The original Mikvé Israel congregation was created in the 1650s — a community formed by Iberian Jews from Holland, whose ancestors had once fled the Inquisitions of Spain and Portugal. After merging with the Sephardic Reform Temple Emanu-El in 1964, the synagogue became known as “Mikvé Israel-Emanuel,” and affiliated itself with the Reconstructionist stream of Judaism. The building that stands today was built in 1730 by Spanish and Portuguese Jews from the Netherlands and Brazil, and is the oldest remaining synagogue in continuous use in the Americas. The Jewish population of Curaçao today is about 300 people out of 160,000 residents.
In a recent trip to Curaçao, my friend Katie Sanders and her family visited this synagogue shortly before Passover 2017. Katie was nice enough to send me the following photos of the synagogue:
As explained in the synagogue’s brochure, the sand floor of the synagogue symbolizes the following three things:
- The Sinai desert that the Israelites wandered in for forty years
when fleeing Egypt for the Holy Land
- The sand that the Spanish and Portuguese Jews once poured on the floors
of their secret prayer rooms in order to muffle the sounds of their services.
(During the Inquisitions, a Converso or “Secret Jew” could face
life imprisonment, loss of property, and even death if discovered.)
- God’s promise to Abraham:
I will multiply your seed of the seashore and the stars in the heavens.
— Genesis 13:16
The following recipe — courtesy of Myrna Moreno and the Mikvé-Israel Emanuel Sisterhood — won Berlin’s 2011 “Milk & Honey Tour” for best haroset. Combining Sephardic and Caribbean ingredients, this haroset is rolled into balls, and is the most exotic I have ever seen or tasted!
(Sephardic Style Haroset Balls from “The Jewish Kitchens of Curacao”)
Yield: About 5 dozen balls
½ pound pitted dates
½ pound pitted prunes
½ pound raisins
½ pound figs
¼ cup lemon or orange peel
2 pounds unsalted peanuts
½ pound unsalted cashew nuts (optional)
1 pound dark brown sugar
½ cup honey
2 to 3 tablespoons cinnamon plus extra for coating
2 jiggers kosher wine
¼ cup orange and lime juice or watermelon and tamarind juice, if available.
- Grind fruits and nuts.
- Add the sugar, honey, cinnamon, wine and juices to form a moist but firm mixture.
- Roll into balls (about 1” to 1-1/2” in diameter) and coat with cinnamon.NOTE: These can be made ahead, wrapped individually in wax paper and placed in an airtight container in the refrigerator or frozen.