SYNAGOGUE (Beit Mayim Hayim – ‘the House of Living Waters’) and ISAAC CORDOSO CENTRE FOR JEWISH INTERPRETATION
Transcoso is a tiny village in the north of Portugal. But, in the 14th and 15th centuries, Trancoso was home to a large and flourishing Jewish community. That came to an end with the arrival of the Inquisition.
Now, the town of Trancoso is honoring its Jewish heritage with the establishment of the Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation, along with a new synagogue called Beit Mayim Hayim – “the House of Living Waters.”
Shavei Israel’s emissary to Portugal, Rabbi Elisha Salas, visited Trancoso earlier in June for the Center’s dedication, where he also affixed a mezuza to the entrance of the synagogue – the first mezuza in the village for hundreds of years!
Trancoso hosted an impressive number of guests for the dedication. These included Rabbi Dov Lerea, the dean of Judaic Studies at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School, who flew in from Manhattan and taught a class on “Rabbi Salomon Alami of Portugal and the Riots of 1391”; and Peter Geffen, the director and founder of Kivunim, a gap year program that brings pre-college American Jews to Jewish communities around the world to learn about their roots. Kivunim organized an international seminar during the dedication, which was attended by 60 young adults between the ages of 16-20, as well as five of their teachers. We have pictures of the group here.
Speaking at the ceremony, the mayor of Trancoso, Julio Sarmento noted that Trancoso is “proud of the historical, cultural and social legacy that the Jews left in the city” and whose influence boosted “not only the economic success of the village but the country in general.”
Sarmento added that he deeply regrets “the harmful actions of the Inquisition that decimated the Jewish community,” and that he – and the entire Trancoso municipality – are committed to “the enhancement, dissemination and promotion of Jewish history,” in order to transform his village into a “knowledge center on Jewish culture and faith for Trancoso and all of the Beiras region.”
Trancoso is a well-preserved medieval town dominated by a castle with a walled enclosure. Jewish merchants first arrived as early as the 12th century; they were bolstered in the following centuries by Jews who migrated from the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, located in what is today Spain.
The Isaac Cordoso Center includes a small garden, two exhibition halls, public assembly rooms and video projection systems. It is located near the historic “House of the Black Cat” – so named for a sculpture of the Lion of Judah situated high on an exterior wall facing one of Trancoso’s ancient streets.
The dedication in Trancoso also included a photographic exhibition on Aristides Sousa Mendes, the Consul of Portugal in Bordeaux, France who, during World War II, saved more than 30,000 people, including many Jews, from the concentration camps.
Following the placement of the mezuza on the synagogue’s doorframe, Shavei’s Rabbi Salas spoke emotionally about the Jews and descendents of Bnei Anousim (people whose Jewish ancestors were compelled to convert to Catholicism more than five centuries ago) who were present for the ceremony.
“These are the tears of honor and longing for those who were persecuted, tortured, seized, killed and raped by the Inquisition in the name of their faith,” Rabbi Salas said. “And these are tears of joy to see that, centuries later, the identity and strength of being a Jew is not dead. It is alive!
Indeed, Jewish life was very much alive during the dedication in Trancoso. Following the ceremony, a dance party for the young American participants was held. There was also a tasting of kosher bread, jams, preserves and juices produced and supervised by Rabbi Salas himself.
We have pictures from the dedication in Trancoso, which you can see here.
From: Medieval Histories
At the same time a new Jewish cultural and religious center – the first of its kind in Portugal in more than 500 years – has opened in the city of Trancoso. This – the Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation will include an exhibition about the Jewish history of Portugal and the renewal of Jewish life in the region in recent years. It will also contain a new synagogue called Beit Mayim Hayim – “the House of Living Waters” plus a garden. Visitors to the Isaac Cardoso Interpretation Centre can access the archives of the 700 Jews, who were born and lived in Trancoso and who were persecuted by the Inquisition.
The establishment of the center marks the first time a Portuguese municipality has taken full responsibility, at its own expense, to construct a Jewish center. The center is expected to begin operating shortly, and will focus on outreach work to the many Bnei Anousim, descendants of Iberian Jews who were compelled to convert to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries and who still reside in the area. It is hoped the new cultural center will play an integral role in assisting those Bnei Anousim who wish to return to the Jewish faith. For centuries, Trancoso was home to a large number of Bnei Anousim and it has a riveting history.
Isaac Cardoso, after whom the center is named, was a Jewish physician and philosopher born in Trancoso in 1603 to a family of Bnei Anousim. He later moved to Spain with his family and then fled to Venice to escape the Inquisition. Here he and his brother Miguel publicly embraced Judaism. He went on to publish a number of important works on philosophy, medicine and theology, including an important treatise defending Judaism and the Jewish people from various medieval stereotypes such as ritual murder accusations and the blood libel.