sand synagogues

Five synagogues, worldwide, share the unique feature of having floors made of sand. One of these is Shaare Shalom Synagogue in the historic district of Kingston, Jamaica. There, the sands are carefully raked and maintained daily, with special consideration and care preceding days of worship. It’s no small feat.

The provenance of this tradition is debated. One common theory is that the practice resulted from Spanish-Portuguese conversos in Brazil during the 1600s, who wished to resume their Jewish practices but were barred from openly practicing. In order to be discrete, sand was poured on the ground of private gathering spaces, often homes, to obscure the sounds of prayer and activity.

The other synagogues with sand floors are located in Amsterdam, Curacao, Suriname and Saint Thomas. While I don’t have photos of those ones (yet) here are some more views from inside and outside Shaare Shalom in Kingston. Of particular interest to me were the large stone grave covers dating from the 18th century. These have inscriptions in Portuguese and beautiful imagery from the Bible.

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