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Caribbean Destination Guide: Nidhe Israel Synagogue in Barbados

by Karen Rollins May 6, 2024

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Barbados is home to one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere.

The Nidhe Israel Synagogue, or the ‘Synagogue of the Scattered of Israel’, was built in 1654 by a group of about 300 Sephardic Jews from Recife, Brazil who fled to the English territory after being expelled by the Portuguese during the Inquisition.

These early settlers are believed to have arrived in 1628, and soon became influential in the island’s burgeoning sugar industry because of their knowledge and expertise in the crop. They lived within a short distance of the newly-built temple on a road which was aptly known as ‘Jew Street’ and which in modern-day Barbados is ‘Swan Street’.

In 1831, the original synagogue was destroyed during a hurricane, but rebuilt just two years later.

At the start of the 20th Century, after the Jewish community on the island dwindled considerably, there was only one observant Jew left, Edmund Baeza and in 1929, he negotiated the de-consecration and sale of the temple to a local lawyer called Henry Graham Yearwood.

After it was sold, the building underwent several structural changes and was used as a warehouse, a law library and the offices of a wholesale trading company. It was eventually purchased by the Barbados government in 1983 with the intention of being the site for a new courthouse.

However, the local Jewish community rallied around and petitioned for the building to be renovated because of its historical and religious value.

When the $1 million renovation was finished, it was returned to use as a place of worship.


The synagogue is now designated by UNESCO as a protected property within the World Heritage Site of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison area.

It is free to enter, and one of the major highlights of a visit is the sight of a 17th Century ‘Mikvah’, a ritual full immersion bath for purifying the body, which was uncovered by American archaeologist Michael Stoner in 2008. This is the only known Mikvah in existence in the Americas and is believed to pre-date the synagogue itself.

The nearby Nidhe Israel Museum was opened in 2008 to inform locals and tourists about the history of the synagogue, as well as the life of early Jewish settlers in Barbados, many of whom are buried in the extensive cemetery grounds close to the temple.

The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9am-4pm and costs $25 (BBD) for adults and $12 (BBD) for children aged five and over.

Find out more about the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum on Facebook.