The Barbados/Israeli Connection

Some of you might be wondering why I am learning Hebrew. Well wonder on.

Found at the Barbados Museum

I definitely am not learning Yiddish though. Not even going there.

Yes there is a connection between Barbados and Israel.

O.K. Barbados and Jews. I prefer to say Israel. It is or seems more encompassing, and yes, less contentious. Ha! But I am an older one, brought up mainly by old ones, with old tales, and so I heed their direction and discretion. There were old Arabs in the mix somewhere I am told, so Israel or Israeli to the old folk of my growing-up years seemed to better fit. It was a different time.

Across Barbados are a smattering of Synagogue relics, if you can find them, paying tribute to a part of our History that is not a regular highlight; and that was not usually a topic of public discussion for regular people – until about 20 or so years ago. I mean, they were there and that was that. Jews and Hebrews, ah….Israel….

In the earlier days many met in homes and maybe 🙄 there are still such house meetings? All in all they kept to themselves to the point where you’d forget they existed, if you ever even knew they were there. You traded with them like any other trader and bought goods from their stores, but their actual existence was unremarked. As for actually recognising them as part of our social fabric and history, that only happened in the mind of scholars.

Flower from Israel

The first sightings of them according to records, is in the 17th Century about a year or so after the English came to rule. Refugees they were, and later settlers.

Sephardic refugees from Recife in Brazil and from Holland as well. Oliver Cromwell opened Barbados to permanent Jewish settlement before the ban on Jewish settlement in England was lifted. The Nidhe Israel Synagogue therefore is of considerable antiquity, dating from circa 1654. In some respects, it can be seen as the parent synagogue of several synagogues in the USA. The records of the Mahamad of Nidhe Israel show requests for financial assistance coming from a number of Jewish communities in America wishing to establish synagogues of their own. Among these were Touro, Newport, South Carolina, New York, and Philadelphia.” 

— KARL WATSON, LOCAL HISTORIAN, 2016

The refugees arrived in 1628 bringing their merchant and mechanical skills with them enabling them to settle and build a community.

upon the petition of several Jews and Hebrews inhabiting in and about this island, it is ordered, that the Petitioners behaving themselves civilly and conforming to the Government of this island, and being nothing tending to the disturbance of the peace and quiet thereof, during their stay, shall enjoy the privileges of laws and statutes of the Commonwealth of England and of this island, relating to foreigners and strangers.” -BMHS Journal, Dr. Karl S Watson.

Following that first influx of Sephardic Jews in 1628, the population dwindled due to migration, inter-marriage and what have you, until by the 20th Century there were reportedly only two practicing members. The Synagogue was sold in 1929. In 1983 it was acquired by the Barbados Government.

Barbados had welcomed also the Ashkenazi in 1932 as new settler refugees, but I guess you’d be hard pressed to find them as a unit. Yet, like the Sephardic their descendants on the island and neighbouring Caribbean countries are alive and well.

Flower from Israel

The best place to start gleaning information on the Barbados/Israeli/Jew connection is the Barbados Museum. Formally it is The Barbados Museum and Historical Society (BMHS) a great place to visit any day. Facebook Page

In the Library and Archives there will be Journals and other documentation for you to peruse with able help from the staff if you need.

Dr. Karl Watson, Historian and former head of the Barbados National Trust, Lecturer, Diplomat, Editor, Assistant Professor and Author, is very knowledgeable on the subject and has a book or two on it.

Dr. Watson by admission is a “red” Barbadian. That is what you called a Bajan of white skin born raised and living in a neigbourhood of ‘black’ Barbadians back in the day. He was not merely “poor white”, he was “red”.

He also is not a Jew.

On May 19 Dr. Watson was live on FaceBook for the BMHS speaking on…..

Judaism in Barbados

Here is the video of his session.

BMHS YouTube Video of live stream event

A Bit Of Our Heritage

3 comments

    • Hi Rosaliene. It is one of those things that was barely mentioned when I was a child, and only gradually surfaced openly about 25 years ago. It’s sort of like our connection to the Carolinas.We all heard about Bajans going to Panama for example, but the Carolinas? I understood that some moved from Barbados to Grenada, Jamaica, and on to even Antigua & Barbuda. Another quiet tale is that Barbados did not have a slave shipment from Africa after the 1st or 2nd lot so not as many “indigenous” Africans were around within a few decades due to intermarriage or what I would call “concubine” arrangements. But this was all tale and folklore until scholars started digging.
      And yes, it is so Interesting.
      One of my very favourite books as a child was Peoples of Other Lands because it seemed to define Barbados for me as well as teach me about what we now term Diversity.
      Thanks for reading, and be well.

      Liked by 1 person

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