Photo Credit:
The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island

Menasseh ben Israel, a Dutch rabbi who promoted Jewish settlement in the New World, wrote that he “conceived that our universal dispersion was a necessary circumstance, to be fulfilled, before all that shall be accomplished which the Lord hath promised to the people of the Jews, concerning their restoration and their returning again into their own land.”

Rabbi Menasseh wrote these words when the synagogue of Recife was still functioning, but following the demise of the Jewish community in Brazil new Jewish settlements throughout the Caribbean and in North America adopted the same outlook: that the upheavals of the times were both the harbinger and the instrument of messianic redemption.

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The names the Jews of the new American settlements chose for their synagogues reflect their mystical and messianic tendencies. Synagogues in Philadelphia, Jamaica, Savannah and Curacao took on the name Mikve Yisrael – the name of Rabbi Menassah’s book that echoed Yirmiyahu’s promise “O Hope of Mikveh Israel, its deliverer in the time of trouble.”

The first synagogue in New York based its name, Shearith Israel, on Micah’s prophecy “I will bring together the remnant of Shearith Israel.” In Barbados the synagogue was named Nidheh Israel based on Isaiah’s prophecy “He will hold up a signal to the nations and assemble the banished of Nidheh Israel and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. In Suriname the synagogue’s name, Berachah VeShalom came from a verse in the Zohar – “Where is the Garden of Eden? There are found the treasures of good life, berachah veshalom.”

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