Friday, 13 June 2008


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Portugal 2007

The first ever desecration of a Jewish cemetery in modern Portugal was perpetrated in April 2007. Also in April, 36 neo-Nazis from the Portuguese branch of the violent, extreme right Hammerskin Nation were arrested.

the jewish community

Evidence of a Jewish presence in the territory now called Portugal dates back to the fifth century. From the 12th century until 1492 almost 200,000 Jews (20 percent of the population) lived in Portugal; they maintained synagogues, hospitals, bath houses, and a flourishing Jewish life.

After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, over 150,000 Spanish Jews fled to Portugal, but in 1497 they were either enslaved or forcibly converted to Christianity; most, however, continued to practice Judaism in secret. In 1506, the so-called Lisbon Massacre (Matança de Lisboa), instigated by the Dominican Order, resulted in the murder of some 4,000 Jews and forced the remaining ones in the large cities, such as Lisbon and Oporto, to disperse to numerous destinations (the Dutch Republic, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, Brazil and India). Those who chose to stay fled to mountain villages, where they continued to practice Judaism clandestinely in their homes. The Inquisition only ceased in 1821 and many Jews had already assimilated among the Portuguese population. (For details of the massacre, see Esther Mucznik, “Massacre dos Judeus em Lisboa,”

In the early 19th century, Jews established local businesses in Lisbon, Faro and the Azores islands. In 1880, Abraham Anahory asked permission from the authorities to congregate the Jews of Lisbon into a formal community, but it was only in 1897 that the inaugural meeting of the Comité Israelita de Lisboa took place, although a shechita (ritual Jewish slaughter) service had been operating since 1894. A synagogue was built in 1904 but was not given official religious sanction because the only religion the Portuguese Constitution (Carta Constitucional) recognized was Catholicism. Following the Republican Revolution of 1910 and the acceptance of other religions, the committee was authorized in 1912 as a legal but not a religious association.

At the beginning of World War II, Portugal adopted a liberal visa policy, allowing thousands of Jewish refugees to enter the country until restrictions were applied in late 1940 and 1941. However, 100,000 Jews and other political refugees were able to seek refuge in Portugal, with the help of the Jewish community and COMASSIS, the organization created in 1933 to help them. As a result, all Jews in Portugal, including locals and refugees, survived the war. (For further details, see Mucznik, Esther, “Os Judeus em Portugal – Presença e Memória,”

After the 1974 revolution and the establishment of democracy in Portugal, the Jewish community was fully accepted as a religious minority and protected under the law of religious plurality. However, the community only received official recognition in 2001 with the publication of law no. 16/2001 of 22 June, the Religious Freedom Act, which permitted the registration of religious associations under Portuguese law.

The small Jewish community is well integrated into Portuguese society and well-regarded by the political authorities, illustrated by the latter’s reaction to the Lisbon cemetery desecration (see below). There are 4,000 Jews in Portugal (continent and islands) out of a population of 10 million, organized into four independent Jewish communities − Lisbon, Oporto, Belmonte and Algarve. The leading one is Lisbon community, Comunidade Israelita da Lisboa (, which maintains a synagogue (with daily services), a Jewish club, and the cemetery; it publishes a periodical, Tikva, and provides kosher food through the shop El Corte Inglés,. The association Somej Nophlim cares for the Jewish aged as well as the needy. The Oporto Jewish Community (, provides regular services in the synagogue. The Algarve Community is oriented basically toward non-Portuguese Jews holidaying in the south of Portugal. The Belmonte Community was formed recently for descendents of the anusim (forced converts to Catholicism). It provides a synagogue with regular services and maintains a cemetery, and promotes traditionally Portuguese kosher products such as olive oil and wine.

political organizations

With the creation of the Partido Nacional Renovador (National Renewal Party − in 2000, the far right wing gained a foot in the Portuguese political arena. Although the party officially denies links to neo-Nazi/racist movements, many members and/or sympathizers of these groups are affiliated to the party. Moreover, the leaders of the PNR and the Portuguese Hammerskins (or Hammerskin Nation − a chapter of the transnational white supremacist movement of that name) are known to be friendly, and the media often reports on interaction between the two groups (see, for example,; also below). In the municipal elections to the Lisbon Town Hall held in July 2007, the party got 0.8 percent of the total, doubling their vote from the previous election.

