Our synagogues have played a pivotal role in our community life for centuries. Neve Shalom and Zedek v’ Shalom are both located in downtown Paramaribo, only a few minutes walk apart.
The Neve Shalom Synagogue
The original Neve Shalom Synagogue building was constructed in 1719 by Ashkenazi Jews. The synagogue was rebuilt and enlarged to its current size between 1835 to 1837.
This magnificent wooden Synagogue is the only active Synagogue today in Paramaribo, the Capital, serving the whole Jewish community of Suriname. The Synagogue is a striking landmark of downtown Paramaribo.
The Aron Kodesh (holy ark), Bimah (dais) and the benches are all made of beautiful woodwork. The synagogue boasts several beautiful Torahs, hundreds of years old.
A very unique characteristic of the Neve Shalom Synagogue is its sandy floor. According to tradition, the sand is:
• a reminder of the Hebrews’ 40 years in the desert after the exodus from Egypt, and
• the days of the Inquisition when practicing Judaism was punishable by death. During those days, marranos* met in cellars to practice their Judaism. They covered the floor with sand to muffle the sounds of their prayers.
* Marranos: Many of our ancestors who were forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition, but who secretly continued to practice their Judaism.
The Neve Shalom Synagogue is the center of Jewish life in Suriname. The compound consists of the Synagogue, the Mahmad (a wooden community center) where we meet after the weekly service for Kiddush. The Shamash (our office) serves also as a small museum and library. In addition, there is also the 148-year-old Mikvah, the old Rabbi's house and many of the 18th century gravestones from the old Sephardic cemetery.
Visiting our Neve Shalom Synagogue is a must see for every tourist in Paramaribo.
The Zedek v' Shalom Synagogue
In 1735 the Sephardic Jewish community built their own Synagogue Zedek v' Shalom (Justice and Peace in Hebrew). The Synagogue was active until the Ashkenazi and Sephardic congregations merged in 1999.
The building went through extensive renovation and is now leased by the community to a business enterprise.
All the contents of the synagogue were leased to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which built a replica of our synagogue using all the original contents including six Torah scrolls, silver Rimonim, silver Torah pointers (Yads), Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark), Bimah and benches are exhibited in the Museum.
The Bracha v' Shalom Synagogue
The oldest of our synagogues is the historical Bracha v' Shalom Synagogue (Blessing and Peace in Hebrew) in the Jodensavanne.
The Synagogue was built in 1685 on a hill, in accordance with Talmudic interpretation, making it the tallest building in the Jodensavanne town. It was adjacent to the east bank of the Suriname River, convenient for accessing naturally flowing water for purification rituals.
The Synagogue was 90 feet long, 40 feet wide and 33 feet tall, built from bricks imported from Europe, and was considered an architectural marvel. The floor was covered with sand, just as in the existing synagogues in Paramaribo.
The building was used as a Beit Knesset (place of worship or Synagogue), a Beit Din (court of justice) and as Beit Midrash (house of study). The Synagogue served the community for over 100 years and 80 more years as a symbol until 1865.
Due to its isolated location, the site was neglected and deteriorated over the years.
Thanks to the Jodensavanne Foundation, a non-profit organization that maintains and conserves this unique site, the place today is well maintained and a visit to the Jodensavanne, its Bracha v' Shalom Synagogue and the cemeteries with their enormous historical value is fascinating experience and highlight of any visit to Suriname.
The Synagogues that Were Lost to the Jungle
The first known Synagogue in Suriname was built in 1671 in Cassipora and served the local Jewish community there. The building is believed to have been a modest wooden structure and was active for several decades until the end of the 18th century, when the residents of Cassipora moved to the prospering village of the Jodensavanne. Over the years, the jungle took over and no remains can be found today.
Some suggest that the first synagogue in Suriname was a small wooden one built in the 17th century in Thorarica, Suriname's first Capital. However, no remains of Thorarica can be found, as the location is under water today.
The Darchei Yesharim Place of Worship
In the late 18th century, the black and mulatto Jewish community in Paramaribo had their own place of worship, called Darchei Yesharim (Way of the Righteous in Hebrew) in a location called Sivaplein. The place was torn down in 1800 and the Jewish mulatto congregation ceased to exist 25 years later.