The Synagogue Mikve Israel – Emanuel is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas. (The Turo Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island is the oldest in the United States. While quite old, the St. Thomas Synagogue is also more recent than Synagogue Mikve Israel-Emanuel).
In 1651, the first Jewish settlers arrived in Curacao from Holland. A few years later in 1674, the community purchased its first synagogue. This was replaced by the current building which was dedicated in 1732. Naturally, the synagogue was modeled after the Portugese Synagogue of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, reflecting both the fact that many of their ancestors had lived in Portugal or Span before coming to the Netherlands.
The synagogue (called the “Snoa” by its members) is the largest building in a walled-complex of buildings not far from the Queen Emma Bridge in the Punda section of downtown Curacao. Its exterior is a powerful yellow ocher with white trim.
Over the main entrance, there is a sign which translated from the Hebrew says “Blessed may you be in your coming.” The interior soars upwards towards three vaulted ceilings. Brass chandeliers hang from the central ceiling. At one end is the Holy Ark and opposite it the pulpit. Dark wooden benches face each other on either side of a central area.
The floor of the synagogue is covered in sand. Three reasons are given for this. First, it symbolizes the sands of the Sinai desert through which Moses led the Jews to the promised land. Second, it is a reminder of when Jews living in Spain and Portugal had to worship in secret. To avoid alerting agents of the Inquisition, the Jews poured sand on the floor so as to muffle the sound of their services. Third, it symbolizes God's promise to Abraham in Genesis: “I will multiply your seed as the sands of the seashore and the stars in the heavens.”
It is a pretty interior. The dark wood contrasts with the white walls and white sand. The woodwork is splendidly carved and brass fixtures provide a touch of color. There is azure stained glass in the windows, which tints the light.
Elsewhere in the complex is the Jewish Cultural Museum. Its collection includes photographs, paintings and memorial illustrating the history of the congregation. It also has religious and cultural artifacts some of which are still used in services.
Also in the complex are replicas of some of the headstones in the Beth Haim Bleinheim cemetrary, which is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere (consecrated in 1659).
The synagogue is open to the general public. For more information on visiting, see the synagogue's website.
Right: Also in the Punda section of Willemstad is Temple Emanuel. This structure was built as a reformed synagogue in the 1860s after the Dutch Reformed Jewish Congregation Emanu-El, separated from the Orthodox Congregation Mikvé Israël. It was referred to as the Temple in order to distinguish it from the Snoa. There was a reunion of these Jewish communities in the 1960s and worship was discontinued in Temple Emanuel. The structure now serves as government offices.
Above: The Jewish Cultural Museum.
Below: Replicas of tombstones from Curaco's Jewish cemeteries.
Cruise destination travel guide - Curaco - Curaco Synagogue (Mikve Israel-Emanuel)