How the Jews of Barbados Rescued the Western Hemisphere’s Oldest Synagogue

In 1654, the Portuguese crown reclaimed an area of northeastern Brazil from Dutch rule, causing local Jews—many of whom were descendants of conversos who had come from Portugal as Christians—to flee. A number of them settled on the British-ruled island of Barbados, where they established a synagogue a full 78 years before a similar group of Jews built one in nearby Curaçao. Named Nidḥey Israel, meaning “the dispersed of Israel,” the synagogue has recently been restored. Noah Lederman writes:

For 300 years, Sephardi Jews prospered on the island. They held monopolies in the sugar trade. In the 1700s, the Jewish population peaked at 800—8 percent of the island’s population. And two years before civil and political freedoms were granted to Jews in the Britain, they were given to Barbadian Jews.

Of course, even for a bunch of Jews in the Caribbean, life was no permanent vacation: anti-Semitism rose in tandem with Jewish success in the sugar industry; a second synagogue on the island was mysteriously burned to the ground after a conflict with an uninvited Gentile erupted at a Jewish wedding; and in 1831, a hurricane destroyed Nidḥey Israel. With the storm wrecking both the synagogue and business opportunities on the island, Jews dispersed, leaving few worshippers on Barbados. However, by 1833, those Sephardi Jews who had remained rebuilt Nidḥey Israel, and for nearly a century, they conducted services in the capital city, Bridgetown, until the last Jew on the island died in 1929.

For two years, there wasn’t a single Bajan Jew. But in 1931, an Ashkenazi Jew—Moses Altman, who had seen the writing on the wall in Europe—fled to Barbados. Friends and family followed. The second Barbadian Jewish community had begun. Yet these new arrivals didn’t have a synagogue, for the last Sephardi Jew had sold off Nidḥey Israel, and the building had been converted into commercial offices and a law library. . .

But then, in 1979, the government announced plans to raze the historic Nidḥey Israel structure to build a new Supreme Court. [Fortunately], Paul Altlman [the president of the Barbados National Trust and Moses’ grandson] took decisive action to prevent the demolition of Nidḥey Israel, six years after plans to raze it had first been announced.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Barbados, Sephardim, Synagogues


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy