St. Thomas Synagogue
History and museums
St. Thomas Synagogue is an historic synagogue at Crystal Gade #16AB, Queens Quarters, in Charlotte Amalie on the island of Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The formal name of the synagogue is Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997.
Saint Thomas Synagogue was built in 1833, and is the second-oldest synagogue on United States soil (after the 1763 Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island). It also has the longest history of continuous use by a Jewish congregation in the nation. It was built for a congregation founded in 1796 by Sephardic Jews who had come to the Caribbean Basin to finance trade between Europe and the New World.
The synagogue as a number of distinctive and unique features. Most of the wooden features including the benches, the ark and the bimah are made from mahogany. The menorah dates back to the 11th century and is Spanish in origin. The chandeliers are European and are presumed Dutch. There are four pillars inside representing Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah, the four matriarchs of the Jewish people. But by far the most unusual feature of the synagogue is the sand floor. There are two theories behind this unusual occurrence. One is to represent the Israelite journey through the desert. Another theory is that it represents the Conversos who were forced to convert to Catholicism. Many continued to observe Judaism, so they usually met in their cellars and would use sand to muffle their prayers.
The congregation is affiliated with the Reform Jewish movement and the rabbi is a graduate of Hebrew Union College.