First synagogue in 200 years opens in St. Maarten

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — The Jewish community of St. Maarten opened its first synagogue since the 18th century.

The synagogue, part of a new Chabad Center operated by Rabbi Moshe and Sara Chanowitz, is based in a 1,200-square-foot office space that once housed a church. Opening ceremonies were held Jan. 3.

The Chanowitzes moved  to the Dutch side of the Caribbean island in 2009 to serve its 300 Jewish residents. The Jewish population swells to 1,000 or so during the tourist season.

Jews first came to the island as refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, and the community grew during the 16th and 17th centuries. The lone synagogue was abandoned in 1781 and later destroyed by a hurricane.

A historic Jewish cemetery also was recently discovered, according to chabad.org.

The island is split roughly in half, and has been jointly administered by France and Holland for centuries. The Dutch-speaking side is known as St. Maarten — it is a self-governing entity within the kingdom of the Netherlands — and the French side is St. Martin.

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