You have questions, we have answers!
Many visitors wish to know about our unique Synagogue building and our Congregation. We hope to answer some of the most frequently asked questions:
WHY IS THERE SAND ON THE FLOOR?
The sand on the floor is a remnant of the days of the Marranos, Jews during the Spanish Inquisition who were forced to convert to Christianity but who secretly continued to practice their Judaism. Since practicing Judaism was punishable by death, they met in cellars with sand covering the floor in order to muffle the sounds of their prayers.
HOW OLD IS THE CONGREGATION AND THE SYNAGOGUE?
In 1796, the Jews of St. Thomas founded this Congregation. Only nine Jewish families belonged to the Congregation in 1801, but by 1803 it had increased to 22, with arrivals from England, France, and the Caribbean islands of St. Eustatius and Curacao. In 1804 the small Synagogue was destroyed by fire and replaced in 1812. The Congregation grew so large that in 1823 it was dismantled and a larger one erected in the same location on Synagogue Hill. It was named the Congregation of "Blessing and Peace and Loving Deeds." The Congregation numbered 64 families when a city-wide fire destroyed the Synagogue in 1831.
The present Synagogue building was built in 1833 with the help from worldwide Jewry and the entire island community. It is the oldest Synagogue in continuous use under the American flag. A religious service has been held every Sabbath since 1833 except September 15, 1995, when Hurricane Marilyn devastated our entire island.
WHY DO THE SEATS FACE EACH OTHER?
The Synagogue was built in the Sephardic style since its original congregants migrated as a result of the Spanish Inquisition. In Sephardic architecture, the seating permits congregants to face one another instead of theater-style as in Ashkenazic and most stateside synagogues. Also in keeping with Sephardic architecture, the bimah, where the Rabbi or reader stands, is opposite the arc in which our six Torahs are housed.
ARE WE REFORM, CONSERVATIVE or ORTHODOX?
Today we are a Reform Congregation. The low wooden walls in the Synagogue served as a m'chitzah to separate the women from the men during the early years when the Congregation was Orthodox. Since our Synagogue is the only one on the island, we serve the religious needs of a diverse Jewish population and in the spirit of "k'lal Yisrael" we minister to the entire Jewish community.
DO WE HOLD REGULAR SERVICES, CELEBRATE HOLIDAYS AND LIFE-CYCLE EVENTS?
We hold a Shabbat service every Friday night. We are are served by a full-time Rabbi, ordained at the Hebrew Union College in the United States. The religious school meets weekly. Our Sisterhood is active in both the congregation and the community at-large. We observe High Holy Days, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, Tu'Bishvat, Yom HaShoa, Yom HaAtzmaut, Shavuot and other special events. We hold the first Passover Seder in our homes, and include as many visitors as we can. We hold the second Seder at Lilienfeld House, our social hall, for the congregation and visitors. We celebrate weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation. The first Confirmation ceremony in the Western Hemisphere took place on October 14, 1843, right here in this Sanctuary. We also maintain two historic cemeteries.
HOW MANY MEMBERS DO WE HAVE?
We are a small community of about 100 full-time member units, and 15 Sponsors (part-time island residents. We also have more than 1,000 Chai members.
WHAT IS A CHAI MEMBER?
A Chai (from the Hebrew word for life as in L'chaim) member is someone who does not live in St. Thomas and wishes to help maintain this historic Synagogue and to help to provide a spiritual home for all those who travel to our shores. In time of need we are here not only for our members but also for travelers. Our Sanctuary and our social hall are available for life-cycle ceremonies of non-members.
A vital part of our budget comes from visitors who leave a tzedakah contribution in the box at the entrance door to the Sanctuary, and through visitors becoming Chai members.
There are two categories of Chai membership: Chai ($36 per year) entitles the member to a quarterly bulletin, have his/her Yahrzeits remembered at our services and listed in the bulletin; Lifetime Chai ($1,800 one-time payment) entitles the member to all the above without being billed each year.
You, too, could be our Chai member. Please join us. For more information click here to e-mail us or call 340-774-4312. Our address is PO Box 266, St. Thomas, USVI 00802.
We've met the challenge!|
We are pleased to announce that by our deadline of Dec. 31, 2000, Neil Prior's $100,000 challenge was successfully met. A heartfelt thank you to all who made it happen, and a special thank you to Neil and Trudie Prior.
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Priors give $100,000 challenge gift for restoration|
The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas is facing a major challenge - a $100,000 challenge. Neil and Trudie Prior have pledged that amount to the restoration project but to receive their gift, the Congregation must raise a matching amount by Dec. 31, 2000. Only new gifts will count toward the challenge grant.
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The campaign to restore our historic Synagogue|
For 166 years, the St. Thomas Synagogue has held its door open to the world -- to Jews and non-Jews, residents and travelers, worshippers and visitors.
Now this irreplaceable landmark of Caribbean, American and Jewish history is undergoing a major restoration and needs your support.
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