Caribbean Hanukkah – Matisyahu

Caribbean Hanukkah: 3 Ways to Celebrate the Festival of Lights, Island-Style

Caribbean Hanukkah? Yeah, I’m guessing that most followers of the Jewish faith residing outside the Caribbean probably wouldn’t think to add distinctly West Indian elements to their Festival of Lights celebrations. After all, the region is predominately Christian. There can’t be much of a Hebrew heritage to draw upon for inspiration, right?


Jews have, in fact, been living in the Caribbean since the region’s earliest colonial days. In fact, they’ve contributed greatly to shaping the region as we know it today.

Curacao boats a rich Hebrew history | Photo by Steve Bennett

So yeah, it can make sense to add a little Caribbean flavor to your Hanukkah. Here are three easy ways to do just that!

1. Caribbean Hanukkah Jewish Reggae

Matisyahu (pictured above) may be the best-known, but there are quite a number of Jewish reggae artists out there today that are well worth checking out. The music is mostly conscious, roots reggae. You can, however, also find some ska, dub and dancehall too. maintains a solid database of performers and albums. The best for the season: Reggae Chanukah. This collection of 12 tracks includes The Latke Song, Chanukah, Skanukah, and Shel Chanukah, a rendition of the traditional blessings set to a one drop rhythm.

2. Explore Historic Caribbean Synagogues

Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. So, why not celebrate the Holiday by discovering the historic Synagogues of the Caribbean!

The region is, in a surprise to some, home to several of the oldest Jewish houses of worship in the Western Hemisphere. Curacao‘s Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue dates back to 1732. The first synagogue on the island, though, was built even earlier (1674).

The Honen Dalim synagogue in St Eustatius was built in 1739. Admiral Rodney destroyed the synagogue in 1781, though it was partially restored in 2001.

Caribbean Hanukkah – Temple Emanu-El, Curacao
Caribbean Hanukkah – Temple Emanu-El, Curacao | Photo by Steve Bennett

The Beracha ve Shalom (Suriname) was constructed between 1665 and 1671. It was destroyed in 1832, leaving the Neveh Shalom Synagogue (est. 1723) as the only remaining synagogue in Suriname.

The Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim in St. Thomas first opened its doors in 1833. This makes it the second-oldest synagogue in the entire United States. (It’s also the oldest in continuous use.)

Then, there’s the Nidḥe Israel Synagogue in Barbados. Originally built in 1654, it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1831, and eventually rebuilt. It’s situated on the oldest Jewish consecrated land in the English-speaking Americas. Nidḥe Israel is also unique in that it’s home to what is believed to be the only Mikvah in the Americas.

Oh, and speaking of Barbados, the special island also gives us the third and easiest way to enjoy a Caribbean Hanukkah…

3. Drink Some Barbados Rum

No, this isn’t blasphemy… It’s history!

The Jews that settled in Barbados and established Nidḥe Israel in the 17th century came to the island by way of Brazil. These folks were experts in the cultivation and production of sugar, which they introduced to the island. This, of course, changed everything for Barbados (and the rest of the Caribbean). In many ways it shaped the very foundation of our region as we know it today.

Maybe it’s just me, but as sugar begat rum, I think it would be okay to give the He’Brew a rest this year and toast the Festival of Lights with your favorite Bajan rum instead.

Mazel tov!

Lead photo (Matisyahu) credit: Flickr user kris krüg.

Last updated by Steve Bennett on .

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