(Editors Note: Portugal has a Jewish population of 600 in a country with a population of 10,500,000 (from Jewish Virtual Library). There is no central Jewish organisation. Places throughout the country are publicising their Jewish roots. This can be seen in the growth of the number of synagogues and Jewish museums (go to Maps,Towns). The article below illustrates this and the new law which entitles a descendent of the estimated 400,000 “judeus” expelled, killed or forced to convert during the dark days of the 16th century Inquisition to Portuguese nationality).
In a remote Wales town, artist Judy Rodrigues sees a chance to complete a search for belonging traced through the ancient synagogues of London and Amsterdam. In Israel, retiree Sara Cassuto Sachs wonders if stumbling on her maiden name as a tourist in the Portuguese city of Tomar can lead to the convenience of an E.U. passport. In Istanbul, the Portuguese Consul has been flooded with calls from a long-standing Sephardic community nervous about the strengthening Islamist influence in Turkish politics and eager to reconnect with a country whose language still infuses their prayers.
Portugal may not be the land of the Second Coming. But it very well could become the second country of choice for some Jews seeking to live in an ancestral homeland. The July 29 promulgation of a new law grants automatic Portuguese nationality to descendants of the estimated 400,000 “judeus” expelled, killed or forced to convert during the dark days of the 16th century Inquisition. “For those who may keep the key to the house of their ancestors,” declares the bill’s co-sponsor and Socialist Party heavyweight Maria de Belem Roseira, “this law tells them their homeland is still there.”
Formally established in 1536, the Portuguese Inquisition saw show trials, executions, mass killings and the forced separation of children shipped off to Portugal’s colonies. While more Jews remained as “new Christians” in Portugal than in Spain, most fled to what is now modern day Morocco, Turkey, the Netherlands, and turned up in Venice’s ghetto as well as among the first European settlers of New York City. There are estimated to be only 600 Jews in Portugal today, not counting ex-pats, compared with some 400,000 at the time of the Inquisition.
Call it apology or reparation, the new act is “trying to erase a black mark on our nation, something terrible and unfair,” says Christian Democrat member of parliament Joao Rebelo. “Nothing else could win unanimous support from all parties. It’s making history in a good way.”
As with all high-minded impulses, the difficulty may be getting down to the details. (A similar ruling, announced with less public fanfare late last year by Spain’s Ministry of Justice, has become mired in controversy – slowed by long waits, onerous regulations like renouncing other citizenship and what Rebelo describes as “a large Muslim lobby we don’t have in Portugal.”) Despite the stirring rhetoric, Portuguese lawmakers admit it may take another year to establish procedures for implementing the edict and exact criteria for approval of applications. Between Inquistion records and synagogue membership here and overseas, many of the common names the exiled Portuguese Jews adapted can be traced and verified.
“The Rabbis of our three approved communities should have the say,” argues Jose Oulman Carp, President of Lisbon’s 300-member “Israelite” Community. “They would know best who are Jews, who has Iberian rather than Eastern European origins, though the problem comes when trying to determine if families originated here or in Spain.” Where many fled across borders and the majority hid their identity with “new Christian” names, M.P. Rebelo points out, “There were no Facebook pages back then to help us keep track.” And Lisbon’s current main Rabbi Eliezer Shai Di Martino insists, “Everything will of course be done in accord with civil authority,” adding, “While mostly symbolic, I hope this may eventually add life to our small community.”
In fact, the single-sentence amendment to Portugal’s code does not even specify that applicants have to be practicing Jews, know much about Portugal, have clean criminal records. They won’t even have to reside in the country to gain citizenship — a provision that proponents like Roseira, a staunch human rights advocate, cite to refute suspicions, as voiced by Rabbi di Martino and others, that managers of an economy in austerity may hold the “old idea that all Jews are rich.” As Roseira points out, “laws already exist to grant citizenship to those investing a half-million Euros. Our only motive was to reassert this country’s tradition of tolerance for the mixing of cultures and races.”
Still, admits Esther Mucznik, grand-daughter of a Lisbon Rabbi, “While celebrating, it’s hard not to feel some bitterness. It’s like the duck they killed before is laying the golden egg.”
More likely, the law’s enactment comes as the fruition of a four-decade resurgence of appreciation for Portugal’s Jewish past since the overthrow of staunchly Catholic, Nazi-sympathizing dictator Antonio Salazar. Anti-fascist heroes like Aristides Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s so-called “Schindler”, have been officially rehabilitated. Sephardic life, customs, even food have become common subjects for scholarship here and in Brazil, spurred in part by the popularity of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, a historical novel by American Richard Zimler, who has found success in Portugal through Jewish themes.
While Carp hopes the new law will lead to resumption of direct flights between Lisbon and Tel Aviv, that will be spurred by commercial initiatives like the Rede das Judarias — a “network of Jewish sites” that has already enlisted 22 towns and cities to research and renovate their former synagogues, ritual baths, Jewish quarters or draw up blueprints for local museums. These include Belmonte, where Jews carried on in secret for five hundred years. And tiny Trancoso, a town where buried carvings of hundreds of Jewish symbols were recently found, has just opened its ambitious Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation, as well as its first temple since the late 15th century. To network creator Jorge Patrao, a non-Jewish official in Portugal’s isolated Serra da Estrela mountain province, his brainchild won’t just “spur income in places where tourism was based mostly on snow,” but help to “reclaim so much of our region’s historic identity.”
he same can be said for Portugal’s uncompromising embrace of its exiled children. Given the Nazis’ mass extermination of Sephardic communities, author Zimler notes, “it’s too bad the gesture comes eighty years too late.” But, says lawmaker Roseira, “we can only set things right for our time, see the past with our own eyes.”