The party has been led since 2005 by José Pinto-Coelho. It has been accused of promoting discrimination based on racial, religious and sexual grounds as well as inciting violence and hatred toward immigrants and homosexuals, among others (their website includes no specific reference to the Jews). There has been discussion in Portuguese society about banning the party, since the Constitution forbids any kind of discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, gender or religion. The party, which is close to the French Front National, has a youth section, Juventude Nacionalista (Nationalist Youth).

antisemitic activity


Portuguese antisemitism tends to be expressed in historical stereotypes, as primary and high school textbooks clearly demonstrate, and is influenced by the way religion in general, and Judaism in particular, is presented in them. Catholicism is portrayed as the only religion in Portuguese geographical and social history, and Jews and Muslims, are regarded not as minority religious groups but as a cultural and folklore phenomenon. It should be noted that school textbooks are published by private entities and are freely chosen by both private and public schools. Until 2006, the only criterion for the selection of a school textbook was the obligation to follow the educational calendar and curriculum. Since then, with the adoption of Law 47/2006, a commission has been created to evaluate and authorize school textbooks for primary and high schools (see

A second feature of school books is the message that Jesus, the “son of God” born in Palestine, created monotheism. Judaism is never referred to as the source of Christian monotheism, traditions and beliefs, but as a negative cultural influence. School history books also mention that Hitler persecuted the “Communists and the Jews, a people who became rich from trade and interest from money lending.” Moreover, the books attempt to inculcate youth with “political correctness,” inter alia, by comparing historical realities with contemporary ones; the sentence “Being a Jew in the Middle Ages was as bad as supporting Yassir Arafat in today’s Israel,” for instance, appears in a 9th grade textbook published in 2004. By comparing Israeli citizenship laws to the 1935 German Nüremberg laws, another 9th grade history book, published in 2006, implies that they discriminate against the Palestinians. Additionally, since there is no official or legal definition of antisemitism in Portugal, many schoolbooks contain expressions such as “the Jews are a people attached to money.” (For further information, see Esther Mucznik, “A Religião nos Manuais Escolares” [Lisbon: Comissão de Liberdade Religiosa, 2007].)

There are no official statistics on antisemitism in Portugal because the Constitution forbids ethnic or religious categorization. Therefore, the sources for this report were the Jewish community website, newspaper websites, right-wing organization websites, personal blogs and websites, and oral testimonies.

Antisemitic Activity

On September 25 the Lisbon Jewish cemetery, dating from the mid-19th century, was vandalized. About twenty tombs were desecrated and swastikas painted on almost every damaged stone. The cemetery guard reported the incident to the police, who detained two individuals, far right sympathizers, inside the cemetery. A criminal investigation followed and the Jewish community is involved in the legal process. This was the first desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the history of modern Portugal. There are about nine Jewish cemeteries on Portuguese territory, including on the islands of Azores and Madeira, but only two are in use – in Lisbon and Belmonte.

Following the incident, an official ceremony was held in the cemetery on October 7, in the presence of several Portuguese politicians and representatives of other religious communities. The minister of internal affairs declared that all Portuguese “were Jews that day.” Far right blogs containing antisemitic comments relating to the attack were monitored by the Portuguese authorities and the Jewish community.

