ABCs of the Jewish Caribbean

Published: August 29th 2010
in News » World

View of Palm beach from Aruba Marriott Stellaris Resort, a top spot for Jewish travellers
Pic: Michele Peterson
Beth Israel synagogue in Aruba
Pic: Michele Peterson
Curacao synagogue
Pic: Shelley Seale

Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao – the far-flung located in the southern Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela – are best known as the ABC islands as well as for their shared Dutch heritage. What many people don’t know is that these islands in the Leeward Antilles also share a rich Jewish history. Here’s the scoop on each island’s unique character:      




With year-round cooling trade winds and little rain, Aruba’s white sandy beaches, upscale shopping and luxurious hotels draw a loyal crowd of repeat visitors. The first Jews settled here in the mid 1700s, when a branch of the Dutch West Indies Company opened on Aruba. Today, there is an active Jewish population, most of them descendents of Portuguese Jews.


Beyond the bustling beach scene, a site worth visiting is a small, but historic cemetery containing gravestones dating back to 1563. Another locale of interest is Beth Israel Synagogue (, in Oranjestad. Built in 1962, it has a small Judaica shop offering keepsakes, kosher dry goods and kiddush wines.


Where to Sleep: The Marriott Stellaris Resort, on beautiful Palm Beach, is popular among Jewish travelers. Visit:


Getting there: Air Canada and Sunquest offer direct flights from Toronto to Aruba.  




This island is world-renowned for its spectacular scuba-diving, but was originally discovered by Caquuetios Indians who came by canoe from Venezuela. Settled by the Spanish and then Dutch, it then served as a plantation for the Dutch West India Company. In World War II, in response to the invasion of the Netherlands, captured crew from German ships were interred on Bonaire as were German and Austrian Jews. Today, the main interest is the island’s beautiful natural setting. Visitors can explore Bonaire's 86 dive sites, go windsurfing at Lac Bay or participate in the annual regatta or Carnival.






Exploring this island is a memorable experience thanks to its rich Jewish history, splendid white sand beaches and picturesque pastel-coloured buildings. The lively port of Willemstad is one of six UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Caribbean


Curaçao’s synagogues are striking examples of Jewish architecture and this legacy is most celebrated in Synagogue Mikve Israel-Emanuel (Snoa). Founded in 1651, the synagogue has been in use since 1732, making it the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Western hemisphere. 


The sand floor, wide courtyard paved with marble tiles and Biblical verses engraved on the building’s facade are just a few of the many features to note. It’s also well worth spending time exploring the fascinating historical collection of religious objects on display.


It’s hard to believe you’re immersed in history when you’re exploring Curaçao’s 35 sandy beaches. Calm, clean waters with excellent visibility make this island a favourite among beach-goers. Dining is also a draw with a blend of ethnic influences – African, Dutch and European – each making a unique contribution.  


What to See:


Tourism Site:


Where to Sleep:


When it comes to the ABC islands, no matter which letter of the alphabet you choose, you’ll be welcomed by a culture steeped in history and a splendid Caribbean setting.

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