Community in Curaçao - World Jewish Congress

Curaçao

Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island country 40 miles off the South American coast of Venezuela, is home to a small, Jewish community of fewer than 350 people. Consecrated in 1732, the Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue is the oldest Jewish house of worship in continuous use in the Americas. Throughout the centuries, Jews of Curaçao have thrived in the fields of trade, shipping, commerce, and banking, and made a substantial impact on intellectual, political, and social life on the island. The Curaçao affiliate of the World Jewish Congress is the Sinagoga Mikvé-Israel – Emmanuel (Jewish Community of Curaçao).

WJC Affiliate

Sinagoga Mikvé-Israel – Emmanuel (Jewish Community of Curaçao)

Telephone:  599-9-4611067
Email: directiva@snoa.com
President: Mrs. Marjorie Blanken



History

The earliest record of a Jewish presence in Curaçao was Samuel Cohen, an interpreter who arrived with the Dutch fleet, under the command of Johan van Walbeeck, that seized the island in 1634 from the Spaniards. In 1651, Joao d’Yllan, a Portuguese Jew, decided to move with 10 to 12 other Jewish familiesto Curaçao in hopes of prospering from agricultural business opportunities. This community established the Congregation Mikve Israel, the oldest continually used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. A larger group of Jews from the same congregation, led by Isaac da Costa, arrived on the island in 1659, also to pursue an agricultural business. Due to the arid soil on the island, aspirations to succeed in the agricultural business failed. Jews then chose to maintain a life in the walled city of Willemstad and established trade between Northern Europe and the South American Coast. The second wave of settlers brought with them a Torah scroll that was gifted from the Amsterdam synagogue and is still used today in the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. In 1651, the first Jewish cemetery, Beit Haim, was consecrated. By 1674, they consecrated the first of four synagogues in Willemstad.

In the middle of the 19th century, a third of the Jewish population established its own congregation which adhered to the philosophy of the Reform Jewish Movement. This group of people built Temple Emanuel and consecrated their own cemetery at Berg Altena. After 100 years of crossover and intermarriage, the congregations of Temple Emanuel and Mikve Israel merged and united and formed Mikve Israel-Emanuel. The Congregation chose to follow the rituals of the Reconstructionist Federation of America in efforts to preserve the historical and traditional customs of both Congregations.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Ashkenazi Jews, predominately from Central Europe, arrived at the island, where they established a social center and sports club. In 1959, the Ashkenazi immigrants erected their own congregational building called the Shaarei Tsedek Jewish Center in Scharloo.

One of the notable influences of the Spanish/Portuguese-Jewish community in Curaçao is in the local language. Papiamentu is the Curaçaoan local language that is considered to be either an Afro-Portuguese creole or Spanish-based creole.

Demography

Today, Curaçao’s Jewish Community consists of fewer than 350 people, a small fraction of the island’s population of about 150,000. The steady decrease in populations can be attributed to the flight of youth, who leave the island for education and career opportunities. Due to the plummeting demographics, the community finds difficulty in attracting rabbis, procuring kosher food, and maintaining a vibrant Jewish life on the island.

Religious and Community Life

Today, the Jewish community features a mixture of Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions at the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. The synagogue is now affiliated with the Reconstructionist Jewish Movement. The Sharei Tsedek Jewish Center is run by a Chabad rabbi and continues to follow Ashkenazi Orthodox customs.

youth

Youth programs emphasizing Jewish identity and heritage, as well as connection to Israel, is run by an active BBYO chapter.

Jewish Education

The Curaçao Community Hebrew School is run and facilitated in conjunction with Congregation Sharei Tsedek, an Orthodox Ashkenazi community. Classes are offered to children aged 5 through 12. 

Information for Visitors

Curaçao’s Jewish Cultural Historical Museum preserves the Jewish community’s religious and cultural artifacts on the island. Many collection pieces continue to be used today in the Congregation’s services and rituals. Such religious objects include a set of circumcision chairs, a Passover table set for the Seder, baby-naming and circumcision clothes, spice boxes, candlesticks, Torah covers, and remains from a 1728 mikvah. Beit Haim is one of the oldest cemeteries in the Western Hemisphere, which contains gravestones that date back to 1668 and with inscriptions written in Portuguese, Hebrew, Spanish, English, Dutch, French as well as one in Yiddish. Visiting the old Jewish cemetery are by appointment only.

Israel

Israel and Curaçao, represented by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, maintain full diplomatic relations. Though the country does not have an Israeli embassy, it does have an honorary consulate in the capital that is headed by Dr. Paul Ackerman.

Israeli Honorary Consulate in Willemstad
Blauwduifweg 5
Willemstad
Curaçao

Telephone: (+599) 9-736-5068
Email: israelconsulcuracao@gmail.com

updated

 

April 2018

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