Opinion pieces on newspaper websites and reports by Portuguese journalists in the mainstream press often contain references to the Israeli army as “the Jewish army” (see, for example,, which quotes “major Sharon Feingold, um porta-voz do exército judaico” [Major Sharon Feingold, a spokesman of the Jewish army]).

responses to racism and antisemitism

In April 2007 the Portuguese police arrested 36 neo-Nazi activists from the Portuguese branch of the violent extreme right Hammerskin Nation. Police confiscated weapons, explosives, ammunition, poison gas and publications inciting to racism and antisemitism, as well as Nazi memorabilia. They were to be charged with threats, harassment, physical attacks, kidnapping, incitement to crime and illegal possession of weapons. The arrests took place three days before a planned conference of some 250 representatives of European extreme right-wing groups in Lisbon, which was subsequently canceled by the leader of the far right PNR.


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Portugal: Visiting Belmonte's New Old Jewish Community

Belmonte didn't get an official synagogue until 1996

For hundreds of years, the Marranos of Belmonte were forced to practice their Jewish belief in secret. It is only in the last couple of decades that this withdrawn community has opened up to the outside world.

Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Jews on the Iberian Peninsula enjoyed freedom, wealth and power. Yet the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions in the late 15th century changed this. Those Jews who weren't expelled were forced to convert to Catholicism.

But in the small village of Belmonte, the Jewish community decided to risk persecution and even death and continued to practice their religion in secret. For centuries, these so-called Marranos led a clandestine existence.

Living among Christians, the Crypto-Jews in this mountainous northeast town close to the Spanish border protected themselves by giving the appearance of following the same religion. Prayers and traditions were practiced at home under maximum secrecy behind closed doors and windows.

The Marranos also abandoned circumcision, since any circumcised man would be highly suspicious. Writing in Hebrew was given up, as were most traditional Jewish rituals. Crypto-Jews even took up Christian names and went to church to mislead their neighbors.

The fear of persecution remained strong

Today, relations between Christians and Marranos are good. But that deep-seated fear of the outside world is still present, says José Henrique, an old Marrano in his seventies.

"Of course the times of inquisition are over, but the fear remains," Henrique says. "Many horrible things happened to the Jews over the past few centuries. Here in Belmonte, there was always mistrust."

The fear of persecution remained deep. But with the end of the Salazar dictatorship in the mid-1970s, the Marranos slowly opened up, says David Canelo, a history teacher in Belmonte who has written several books about them.

Yet Canelo says that even though the Crypto-Jews are progressively reintegrating into the wider Jewish religion, some are today still following secret rituals.

"In the past, the Crypto-Jews survived within the Catholic world and today, this secret Jewish religion still exists within Judaism," Canelo says. "But either way, it's a hidden religion." Belmonte's Jews still celebrate the passah feast secretly, as well as prayers and other ceremonies, he says.

"The reason lies in the traditions surrounding secrecy handed down from generation to generation, which has given the Crypto-Jews their strength and their secret character," Canelo says.

Even the food was affected

This clandestine existence even impacted the Marranos' diets as they prepared Alheira, the heavily seasoned sausages that are still very popular throughout many parts of Portugal. By adapting their Kosher cooking, the Marranos gave the impression that they ate pork. In fact, though, the recipe involved rabbit and chicken, says resident Antonia.

"Everything is mixed and in the end, it looks like if it was pig meat," Antonia says. "That's how we make Alheira."

The secret belief of Belmonte's Jews was not uncovered until the early 20th century. The Polish-Jewish mining engineer Samuel Schwartz discovered the Marranos in 1917 and subsequently published a book about his experiences.

But it still took decades for the community in Belmonte's Jewish quarter, with its maze of ancient alleyways and buildings, to openly live out their belief. A synagogue, built by wealthy Jewish donors from Morocco and North America, wasn't opened until 1996.

Belmonte's Jewish community was the only Iberian Jewish community to survive the inquisition. Their rich Sephardic tradition of Crypto-Judaism is considered unique in Europe.

Today, the Marranos claim to profess Orthodox Judaism. But research into Crypto-Jewish life remains extremely difficult for outsiders. Faced with a wall of silence and distrust, even Jews are subject to close scrutiny before they are introduced into the privacy of local families.

