advertisement

In a building nearly 300 years old serving a congregation that dates back to 1651, this is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas. The light-filled space is well worth a visit—you will be walking on sand imported from the Dead Sea, there as a reminder of the persecution of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, when sand was spread on synagogue floors to muffle footsteps or risk serious consequences. The 17th-century Sephardic Jews who found refuge on this Caribbean island were instrumental in setting up the island's banking and postal systems—and even though the Jewish population has dwindled (the congregation of this and a second synagogue today numbers 450 members), Curaçao grocery stores still maintain kosher-food sections. The synagogue has a buoyant beauty, with ivory walls of limestone and coral, glowing blue-glass windows, and polished red mahogany benches. For weddings and special events, the building is drenched in candlelight from four 24-arm brass chandeliers holding delicate glass lamps—one older than the church itself. A small museum lies just across the courtyard; the circa-1728 buildings once served as the rabbi's residence and bathhouse, complete with a ritual mikvah (bath) on the museum patio.