The event will feature representatives of Portuguese-Jewish communities in Philadelphia, Montreal, London, Amsterdam, and Lisbon who will recount the history and address the current status of their communities — emphasizing how these important connections to Portugal figure in their lives and customs.
His Excellency Domingos Fezas Vital, Ambassador of Portugal to the USA said, “This event is a timely opportunity for representatives of Portuguese-Jewish communities around the world, and in Portugal, to exchange experiences, while at the same time recalling their ancestral Portuguese roots. These Jewish communities are part of Portugal's rich heritage and history. They contribute, in their daily lives, to the promotion of our common inheritance all around the world. I look forward to this debate, which I am confident, will be extremely enriching for us all.”
SHIN-DC Director Franz Afraim Katzir added, “We are delighted to bring together representatives of the Portuguese-Jewish communities. These communities form a tight global network and maintain much affinity and passion for Portugal today. We are further hopeful that this event will help people in Portugal to learn about the rich global world of Portuguese Jewish communities, as well as their history and ongoing cultural connections to Portugal.”
Portugal – part of Sepharad or the Iberian Peninsula from which the term Sephardi or Sephardic Jew is derived – has been a cradle of Jewish life and culture since Roman times. Portuguese Jews were an integral part of Portuguese society and contributing notable developments of knowledge and technology. For example, in 1497, Vasco da Gama employed the tables and the astrolabe made by Jewish astronomer, mathematician, and rabbi Abraham Zacuto on his first voyage to India. Other notable Portuguese Jews include the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the economist David Ricardo, the jurist Benjamin Cardozo, and the Statue of Liberty poet Emma Lazarus.
After 1496, Portuguese Jews re-established communities in the Low Countries, Britain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and southern France, and later also in Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. These communities remain distinct and celebrate their roots through a strong bond with Portugal today in their self-identification, traditions, language, and liturgy.
Jewish life was re-established in Portugal in the 19th century, with communities emerging in Lisbon, Porto, and the Azores. In the early 20th century, a community of Crypto-Jews was discovered in Belmonte and has since reconnected with mainstream Jewish life. Additionally, Lisbon was an important transit point for Jewish refugees during World War II. Many refugees received their travel visas from Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux who has been recognized as righteous among the nations by the Holocaust Remembrance Center, Yad Vashem.
SHIN-DC partners with the Embassy of Portugal to highlight the deep connections between Portuguese-Jewish communities and Portugal. In 2015, the Portuguese parliament unanimously introduced changes to its nationality law permitting members of Portuguese-Jewish communities to reclaim Portuguese citizenship. This has strengthened the connection between Portuguese Jews and Portugal, helping many to take up residency and invest in the country and also boosting Jewish tourism, including in the historically Crypto-Jewish areas of Portugal’s mountainous eastern region.
The event is open to all interested parties and the media. Please register at www.shindc.org/shinsbn/Portugal2020 to receive a ZOOM link.