Today's the number of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews today is almost proportional in the jewish Portuguese community, although religious services continue to be conducted in the Sephardic tradition. The Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa is the organization that unites local communal groups of Lisbon and its environs which mantains a Regular religious services, Mikvê, all Jewish celebrations, welfare, a youth movement with 45 children, activities for adults and the golden age (Guil Hazaav), a Jewish education department, a volunteer Hevra Kadisha, the effective and systematic participation inside the Portuguese society and the close relationship with local authorities, while the Comunidade Israelita do Porto is the organization that unites local communal groups of Oporto. It is linked with Jews in Golders Green, London, who form its religious committee and are members of the Board of Directors. In recent years, a number of Portuguese have traced their roots back to Conversos. Some of these individuals, primarily in Belmonte, have decided to return to Judaism.
The Jewish Community of Oporto, founded 90 years ago, adheres to Orthodox religious practice. The community maintains a prayer room, mikveh, museum, school, library, a kosher communal kitchen and dining room, a pantry to house kosher food, and a terrace upon which the community Sukkah is erected during.
Chabad maintains two houses in Portugal, one in Lisbon the other in Cascais.
In 1977 Portugal and Israel established diplomatic ties, and the consulate general in Lisbon was raised to the rank of an embassy. Portugal opened an embassy in Israel in 1991. The Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa maintains a close relationship with the Embassy of Israel and together they perform a series of initiatives.
COMMUNAL REPRESENTATIVE ORGANIZATIONS (see also News)
Two municipalities in Portugal opened museums about their Jewish heritage amid protests by residents of the capital Lisbon against the ongoing construction of a third and larger one.
In the northeastern city of Braganca, the municipality last week opened a two-story Sephardi Interpretive Center that focuses on the life of Jews under persecution in 15th and 16th centuries. And on Thursday, a smaller Jewish Memorial Center opened in the town of Vila Cova à Coelheira east of the northern city of Porto.
Separately, the Association for Heritage and Population in Alfama organized a news conference Wednesday to express its opposition to the ongoing construction of the four-story Jewish museum being built in the neighborhood.
The building, which will feature a facade with a large Star of David, “breaks with the neighborhood’s tradition,” a spokeswoman for the residents association was quoted by the Public newspaper as saying in an article about the opposition published Wednesday.
The spokeswoman, Maria de Lurdes Pinheiro, also said residents were not consulted about the plan to erect the Jewish Museum of Lisbon in Alfama. Portuguese Jews had lobbied for decades for the construction of a Jewish museum in Lisbon – one of the few capital cities in Western Europe without such an institution — until an agreement was reached in 2016.
Pinheiro insisted she does not oppose plans to erect a museum about Jews as such.
“Jewish museum, sure. But not in Sao Miguel Square,” she said in reference to the intended area where the museum is being built. She also said the planned museum does not fit the “atmosphere” of the neighborhood, which is one of Lisbon’s oldest and is considered a tourist attraction for its narrow hillside alleyways, with their many boutique restaurants, leading to the Sao Jorge Castle overlooking the Tejo River.
But Ester Mucznik, the former vice president of the Jewish Community of Lisbon, in 2016 said Alfama and Sao Miguel Square were “symbolic” choices for a Jewish museum because of their proximity to Lisbon’s historical Jewish neighborhood.
The opening last week of the Sephardi Interpretive Center of Braganca was less controversial. Focusing on the history of so-called New Christians – those who were forced to convert from Judaism to Christianity under duress during the Portuguese Inquisition, which began in 1536 – the building’s opening was attended by the mayor and leaders of Portugal’s Jewish community of roughly 1,000 people.
Many of Portugal’s New Christians were refugees from Spain, where the authorities and the Catholic Church began the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. The persecution led to the dispossession and exile of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Many of those who remained for centuries continued to worship according to the Jewish faith in secret. In Hebrew, those who practiced in secret are called anusim – forced ones.
The two-story museum in Braganca features artworks about the anusim and a large monument in the shape of an olive tree whose branches are emblazoned with the names of locales that had anusim communities.
Jaime Ayash, the vice president of the Jewish community of Lisbon, said the center’s opening was the latest demonstration of modern Portugal’s immunity to rising anti-Semitism elsewhere in Western Europe.
“Jewish culture is popular in Portugal and that’s significant in a world experiencing a wave of anti-Semitic hate,” he said, according to an article published on the website of the TSF radio station.
Separately, the mayor of the town of Vila Cova à Coelheira, where a small Jewish memorial museum opened Thursday, highlighted the touristic value of the new establishment in his address at the opening, according to the news site Aveiro.
In Spain, meanwhile, the mayor of Catsrillo Mota de Judios last month presented to Madrid Jewish leaders his town’s plans to open a museum on its Jewish heritage by 2019.
In 2015, Catsrillo Mota de Judios, which means Castrillo Jewish Hill, changed its name from of Catsrillo Mata Judios, which means Castrillo Kill Jews. Historians believe the name remained from medieval times.
JEWISH GOVERNMENT GRANT JTA, July 24, 2016
In Portugal, the government recently allocated approximately $6 million to the Portuguese Jewish Network-Sefarad Routes – a state-funded project for preservation and commemoration works at sites connected to the country’s Jewish past. So far, it encompasses approximately 30 municipalities in the country’s center and north.