Through the Sands of Time: A History of the Jewish Community of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
In 1796, the Jews of St. Thomas founded the first Jewish congregation on this Caribbean island. By 1803, new arrivals from England, France, and the neighboring islands of St. Eustatius and Curacao increased the original number from a handful of congregants to twenty-two families. Their small synagogue was destroyed by fires and rebuilt several times. The congregation numbered sixty-four families by the time the present synagogue was erected in 1833. It has since become the oldest synagogue in continuous use under the American flag. The congregation was also among the first to receive copies of the new West London Reform liturgy when it came out in 1841 and the first in this hemisphere to hold a Jewish confirmation ceremony two years later. In addition, the St. Thomas Synagogue has produced its own unique religious literature relating to hurricanes!
While the synagogue has served for over 200 years as a central religious and social gathering place, St. Thomas's Jews have been highly mobile members of a progressive, cosmopolitan society that at times rivalled any in the world. As an accepted part of the larger community, members were accomplished, model citizens in a highly tolerant Danish colonial society. Jews took positions in government, served as auctioneers, participated in the local Masonic lodges, and represented other countries as consuls in St. Thomas--many had non-Jewish business partners.
As traders in a mercantile culture, the Jews contributed to one of the world's busiest harbors and were crucial to St. Thomas's nineteenth-century rise to prominence in the northern Caribbean. St. Thomas businesses owned by Jews gained international stature, maintaining offices in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. And the size of their community, which seems so small today, was comparable to Jewish communities emerging in continental America well into the nineteenth century. At times, Jews comprised over twenty percent of the island's white inhabitants.
In Through the Sands of Time, Judah M. Cohen offers a beautifully researched historical portrait of this unusual and tenacious group of Jews. Beset with frequent fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, epidemics, economic depressions, and political upheavals, the Jews of St. Thomas have survived into the twenty-first century, with their synagogue continuing to host to a Jewish religious service every week.
What people are saying - Write a review
We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.
A/A Microfilm 38o American Jewish appeared April Archives Aron Wolff became began Benjamin birth British building BvSvGH bylaws Caribbean Carillon celebration cemetery century ceremony Charlotte Amalie colonial congregation's continued Correa Coulianos Croix Curacao Danish West Danish West Indies David Cardoze David Woolf Marks Elias Elias Levy Eustatius families February gogue Governor gregation Hebrew Reformed Congregation hurricane Ibid Isaac Isaac Leeser Israelite Jewish Chronicle Jewish population Jews Judaism July later letter Levy Lindo liturgy Maduro March marriage meanwhile mercantile merchants minhag minister Myers non-Jewish Occident official once Paiewonsky prayer president pulpit Rabbi Rachel reader records religious Reverend Nathan ritual Sabbath sanctuary Sasso seder sent Sephardic served ships STBDM2 STHCA syna synagogue's Thomas Hebrew Congregation Thomas Jewish community Thomas synagogue Thomas's Tidende tion took Torah trade U.S. Virgin Islands Virgin Islands wardens West London West London Synagogue worship