Jewish Community of Oporto: a 100-year-old institution

Jewish Community of Oporto: a 100-year-old institution

The Community was registered at the Civil Government on 1 August 1923, aiming to promote Jewish religion and culture and provide assistance to brothers in the faith. As a legal entity, the Jewish Community of Oporto has completed one century’s existence. It congregates and welcomes over one thousand Jews resident in this city who make use of its institutions and services, seek its advice and are concerned with its religious temples, Achdut, restaurants, mikvah, cemetery, museological spaces, cinema, art gallery, library and other facilities belonging to the organisation.

The Community has a consistent life of religion, with two synagogues and three prayer rooms, open at all times, in the rain, the heat, the cold, the wind, during the holidays, regardless of how many people are present. One of the best Yom Kippur events in Europe takes place in Oporto. A Jewish traveller who knew the communities of 55 countries, wrote in 2021: "Never before had I heard such a passionate prayer sung in a Synagogue. It was not only the power of the voices praying in unison that touched me so deeply but also the symbolism of so many Jews gathered together in the Synagogue of a country that was severely shaken by the Inquisition."

Charity is an integral part of the Jewish religion. For years, the Community has provided foodstuffs for the Shabbat meals of poor families in Jerusalem, New Delhi, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Brooklyn, Moscow, Odesa, Beijing, Sydney, London, Ashdod and Johannesburg. Similarly, the organisation sponsored the construction of mikvaot in a number of countries and the Chabad Center of Portugal, which will guarantee the continuity of Jewish life in the country. This Chabad serves northern, central and southern Portugal, and has a rabbi in Oporto who is part of the local Community structures, where there are also two other rabbis.

As far as culture is concerned, nowhere in the world has a stronger Jewish organisation than the Jewish Community of Oporto. The “European Days of Jewish Culture”, held each year in Oporto, welcome visitors to the largest Synagogue of the Iberian Peninsula, the Holocaust Museum, the Jewish Museum, cinemas, art gallery, library, kosher winery and community restaurants, in an intense day-long programme that reveals the history, religion, laws, customs, symbology and philosophy of the Jewish people, as well as such different arts as Jewish music, painting, literature, cinema, videography, photography and gastronomy.

In the last two years, the Holocaust Museum, run by Community members who lost relatives between 1940 and 1945, was visited free of charge by about 100 thousand school children, corresponding to about 10% of the teenage population of Portugal. It is hard to find a similar case of educational success anywhere in the world on the subject of the Holocaust. More than twenty ambassadors from the more relevant counties have visited this museum.

Similarly, the quality of and care taken with the Jewish Museum of Oporto, telling the history of two millennia of Jewish life in the city, is a cultural facility that makes a great impression on visitors. The University of Brazil awarded the museum the “comenda” of the Order of Merit of King D. Pedro. The museum has a number of rooms including one on modern antisemitism, a kosher Port wine room and the Operation Yonatan room.

Located inside the museum, the cinema often shows a film about the story of the last century of the Community (“Sefarad”), as well as the film which received the most international awards ever in Portugal (“1618”). Both these feature films were produced by the Jewish Community of Oporto and aim to remember and honour the long existence of Jews in the country and this city.

The production of such important cultural products, which have already reached over one million people, was not driven by economic but rather by cultural and philanthropic reasons, within the ambit of a protocol of cooperation with Oporto Diocese. Numbering among the many joint social projects with this Diocese, the Community helps in the fight against child cancer by funding a room, food and clothing at “Casa Acreditar” for poor families who come from far away in the hope of saving their children.

In January 2023, the Community published a bilingual book under the title "Two Millennia of the Jewish Community of Oporto, Chronology 1923-2023". The book is available free online and shows that the Jews of Oporto already lived side by side with the Catholics even before the foundation of Portugal. The Jewish identitarian feeling that it contains shows why the organisation has financed the treatment, preservation and digitisation of the Inquisition records at Torre do Tombo, which were in danger of being lost forever. All 16th century processes have already been completed.

The organisation’s theological, humanist and international facet can also be found in the ties of friendship and cooperation it has developed with the Muslim community. For many years, Jews and Muslims were afraid to speak to one another, with the result that each community was increasingly fixed in its own worldview and separated from all others.

In order to fight this situation, the Community was one of the founding members of the Mukhayriq Initiative. Named after a rabbi that had long been forgotten and who had given his life to save the Prophet Muhammad in an epic 7th century battle, the Mukhayriq Initiative celebrates the important moments of historic brotherhood between Jews and Muslims, so often neglected in today’s community discourse.

In 2021, the Prime Minister of Sweden met with the Board of Directors of the Jewish Community of Oporto to prepare the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. In 2022, the President of Israel underlined the importance and attachment to tradition by the Jewish Community of Oporto and has promised to pay us a visit. In 2023, Oporto hosted the annual event of the European Jewish Association, which brings together Jewish communities from Ukraine to Portugal. These facts alone show the importance of the Community in its centenary year.

In the last ten years, the Community’s central synagogue has hosted Chief Rabbis from Europe, Asia, Eurasia, America and Israel, for Shabbat celebrations. The last major religious figure who visited Oporto to be welcomed most fraternally by members of its community, was the Chief Rabbi of Kiev. Why Portugal, in a Europe that is so richly filled with Jewish communities? Why Oporto, in a country with 90 thousand square kms?

Over the years, the Community, its members and institutions have attracted religious, cultural, political and financial Jewish elites. This has roused the envy of the lowest of the low of the Jewish world,  slanderous anonymous letters and the hatred of State antisemites. Born of this wretched coalition was a criminal association that used every legal and illegal means at its disposal to try and destroy the Jewish congregation of Oporto, bring down its leaders, expel its members and steal its assets. It is a repeat of the history of shame that paralysed the Community in the 1930s. It is also a repeat of the history of Haman, for the ending will be identical.