROM THE BEGINNING, 1654
The Nidhe Israel Synagogue, located in Bridgetown, Barbados as well as the mikvah were originally built in 1654, it is the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.
The synagogue's history is intertwined with the history of the Jewish community in Barbados. The early settlers were Sephardic Jews who fled Brazil during the Inquisition, and they established Nidhe Israel Synagogue and the mikvah as a center of Jewish life in Barbados. The synagogue played an important role in the lives of the Jewish community, serving as a place of worship, community gathering, and education.
As the Sephardic community was orthodox, the men worshipped separately on the lower level and the women used the upstairs gallery.
In 1831, a devastating hurricane struck Barbados, causing widespread destruction and damage. The hurricane destroyed much of the original synagogue, leaving only the walls standing. Despite the damage, the synagogue's foundation and walls remained intact. After nearly 2 years, the reconstruction of Nidhe Israel was complete. The new building, built on its original foundation was consecrated on March 29, 1933. It measured 2,000 square feet and held about 300 people.
By 1850, due to the hurricane and other hardships, the Jewish population in Barbados dropped to just 71 people and by 1928 only 2 Jews remained and the synagogue was sold by the last remaining Jewish resident, Edmund Baeza, to a Bridgetown solicitor.
The synagogue was subsequently desecrated. During the ensuing period being used as offices, a law library, and for a company of traders. By the early 1980’s, the building ended up in disrepair and was seized by Government in 1983.
However, during this period of influx, a jewish family from Poland settled in Barbados, fleeing the growing antisemitism in Europe and were soon followed by 40 otherAshkenazi Jewish families seeking refuge from Nazism. They reestablish the Barbados Jewish Community of today.
In 1979 the Barbados Cabinet decided to demolish the Nidhe Israel Synagogue building and use the site to develop a new Supreme Court. Members of the Barbados Jewish Community with he help of the Barbados National Trust convinced the government to protect the building and it's site.
1985 was a successful year for the Barbados Jewish Community, who celebrated the transfer of The Nidhe Israel Synagogue building and surrounding site to the Barbados National Trust and in 1986 the Synagogue Restoration Project was initiated. Money was raised locally and internationally and as soon as 1987 the restoration of the Synagogue building was complete and it became, once again, a place of worship for the Barbados Jewish Community and host to many visitors.
Between 2009 and 2009, a historic building close to the cemetery is restored and becomes the site of the Nidhe Israel Museum. During this time an archaeological excavation was occurring in the area between the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and the Museum which led to the discovery of a Mikvah. (In Judaism, this is a pool of natural water for a ritual of bathing to restore purity).
Nidhe Israel Synagogue is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Jewish people in Barbados. Its historic architecture, museum, and archives provide a fascinating insight into the lives of the early Jewish settlers in the Caribbean. The role played by the Barbados National Trust in preserving the synagogue is a testament to the importance of cultural heritage preservation, and the Nidhe Israel Synagogue Museum is an important cultural institution that helps to keep this history alive for future generations.
THE HISTORIC NIDHE ISRAEL MIKVAH
The Mikvah was discovered by an archaeological team from the University of West Indies, who were initially tasked to remove the tarmac (blacktop) of the existing car park and to excavate what was first believed to be the foundation of the Rabbi's house. Instead they uncovered the Mikvah structure, which is now believed to be the oldest one in the Americas. Research dated the construction of the Mikvah to 1650 to 1654, completed pre-synagogue as the cleansing ritual was deemed very important to the new Sephardic group.
During the dig, the original marble staircase was exposed, which led down to a pool of natural fresh spring water, which is fed by an active underground spring. The batch has a granite tile floor with coral stonewalls.
Thousands of artifacts were discovered during the excavation and are now on display in the Nidhe Israel Museum.
VISITORS TO NIDHE ISRAEL HISTORIC SITE CAN VIEW THE MIKVAH AS A PART OF THEIR TOUR.
NIDHE ISRAEL'S CEMETERY
The Jewish cemetery on Nidhe Israel's grounds is believed to be the oldest Jewish graveyard in the Western Hemisphere,
with citations dating back to 1658 'Deborah Burgos and Abraham Elivahu da Fonseca Valle'.
Graves of several famous people are there, including Samuel Hart, son of the American Moses Hart, and Mosseh Haym Nahamyas (Moses Nehemiah), who died on Barbados in 1672 and was the first Jew to live in Virginia.
It currently has about 400 graves. The older grave ledgers are flat and made of marble or granite, as is customary in Separdic graveyards. There are also Ashkenazi graves from the more modern Jewish community of the 20th and 21st centuries, who still bury their members there.
THE MUSEUM OF JEWISH HISTORY IN BARBADOS
The modern museum has many interactive multimedia displays which interprets Jewish life in Barbados dating back to the early 1600's.
The restoration of the historic building circa 1700's and exhibits were completed in 2008 in within the Nidhe Israel Synagogue Historic Site.
The Nidhe Israel Site is a major heritage attraction in the city of Bridgetown and Barbados.
Tours / Self-Guided or Guided
Visitors are welcomed to have a self-guided tour of The Synagogue Historic District during visiting hours:
Monday - Friday 9am - 3pm
Entry Fee: Adults $12USD/$24BBD
For A Docent Tour directed by Member of the Barbados Jewish Community, please arrange in advance. Click
"TOUR INFORMATION" button.