Few people today know about the expansive Jewish culture in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Approximately 14.2 million people around the world, identify themselves as Jewish. While the core community is located in Israel and the United States, Jewish culture in the Caribbean and South America is among the oldest and most unique in the world.

One of the most unique and visited Jewish establishments in the region is the Curacao synagogue. Built in the late 1650’s, Curacao is the oldest surviving, fully operational, synagogue in the Americas. The synagogue remains a major tourist attraction and still operates, holding services and functions on a daily basis.

Another notable destination is the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, now turned museum, located in Recife, Brazil. The synagogue is credited with being the first Jewish congregation in the New World. Established by Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the 1630’s, the site remains a museum, on the oldest synagogue site in the America’s.

Last, but certainly not close to least, we visit the Suriname Jewish Community, for the Beracha ve Shalom and Neveh Shalom Synagogues.

Beracha, meaning “Blessings and Peace”, is the third most well-known Synagogue in South America.  As part of the Jodensavanne community, Beracha, was built out of wood around 1665 and later converted to brick, but was destroyed in 1832. Today, only ruins exist where the synagogue used to stand.

The Neveh Shalom Synagogue was built in 1732 and meant to replace the first Suriname Synagogue, Beracha ve Shalom. Neveh was then subsequently rebuilt in 1843 and remains the only synagogue still active in Suriname.

These are only three of the many wonders of Jewish culture in the Caribbean and Central/South America. The entire region is filled with history, culture and a strong sense of family among the Jewish community. Whether one identifies as a Jewish individual, or is just interested in learning about a world of culture and history, a visit to Central America, South America and the Caribbean, can reveal a lot of answers.

… And yes, of course, considering that Mosque Keizerstraat sits adjacent to the Neveh Shalom Synagogue, the Muslim community also has a notable presence in Central America, South America and the Caribbean.


Jewish Community Museum

Costa Rican Jewish Community Museum From left, Silvia Paz, volunteer and Vilma Faingezicht, director of the Jewish Community Museum, pose in front of the Parque de la Vida monument, created by architect Alberto Reifer. Alberto Font/The Tico Times