Jewish settlement was initiated in 1655 when Spanish and Portuguese Jews came as ship owners, planters of sugar cane and producers of rum and molasses. They arrived from Recife (Brazil), Suriname, Barbados, Holland and France. The real growth of the Jewish population in the islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix came as a direct result of the destruction of the Jewish community in the nearby Dutch island of St. Eustatius in 1781, which was attacked by the British for having aided the American Revolution. In 1796 the synagogue Berakha v'Shalom v'Gmilut Hassadim in St. Thomas was founded and that congregation exists until the present day. By 1850 Jews accounted for half the island's white population, or about 400 people.
The Danish authorities, and later the American ones, sometimes nominated Jews as governors of the islands. With the opening of the Panama Canal, the Jewish population diminished and most of the islands' Jews emigrated to Panama. By 1942 the Jewish population numbered no more than 50. Today the Jewish population is increasing due to an influx of Jews from the North American mainland.
The synagogue in St. Thomas was reconstructed after a fire in 1833. The community enjoys the services of a rabbi.
Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas PO Box 266 St. Thomas 00801 Tel. 1 809 774 7704
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