CURAÇAO, an island near the northern coast of Venezuela, South America, under the Dutch Crown part of the Netherland Antilles. Sighted by the Conquistador Alonso de Ojeda in 1498, it was captured from the Spanish by the Dutch in 1634. The Dutch West India Company was interested in populating the island, and among others to attract Jews from Dutch Brazil and to stem the flow of experienced Jewish planters from Brazil to Barbados. The first organized group of Jews was headed by Joao de Yllan (1651), and a second group by David Nassi (1652). The Jews were given an area called the "Jewish Quarter," several miles from the fortress which today is Willemstadt, capital of the island. Their efforts to plant sugar cane and other tropical products were not successful on this arid island. In 1659, however, a grant was given to another group of Jews from Brazil to settle in Curaçao, led by Isaac da Costa. He received the right of free exercise of religion, the right to protection, and permission to build a synagogue. Contrary to the situation prevailing in other Dutch possessions, the Jews had to adjust to some restrictions. They were treated as foreigners and were not even allowed to be inside the fortress after nine o'clock in the evening. Upon his nomination as governor of Curaçao, Peter Stuyvesant tried his utmost to limit the Jews' rights. All this could not prevent the Jews from transforming Curaçao into the main commercial center of the entire area. The proximity of Venezuela and Colombia facilitated the promotion of so-called illicit trade with the Spanish colonies. Owing to the shortage of Spanish vessels, Jews of Curaçao dealt through the conversos in these countries for their import and export. The community "Mikve Israel" was founded in 1659 and the Jewish cemetery consecrated that same year. The first synagogue was dedicated in 1674 and coincided with the arrival of the first Haham (rabbi), Joshiau Pardo of Salonika. The present-day synagogue was established in 1732. Curaçao became the center of Jewish life in the Caribbean and was called "Mother of the Caribbean Jewish communities." The establishment of the yeshivah Etz Haim ve-Ohel Yahakov (1674) gave spiritual guidance of the Jewish communities in the area. Bodies of Jews who died in places with no Jewish cemetery (mainly those under Spanish colonial rule), such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingo, were transported to Curaçao for burial. The mohalim (circumcisers) of Curaçao attended to persons who arrived from Europe or other parts of the Americas with the aim of reconverting to Judaism. Among those who came from Spain and Portugal were a Dominican friar, a Franciscan father, and a Catholic priest. This continued until 1821. The Jewish population continued to grow. Jews came from Amsterdam and Bayonne, exiles arrived from Pomeroon (Guiana) and Martinique, and conversos from Spain and Portugal. By 1729, the Jewish population exceeded 2,000, about one-half the total white population of the island. The small island was overpopulated and this led to Jewish immigration to other areas. Curaçao, however, remained their center. In 1693, a party of 70 Curaçao Jews joined the Jews from Barbados in Newport, Rhode Island. That same year a group of Leghorn Jews left Curaçao to found the enclave at Tucacas, on the Venezuelan coast. The enclave, with its community   and synagogue, existed until 1720, when captured by Spanish forces. Curaçao Jews settled on the Dutch islands of Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) and Aruba; in the towns of Coro, Barcelona, Barquisimiento, Valencia, Caroa, and Puerto de Caballo in Venezuela; Carabobo, Rio Hacha, and Santa Marta in Colombia; in St. Thomas and St. Croix of the Virgin Islands; in Cap Haitien in Haiti; and in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba, New York, New Orleans, and Mexico City. In each location they still remained attached to Curaçao which, in turn, attended to their spiritual needs. The commmunal importance of Curaçao has diminished today, and with it its Jewish population. Reform Judaism came to Curaçao in 1863, causing a rift and dividing Curaçao into two communities. The Reform "Temple Emmanuel" was dedicated in 1867. The dispute led to many Jews distancing themselves from the community. The conflict continued for almost 100 years, harming Jewish life. To resolve the situation, in 1964, the two communities merged to form "The United Netherlands Portuguese Congregation Mikve Israel – Emmanuel," which adopted Reconstructionism and decided "to include Sephardi rites so long as these do not conflict with Reconstructionist principles." In 1969, the Ashkenazi community "Shaarei Tzedek" was founded and an Ashkenazi synagogue built. As of 2000, some 300 Jews lived in Curaçao, with the Ashkenazim being the majority. Israel is represented in the Netherlands Antilles by the ambassador in Caracas and an honorary consul in Willemstadt. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Arbell, The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean (2002); I. Jesurun Cardozo, Three Centuries of Jewish Life in Curaçao (1954); A. Herbert Cone, "The Jews in Curaçao," in: PAJHS, 10 (1902): 147–52; J. Corcos, A Synopsis of the History of the Jews of Curaçao from the Day of Their Settlement to the Present Time (1897); I and E. Emmanuel, History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles (1970); R. Maduro, Our Snoa, 5492–5742…Synagogue Mikve Israel (1982); C.A. Arauz Monfante, El Contrabando Holandes en el Caribe, Durante la Primera Mitad de Siglo XVIII (1984). (Mordechai Arbell (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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