It's estimated that maybe 100 Marranos still live in Belmonte. But only very few are willing to speak -- and with the numbers dwindling rapidly, this is not likely to change in the future.


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The Jews Of Portugal: The Modern Day Miracle (Part One)

By: Shoshana Matzner Bekerman

The small Jewish community of Lisbon recently celebrated Chanukah with a major community event, which took on a special meaning for them. The Jews in Portugal (similar to the history of the Jews of Spain) experienced a Golden Age and periods of unspeakable cruelty and persecution. The story of Chanukah is especially meaningful to the Jews of Portugal who are witnessing the revival of Jewish life and the restoration of the central synagogue in Lisbon (Shaarei Tikvah) after centuries of persecution and deportation since the Inquisition.

Early History

Legends tell that Jews first came to the Iberian Peninsula during the reign of King Solomon or in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. Jews lived and remained active in social and commercial life of the peninsula during the Visigoth and Muslim periods of occupation, fifth-to-eighth century C.E. Several important Jewish communities were already active when the kingdom of Portugal was founded in the 12th century.

During the first dynasty, Jews enjoyed relative protection from the crown. The crown recognized the Jewish community as a distinct legal entity and appointed specific rulers to adjudicate their cases. King Affonso Henriques (1139-85) entrusted Yahia ben Yahi III, a Jew, with the role of royal tax collector and supervisor; Yahia be Yahi III also became the first chief rabbi of the Portuguese Jewish community. Yahia ben Yahi’s grandson, Jose ben Yahi was appointed High Steward of the Realm, by Henriques’ successor, King Sancho I (1185-1211).

Tensions arose between members of the Jewish community that chose to remain faithful to their religion and the local clergy and middle/lower classes. The clergy wanted to invoke restrictions of the Lateran Council against the Jews, but King Dinis (1279-1235) resisted and reassured the Jews that they did not have to pay tithes to the church.

Golden Age Of Discovery

The 13th and 14th centuries were known as Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery, in which Jews made a major contribution to Portugal’s success. In the early 14th century, more than 200,000 Jews lived in Portugal, which was about 20 percent of the total population. Jews lived in separate quarters with their own synagogue, slaughterhouse, hospital, jails, bathhouses and other institutions. A rabbi served as the administrative and legal authority within the commune.

Portugal was home to many famous Jews during this period. In fact, Jews became the intellectual and economic elite of the country. Abraham Zacuto composed tables that provided the principal base for Portuguese navigation, including those used by Vasco Da Gama on his trip to India.

Entrance to Shaarei Tikva, Lisbon’s main synagogue –
a symbol of the revival of the Jewish community of Lisbon.

Guedelha-Master Guedelha served as rabbi, doctor and astrologer for both King Duarte and King Alfonso V. Don Isaac Abarbanel was one of the principal merchants and a member of one the most influential Jewish families in Portugal. Another figure, Jose Vizinho, served as doctor and astrologer to King Joao II. Joao II also sent the Jew, Abraham deBeja, on many voyages to the East.

In this Golden Age, it was common to see Jews adorned in silk clothing, carrying gilt swords and riding beautiful horses. They were given preferential treatment by the kings. Naturally, this state of affairs gave rise to jealousy of the Jews’ success in the peasant and middle classes. Fights between Jews and Christians became more common after the influx of Jews from Spain into Portugal, in 1391.

Inquisition And Expulsion

The history of the Jews of Portugal is perhaps best illustrated by the memorial service that members of Portugal’s Jewish community held in a downtown Lisbon square − to mark the 500th anniversary of a massacre of thousands of Jews in the Portuguese capital’s streets. About 50 members of Lisbon’s Jewish community estimated to number around 1,000 gathered at dusk for the re-enactment of Manuel’s edict next to the Maria II National Theater, which was built on the site of an old Inquisition court. Chronicles from the time recount that at least 2,000 Jews were butchered and burnt alive when Catholic crowds, incited by a small group of priests, ran amok for three days in 1506.

