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There has been a Jewish presence in the country of Barbados almost continually since 1654, when Sephardic Jews arrived on the island as refugees from Dutch Brazil. The Jewish refugees brought with them expertise in the production and cultivation of sugarcane and coffee, expertise which contributed to the development of Barbados as a major producer of sugar.
Unlike the case in Suriname, very few of the Barbadian Sephardim were plantation owners. Given the small size of Barbados, all the arable land was already occupied by the 1660s. Consequently, Jews settled in Bridgetown as merchants with a smaller community in the northern town of Speightstown. As an examination of the Barbados telephone directory will show, several of the original Jewish last names from the Brazilian Jews can still be found in Barbados, either held by the white or mixed race descendants of the various Sephardic families or adopted by the original slaves of the Jewish families which held them in bondage.
Emigration and assimilation eventually took their toll on the original Jewish population of the island; the Jewish population it is believed vanished by 1929 when it is said that the last of the practising descendants of the Brazilian Jews left the island. As a result the community's synagogue fell into a state of disuse. A Jewish presence returned to the island in the aftermath of World War II, in the form of Ashkenazi Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe.
Although small, the existing Jewish community has taken steps to preserve its heritage; for instance in maintaining a functioning synagogue, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, in the capital city Bridgetown. In January, 2008, the Nidhe Israel Museum was opened. The museum tells the story of the Barbadian Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities using inter-active displays. In 2008 as well, the archaeology of the yard of the seventeenth century synagogue is being investigated by historians/archaeologists and students from the University of the West Indies. Though the focus is on the long destroyed rabbi's house, excavations have revealed the intact seventeenth century mikveh which was constructed over a still running fresh water spring.
- JewishJournal.com - Barbados' Nidhe Israel: Torah on a tropical isle
- Historic Mikvah find unearthed in The City - 16 March 2008
- Early settlement of Barbados, Slavery and Economy in Barbados, BBC
- Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System
- The Shaping of America
- About some of the Dutch Brazilian Jews which came to Barbados - The History of Rum
- The Virtual Jewish History Tour - Barbados, Jewish Virtual Library
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