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Willemstad, Curaçao

Synagogue Mikvé Israel-Emanuel

This centuries old synagogue has a great deal of rich mahogany woodwork yet a floor made of sand. 

The Synagogue Mikvé Israel-Emanuel is one of the oldest synagogues in the Western world yet its sand floor is not a product of age but a tribute to a time of persecution of the local Jewish people.  

Built in 1730, the synagogue was established to serve a congregation that had been growing in the area for over a hundred years previous. The spacious interior of the religious house is decked out in deep mahogany benches and a lovely bemah (raised platform) made of the same. Yet despite lush furnishings the entire floor is made of yellow beach sand. It almost as though the furniture was simply placed oceanside and a building built around it, yet this strange design choice actually represents a darker time in their local Jewish history. 

Prior to the establishment of the synagogue, small private prayer houses were created in secret for the Jewish population. In order not to garner any undue attention from potential denouncers, the floors of these “mini-gogues” were covered in sand which would muffle the foot falls of those inside. It is this tradition that is remembered on the floor of the Synagogue Mikvé Israel-Emanuel.

Today the synagogue is still well maintained with a pristine yellow exteriors and a consistently fresh polish on the mahogany. The sandy ground has also survived.