Ancient Mikvah Uncovered in Barbados

Exterior of synagogue
Exterior of synagogue | Larger

The Jewish community in Barbados is small, sixteen families to be more precise, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in spirit. The Caribbean island, with its white sandy beaches and blue green waters, has one synagogue, located in Bridgetown.

During a recent archeological dig beside the synagogue, an ancient mikvah was discovered and excavations are currently taking place. A Jewish museum also has recently been completed.

Excavation of the mikvah
Excavation of the mikvah | Larger

The only synagogue in Bridgetown, Barbados, Nidhe Israel, was built in 1654 by Sephardic Jews from Brazil who were escaping the Inquisition. It was destroyed by a hurricane in 1831 and then rebuilt.

In 1925 the synagogue was sold and later converted to a warehouse. Artifacts from the synagogue were sent to London to Bevis Marks Synagogue for safekeeping.

The synagogue, located in the downtown area of Bridgetown, was going to be demolished to make room for a new supreme court building in 1980, but the small Jewish community petitioned the government to save the synagogue. In 1983, the synagogue was saved from destruction and restored by a group of immigrants to Barbados.

Among those immigrants was Moses Altman, who arrived in Barbados in 1931 from Poland. His son, Moses and grandson, Paul wanted to save the synagogue and helped to persuade the government not to destroy the synagogue. They helped in raising more than $1 million to bring the synagogue back to its original glory. Paul Atlman continues to play an important role in the Jewish community and the synagogue.

The synagogue has beautiful Gothic arches, a magnificent ark and a reader's table, mahogany benches and exquisite chandeliers.

Nidhe Israel Synagogue
Nidhe Israel Synagogue | Larger

Services take place at Nidhe Israel in the winter months and the synagogue was filled to capacity on my recent visit there for Friday evening services. Paul Altman was present at services and welcomed members of the community to the service. The synagogue does not have a rabbi or cantor, but members of the community fill in for the spiritual leaders and take turns conducting services.

Adjacent to the synagogue is the new Jewish museum which opened in Spring 2009. The museum traces the history of the Jewish community from its earliest Sephardic settlers, many of whom are buried in the cemetery next to the synagogue. The first Jews who arrived in Barbados were Sephardic Jews. Many came from Recife, Brazil. Others arrived from Spain and Portugal and Amsterdam. Today, the majority of the Jewish families are Ashkenazic.

Many Jewish artifacts from the 17th and 18th centuries have been uncovered. The Mikvah is fed by a natural spring, and was hidden to the residents of Barbados as it was covered by a parking lot since the mid 1850s.

Women in the congregation used to sit upstairs in a balcony for services, apart from the men, when it was constructed in 1654 as an Orthodox synagogue. Today, the synagogue's main floor is used for men and women and Nidhe Israel, is a Conservative synagogue. Many tourists visit the synagogue during the winter season.

The synagogue, now a Barbados National Trust protected building, is located in the heart of the downtown area near Swan Street, which used to be Jew Street, where Jewish merchants had their businesses.

The synagogue is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and Sabbath services take place on Friday evenings during the winter months.

George Washington House
George Washington House | Larger

Among the interesting places to visit on the island, include the George Washington House. That's right, America's first president stayed on the island. The young George Washington and his ailing brother, Lawrence resided in a plantation house, also known as Bush Hill House for two months in 1751. The home is complete with furnishings that date back to Washington's stay in Barbados.

The Barbados Museum offers an overview of Barbados history, allowing visitors to step into another age with artifacts ranging from furniture and photos to maps and artwork. History buffs will enjoy a visit to the Arlington House Museum, an 18th century building with three floors of exhibits which include interactive and audio visual communications. The museum provides historic information on Barbados during the past 300 years.

Braddie's Bar
Braddie's Bar | Larger

Barbados is also famous for its rum. A visit to Braddie's Bar will give you an opportunity for a complimentary tasting and an opportunity to purchase this outstanding variety of rum. The rum is bottled at Braddie's in front of visitors.

There are outstanding restaurants on the island of Barbados, catering to an upscale clientele that enjoy fine dining.

My favorite restaurant because of the gourmet selections on the menu, accompanied by a spectacular view is The Cliff. Situated on a cliff on the west coast of the island, this romantic dining spot is perfect for a special occasion.

Lobster Alive Restaurant
Lobster Alive Restaurant | Larger

If you would like to select your own lobster from a tank filled with them, try Lobster Alive, you won't be disappointed. Guests can dine inside or outside on the white sandy beach at the eatery.

Champers Restaurant also offers excellent cuisine with a view.

Hilton Barbados pool
Hilton Barbados pool | Larger

I stayed at the Hilton Barbados. The hotel offered many amenities, which guests of Hilton Hotels have come to expect. The open air lobby is inviting and the lavish pool area overlooks a sandy beach.

The food at the hotel was excellent. The Sunday brunch was also topnotch with guests from around the island frequenting the brunch, so you'll most likely need a reservation for it if you want to try it.

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