Lisbon’s main synagogue Shaarei Tikva, recently renovated in the spirit of Nes Chanukah.

The solemn commemorations were the culmination of a process begun by former President Mario Soares in 1988, when he first apologized to Jews for centuries of persecution by the Grand Inquisition. Events included the inauguration of a synagogue in the small eastern town of Belmonte, where Jews secretly preserved their religion and traditions for centuries, held at Lisbon’s Maria II National Theater. Then, speaking to a packed Parliament, Portugal’s President Sampaio said the expulsion of Portugal’s Jews was an “iniquitous act with deep and disastrous consequences” for Portugal, which at the time, was one of Europe’s richest and most powerful nations.

Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Vera Jardim called the expulsion of Portugal’s Jews “a black piece of our history.” The state, he said, owed Jews “moral reparation” for centuries of “brutal persecution, deaths at the stake ... and confessions and abjurations obtained by torture.”

The 1496 expulsion was politically motivated. Manuel saw a chance of ruling the whole Iberian Peninsula by marrying Spain’s princess Isabella. Her parents, the fervent “Catholic kings” Ferdinand and Isabella, had already deported Spain’s Jews four years earlier, and would only bless the marriage if Manuel followed suit. About 60,000 Spanish Jews who had taken refuge in Portugal under Manuel’s pragmatic cousin Joao II, prepared to flee. But Manuel, anxious not to lose a pool of talent that had helped improve the technology and cartography used by Vasco de Gama and other Portuguese discoverers, cut a last-minute deal. Jews would be allowed to stay another 20 years if they converted to Christianity. But that did not always help. The Portuguese Inquisition, at times crueler than its Spanish counterpart, persecuted, tortured and burned at the stake tens of thousands of Jews.

Attempting to evade the Inquisition, many Portuguese Marrano families fled to Amsterdam, Salonika and other places across the Old and New worlds. In 1654, 23 Portuguese Jews arrived in New Amsterdam (New York) and became the first Jewish settlers in the United States. The stream of refugees did not stop until the end of the Inquisition in the late 18th century. The last public auto-da-fe took place in 1765; however, the Inquisition was not formally disbanded until after the liberal revolt in 1821.

Lisbon’s main synagogue Shaarei Tikva, view from the Women’s balcony.

Around 1800, Portugal decided to “invite Jews” back into the country and reverse Portugal’s economic decline. The first Jewish settlers to come were British. Tombstones, inscribed in Hebrew and dating back to 1804, can be found in a corner of the British cemetery in Lisbon. Other Jewish immigrants came from Morocco, Tangiers and Gibraltar.

In 1892, the Jewish community was granted official recognition, and the Shaarei Tikvah synagogue was built in Lisbon. However, the synagogue was not allowed to face the street. In 1912, the new Portuguese Republic reaffirmed the community’s rights. The Jewish community was able to maintain places of worship, a cemetery and a chevra kadisha (burial society) and could slaughter animals in accordance to Jewish law, register births, deaths, and marriages and collect charity. Conversions to Catholicism, however, were still frequent in the 1920’s, splitting families; this tendency declined by the 1950’s.

Jewish Renaissance And Contemporary Jewish Life In Portugal

Interview with Esther Muznik, Spokeswoman and Vice President of the Jewish Community of Portugal:

Mrs. Esther Muznik, the dynamic spokeswoman and vice president of the Jewish community of Portugal is a remarkable figure in the Lisbon Jewish community.

Mrs. Muznik was the instrumental force behind the restoration and renovation of the Shaarei Tikvah synagogue in Lisbon. Her current activities include lecturing on the Jewish history of Portugal in the University of Lisbon, editing Tikva, the magazine of the Jewish community, and helping to organize the various activities of the Comunidad Israelita de Lisboa – the Jewish community of Lisbon.

