The British first colonized Barbados in 1627. A year
later, Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Marranos,
arrived in Barbados from Dutch Brazil, Suriname, Germany and England. The British
actively promoted Jewish settlement in Barbados during this time.
The majority of Jews that settled in the 17th century
were of Sephardic origins.
In 1654, the Jewish community in Bridgetown, the capital, was formally
established and a Sephardic synagogue,
K. K. Nidhei Israel (“The Dispersed Ones of Israel”), was
After the once British colony of Suriname passed to
the Dutch, in 1667, many Jews moved to Barbados to retain their British
citizenship. Barbados was the first British territory in which Jews
obtained full political rights. By the late 17th century there were
two Jewish communities in Barbados, in Bridgetown and Speighstown, K.
K. Semah David. By 1679, nearly 300 Jews lived in Barbados.
Once in Barbados, many Jewish settlers engaged in
sugar and coffee cultivation. While the British government considered
Jews to be good businessmen and tradesmen, British merchants did not
like the Jews and accused them of committing illegal business transactions.
Jews were accused of trading more frequently with the Dutch than the
British merchants. In 1661, three Jewish traders in Barbados requested
to establish trade routes between Barbados and Suriname (it was still
a British colony); through this enterprise the Jews gained much wealth,
but created more irritation among many British merchants.
On October 23, 1668, the Jews of Barbados were forbidden
to engage in foreign or local retail trade. Jews were forbidden from
purchasing slaves, and were forced into living in a Jewish Ghetto in
All the discriminatory laws were removed by 1802, by the colonial
government of Barbados and in 1820 the British Parliament also
repealed the discrimination laws.
During the 18th century, the Jewish community of Barbados
continued to grow and become financially successful, although the Jewish
congregation in Speighstown closed. Rabbi Raphael Hayyim Isaac Carigal
served the community of Bridgetown from 1774 until his death in 1777.
The Jewish community thrived in Barbados until 1831,
when a massive hurricane ruined all the towns on the island.
the Jewish population had decline to only 70 Jews. As the economy deteriorated
in succeeding decades, many Jews immigrated to the United States and
those who remained eventually died and, by 1925, no Jews were left on
During the Holocaust, 30 Jewish families arrived in Barbados from Eastern
Europe and they were soon followed by several more Jews from Trinidad. By
1968, the Jewish community had begun to rise and had a population of
about 80 Jews.
In 1987, the Nidhei Israel Synagogue was rededicated
in a new location and the Old Jewish cemetery in Bridgetown was restored. The synagogue, widely considered one of the oldest such buildings in the Western Hemisphere, features a dark wood ark, grand European chandeliers, a stained-glass window etched with the Star of David, and balck and white marble floors.
The former Nidhei Israel building, which served as the synagogue, is
today used for a library and as a museum. The museum features interactive exhibits and a range of artifacts including a 17th-century mikveh (ritual bath) discovered in 2008 when archaeologists were digging in the synagogues's parking lot.
The Jewish cemetery in Barbados is considered
to be the oldest graveyard in the Western Hemisphere. A few of the graves
date back to the 1660s and include some famous individuals such as Samuel Hart, son of Moses Hart, and
Moses Nehemiah (the first Jew to live in Virginia).
40 Jews live in Barbados. It was the Jewish community of Barbados that
initiated and maintains the Caribbean Jewish Congress.
Nidhei Israel Synagogue
Services are held Friday evenings at 7pm at ‘True Blue’,
Rockley New Road, Christ Church, during the summer, and at the synagogue
Synagogue Restoration Project
P.O. Box 256
Caribbean Jewish Congress
P.O. Box 1331, Bridgetwon
Jewish Community Council
P.O. Box 256, Bridgetown
Barbados Jewish Community
P.O. Box 651
Sephardim of the Island of Nevis”
Zaidner, Michael. Jewish
Travel Guide 2000. Intl Specialized Book Service, 2000
Julie Kay, "Synagogues in the Sand." The Forward (March 2, 2012).