Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad, Curacao is the oldest surviving synagogue in use in the New World. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and her family visited in 1992.
I waited years to travel to Curacao. My mom got me a kids atlas when I was little that I would look at all the time. It had pictures of Petra, St. Petersburg, Curacao, Greenland… it made me want to see the world.
It’s easier than ever to fly to Curacao now that Jetblue offers direct flights from New York. We did a combo trip flying to Aruba nonstop and using the inter island airline to get to Curacao. We went a couple years ago and they weren’t offering direct flights at the time. When I read that Curacao had a synagogue that was open to the public, I just had to go. We got to enjoy the beach, snorkel and see the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas.
The congregation dates back to the 1650s and consisted of Portuguese and Spanish Jews from the Netherlands and Brazil. There was a breakaway Reform congregation in the 1800s but they merged in 1864 and is now affiliated with Reconstructionist Judaism.
The building you see today dates back to 1730. It was consecrated in 1732. You enter through a courtyard.
Upon entering, what caught our attention the most was the sand floor. The sand pays homage to the early Jewish settlers escaping the Spanish Inquisition. They had to muffle their footsteps and prayers back home. The sand is also to remind you of Moses leading his people out of Egypt.
Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue is one of the most historic in the world. It’s a beautiful building in the capital city of Curacao.