Mrs. Muznik emphasizes the wide scope and dynamic nature of the activities of the Jewish community center of Lisbon, which include: courses available for children, youth and adults in Ivrit and conversation; Daf HaYom shiurim for men; preparation for bar and bat mitzvah; study groups in Kabbalah, Jewish philosophy, parshat ha’shavua, mussar (messilat yesharim), and basic concepts of Judaism and Halachah.

Mrs. Muznik notes that the Jewish community does not currently have a chief rabbi. However, tefillot are held regularly at the synagogue, and the community center, which is based in the Shaarei Tikvah Synagogue, conducts activities and programs for all Jewish holidays, as well as Yom HaShoah (which takes on a special meaning in Portugal), and Yom Haatzmaut.

Mrs. Muznik is especially proud of the activities of the youth movement Dor Chadash, initiated five years ago to assure that the Jewish youth have a proper framework to form their Jewish identity. One of the recent developments in the community was the opening in 2004 of the Maccabi Country Club in Lisbon (founded among others, by Arnaldo Grossman, who arrived in Lisbon from Brazil in 1989 to establish a real estate company in Lisbon. He became one of the most successful businessmen in his field by introducing the use of the Internet to the R. E. business in Portugal.) The Maccabi club enables the Portuguese Jewish youth and adults to associate with other Jewish communities and clubs around the world – especially the Spanish Maccabi club which has become sort of a “sister club.” Mrs. Muznik helps organize the joint activities as a way for the Jewish youth of Portugal and Spain to maintain close ties and strengthen their Jewish identity and feeling of solidarity.

When asked about the source of her motivation for community service, Mrs. Muznik replies that her grandfather came to Portugal from Warsaw in the 1920’s to serve as a chazan for the community. Her mother’s side originally came from Berdichev. Her strong Jewish background is the driving force that guides her spirit in energizing the reviving Jewish community of Portugal.

This Chanukah, the Jewish community in Lisbon currently has reached out to Jewish communities around the world, to seek help in restoring the religious Judaica items for the renovated main synagogue Shaarei Tikvah. Details are available for those interested in helping at:

Eric Clapton - Crossroads


I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above for mercy, "Save me if you please."

I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride.
I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride.
Nobody seemed to know me, everybody passed me by.

I'm going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
I'm going down to Rosedale, take my rider by my side.
You can still barrelhouse, baby, on the riverside.

You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy Willie Brown.
You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy Willie Brown.
And I'm standing at the crossroads, believe I'm sinking down.



It's late in the evening; she's wondering what clothes to wear.
She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair.
And then she asks me, "Do I look all right?"
And I say, "Yes, you look wonderful tonight."

We go to a party and everyone turns to see
This beautiful lady that's walking around with me.
And then she asks me, "Do you feel all right?"
And I say, "Yes, I feel wonderful tonight."

I feel wonderful because I see
The love light in your eyes.
And the wonder of it all
Is that you just don't realize how much I love you.

It's time to go home now and I've got an aching head,
So I give her the car keys and she helps me to bed.
And then I tell her, as I turn out the light,
I say, "My darling, you were wonderful tonight.
Oh my darling, you were wonderful tonight."



Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watchin' the ships roll in
Then i'll watch 'em roll away again ...Yea

Im sittin' on the dock of a bay
Watching the tide roll away ...ohhh
Im just sittin' on a dock of a bay
Wastin' time

I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the Frisco bay
Coz i have nuthin' to live for
And look like nuthin's gonna come my way

So...Im just gonna sit on a dock of a bay
Watching the tide roll away ...ohhh
Im sittin' on a dock of a bay
Wastin' time

Look like nothings gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can't do what ten people tell me to do
So i guess i'll remain the same

Sittin here restin' my bones
And this loneliness won't leave me alone ...listen
Two thousand miles I rome
Just to make this dock my home

Now... Im just gonna sit at the dock of a bay
Watching the tide roll away ...ohhh
Im sittin' on a dock of a bay
Wastin' time

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