Bridgetown Jewish Synagogue

The Bridgetown Jewish Synagogue is located in the city of Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. It was built in the year 1654 which makes it one of the oldest synagogues in the world. It was built by the Jews who had come from Brazil and settled on the island. The Jews in Brazil faced persistent and heavy persecution, and therefore, about 300 Jews of Recife in Brazil decided to flee the country. They determined to make Barbados their home as they had come to know that Oliver Cromwell permitted freedom of religion on the island.

These Jews who migrated from Brazil brought came along with a fund of knowledge and techniques about sugarcane planting. This knowledge and the new techniques which the locals adopted helped Barbados to become an important sugar-producing country. The Bridgetown Jewish Synagogue was destroyed during the 1831 hurricane, but it was rebuilt in the same site in 1838. The population of the Jews on the island started diminishing and the building become neglected and came into a state of disrepair, until it was finally sold in 1929 by the last of the Jews. Artifacts of the synagogue were either sold or landed in museums. In the next 60 years, consecutive owners modified and used the building. It was used as a ware house, office of a horse racing club, a law library, and as a wholesale trading company.

In 1931, a number of Jews led by Paul Altman arrived at Barbados. This group of Jews got together, purchased the Bridgetown Jewish Synagogue, restored it to its former glory, and started using it again as a place of worship. Paul Altman was totally responsible for the restoration and renovation of the synagogue as well as the cemetery. He helped raise $ 1 million funds in the form of private donations and also received assistance from the American Jewish Congress (AJC), the Common Wealth Jewish Trust (CJT) and the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). A 17th century cemetery, which was adjacent to the synagogue, was also in a very dilapidated state. For many years, it was used as a dumping site and a lot of dirt and rubble covered the graves. This cemetery was also restored. The Barbados National Trust has now taken over the protection of the building.

The job of restoration was a tough and painful process and had to be done very carefully and systematically. The top portion of the synagogue, including the chandeliers was replaced and the delicate lattice work was copied, and a beautiful altar window (created using stained glass) was installed. The doors of the synagogue were again thrown open in 1987 after it was totally restored. Information panels were placed on the walls of the Bridgetown Jewish Synagogue to create awareness among the public about its historical value and significance.

Take a walk down the narrow and meandering streets in the area, and you can easily envisage the life of the Jewish people of those olden days when the number of Jews numbered about 800. Most of the Jews lived quite close to the synagogue, and the street where they lived was known as Jews Street. Today, it is known as Swan Street and you will find here shops selling all sorts of goods like clothing, jewelry, fruits, and other goods. Look at the reconstructed balconies on the second floor and you can recall the glory of the Jews in those days.

Come to Barbados and see the glory of the Bridgetown Jewish Synagogue.