The Nidḥe Israel Synagogue
(בית הכנסת נדחי ישראל, lit. Synagogue of the Scattered of Israel
) is currently the only synagogue
situated in Bridgetown
. It also holds the distinction of being one of the oldest synagogues in the western hemisphere and a Barbados National Trust
Built in 1654
, it was destroyed by a hurricane
in 1831, was rebuilt, fell into disrepair until it was sold in 1929.
About 300 Jewish people of Recife, Brazil, persecuted by the Portuguese, settled in Barbados in the 1660s. Skilled in the sugar industry, they quickly introduced the sugarcane crop and passed on their skills in cultivation and production to the Barbados land owners.
With their help, Barbados went on to become one of the world's major sugar producers and one of the richest European territories in the West Indies.
From the time that the synagogue was deconsecrated in 1929, it underwent numerous changes. The women's gallery that looked down on the altar was converted into a full second floor. Arches around the windows and the original floor was replaced. The building changed ownership many times as well and the Jewish cemetery outside became a dumping site.
In 1983, the building was seized by the Barbados Government, which intended to raze the building and erect a courthouse. Two years later, it turned the building over to the Barbados National Trust, in thanks to petitioning by the local Jewish community. In 1986, the renovation process began led by Paul Altman. The building was returned to use as a synagogue when the renovation was complete, though it is still owned by the National Trust.
In 2008, an American architect, Michael Stoner, was trying to uncover a former rabbi's house on the premises. As he was digging, two Israeli tourists happened by and uttered the word mikvah. After excavating for three weeks, Stoner discovered a 17th century Jewish ritual bath.
The Nidhe Israel Museum was also opened in 2008.