A year after the British colonization of Barbados in 1627, Spanish and Portuguese Jews – known as Conversos – began settling on the island, and in 1654 the Jewish community of Bridgetown, the country’s capital, was formed and a synagogue established.
Spanish and Portuguese Jews had formed a part of the Dutch colonization of Recife in Northern Brazil. They subsequently were instrumental in the establishment of the sugar industry in Barbados. Barbados was the first British territory where Jews obtained full political rights, and by the late 17th century, there were two Jewish communities in Barbados, in Bridgetown and Speightstown.
Jewish members of the community were considered to be good businessmen and were taxed at higher levels than others in Barbados.
This discriminatory law was lifted by the colonial government in 1702, and over the course of the 18th century the Jewish community in Barbados continued to grow and flourish financially (despite the closing of the Jewish congregation in Speightstown).
A massive hurricane wreaked havoc across the island in 1831, leading to a decline in both the local economy and the Jewish community’s fortunes. During this period, many Jews immigrated to the United States, and by 1925, there were no Jews in Barbados. In 1925, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue was deconsecrated and sold.
With the rise of Nazism, Moses Altman was the first of 40 Jewish families who had fled Europe and settled in Barbados. In 1987, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue was rededicated, and the Old Jewish cemetery in Bridgetown was restored soon afterwards. The Nidhe Israel Museum (adjacent to the synagogue) was opened in 2008, and in 2011 was included in the UNESCO World Heritage historic Bridgetown and its Garrison area.