Aruba Virtual Jewish History Tour
Jews have been recorded living in Aruba since the 16th century. In 1754, Moses Solomon Levie Maduro settled in Aruba with his wife and six children; the family remained in Aruba until 1816. Maduro came from a prominent Portuguese Jewish family in Curacao. Maduro worked for the Dutch West Indies Company and founded the Aruba branch, Maduro and Sons.
After the arrival of the Maduros, several other European families moved to Aruba. By 1867, there were 23 Jews living on the island. Although, the Jewish population in Aruba grew over the years, it became difficult to establish an organized communal association.
There is an Old Jewish Cemetery in Oranjestad, which contains eight gravestones dating back to 1563. The cemetery did not begin to be utilized by Jewish settlers regularly until 1837. These gravestones are the only indication of Jewish presence on the island in the past centuries.
In 1942, the community created the Jewish Country Club on Palm Beach. This center was utilized for such life-cycle events as weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. By 1946, the Jewish Country Club was officially recognized in Aruba as a center for worship, Hebrew school, and social events.
On December 1, 1956, the Dutch Kingdom officially recognized the Jewish community of Aruba. By the 1960s, however, as many young Jews left Aruba for the United States, the Jewish Country Club was closed. On November 4, 1962, the Beth Israel Synagogue was consecrated in Oranjestad. Both Beth Israel and the Jewish Community of Aruba (Israelitische Gemeente) share their place of worship.
Because the community is so small, there is a joint congregation blending both Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions. The Jewish Community of Aruba publishes a monthly newsletter, Chadashot Beth Israel, which is mailed to the congregants to help keep the members connected through news and events.
From February 1999 until July 2002, Rev. Cantor Irving N. Spenadel led the Jewish community of Aruba. While serving the community of Aruba, Spenadel headed the religious services and religious school. Spenadel initiated a program of Adult Jewish Education which helped Jews of interfaith marriages and unaffiliated Jews become acquainted with their religious heritage. On September 2003, Rabbi Marcelo Bater joined the Jewish community of Aruba. On December 30, 2005 the first kosher restaurant, Kineret Aruba Glatt Kosher Deli opened at the Playa Linda Beach Resort.
Today approximately 85 Jews live in Aruba. The most Jews reside in Oranjestad. The community consists mostly of Jewish families that immigrated to Aruba in the 1920s. In 1924, a large group of Jews moved to the island from Eastern Europe, mainly Poland. There are also many Jews from Holland and the former Dutch colony of Surinam.
Israel has diplomatic relations with Aruba and is represented by its ambassador in Caracas.
Sources: International Jewish Cemetery Project; Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean; Aruba Kosher Foods; World Jewish Congress