This month, the Jewish Community of Oporto achieves eight years in which it has always had minyan at Shabbat and Yom Tov with the presence of local Jews only. The long period of religious essence, unique among the Portuguese Jewish communities in this century, began with the 2015 Bereshit parasha and continued in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023.
Only a few days from this year’s Yom Kippur, when the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue will have a minyan of 500 men, we recall the Jews of Oporto whose efforts and faith ensured the Shechinah of the huge religious temple for almost a decade, with 10, 20, 30, 40 or more men, without having to rely on any possible tourists.
Maintaining a constant minyan in Oporto’s synagogue or in any other synagogue is more complex than one might suppose, even for the community of Oporto with five hundred men. In the first place, eight years corresponds to over one thousand religious services, which means that there was a group of at least ten male members of the community (often many more) who went to the central synagogue more than 1000 times in that long eight-year period. In the second place, the overwhelming majority of local Jews does not observe mitzvot and never had the habit of attending synagogues, preferring other events. In the third place, Kadoorie synagogue is some distance away from most people’s homes, making it impossible on many occasions for them to be present. In the fourth place, members of the community are well-travelled, meaning that often on a Shabbat or Yom Tov, a considerable number is away. Finally, in each year there are periods of sun, rain, wind, more rain and cold. For example, it is hard to spend winter mornings in a cold 1938 building.
For all these reasons, the Jewish Community of Oporto is celebrating. Those who founded the community, Captain Barros Basto and the Ashkenazi families, were never able to get together a consistent congregation. There are no records of a single continuous year of minyan on the Shabbat. There were a lot of contributing factors. The synagogue itself was only inaugurated after Barros Basto had been expelled from the army because of a sordid process with slanderous anonymous denunciations made by poor and envious criminals. The authorities were on good terms with the Lisbon community but not the Oporto community and by seizing on these denunciations made by these criminals destroyed the community for almost eighty years.
Today, the Jewish Community of Oporto not only has minyan at Shabbat and Yom Tov at the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, but also daily minyan at the Kadoorie Mekor Simchah Synagogue, filled with university students, a true achdut centre to promote Jewish marriages. A good example for Portugal and bad news for all those who tried to destroy the community with a plot of slanderous anonymous denunciations.