Through the Sands of Time: A History of the Jewish Community of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

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UPNE, 2004 - Religion - 298 pages
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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.
  

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Contents

Gathering
1
17961831
19
18311833
43
18331848
51
18481867
87
18671875
112
18751914
142
19141946
164
19461967
195
EPILOGUE Sifting through the Sands of Time
221
Notes
227
Bibliography
273
Index
297
Copyright

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About the author (2004)

JUDAH M. COHEN earned a Ph.D. from Harvard in the field of Ethnomusicology. He has had a long-term interest in the Jews of the Virgin Islands.

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