Today, there are just five sand synagogues remaining in the world. Three of them are located in the Caribbean, on the islands of Curacao, Jamaica, and St. Thomas. One is in Suriname, and one is in the Netherlands, where the concept of a sand synagogue was first born.
The Kingston sand floor synagogue in nestled into a quiet street in the bustling island capital. Visitors are welcome if they contact the synagogue in advance and receive permission. The wooden rows, perfectly groomed sand, and high ceilings are authentic to the island and Sephardic traditions.
The Shaare Shalom Synagogue that stands today was built in 1912, after an earlier building at the site was damaged during the Kingston earthquake of 1907. But Jamaica’s Jewish community has deep roots. The Spanish occupation of Jamaica lasted from 1494–1655, and during that time a number of Jewish settlers came to the island. Multiple synagogues were constructed across the island in the 17th century.
Know Before You Go
There are Friday night services and occasionally events on Saturday. The grounds are stunning to walk around as well. There are actually over 20 Jewish cemeteries on the island (one beneath the Red Stripe factory), even with a total modern day population of 200 Jews.