Portugal gets Jewish centre
by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2012-11-21
Portugal is to get its first Jewish religious and cultural centre for over 500 years, following an ageement between the Mayor of the city of Trancoso and the chairman of the organisation Shavei Israel, which aims to help descendants of Jews worldwide strengthen their connection with the community and the holy land.
The Isaac Cardoso Center for Jewish Interpretation - named after a 17th Century Portuguese doctor and philosopher who was born in Trancoso - will include an exhibition about the Jewish history of the country as well as the more recent revival of the community there.
It will also offer support to members of the Bnei Anousim community - the descendants of Portuguese Jews who underwent forced conversions in the 15th Century.
The building will also house a new synagogue called Beit Mayim Hayim - “the House of Living Waters.”
The establishment of the new centre marks the first time a Portuguese municipality has taken it upon themselves to build a Jewish Centre - which will be administered by Shavei Israel along with their emissary to Portugal, Rabbi Elisa Salas.
“This centre is very important to the people of Transcoso and all of Portugal. I am sure that it will leave its mark on the region, and it signifies our commitment to recalling the past and rebuilding Jewish life,” said the city's Mayor Saraiva Sarmento. “I am delighted to be working together with Shavei Israel on this project, and I am sure that together we can turn this center into a thriving institution full of life and activity.”
Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund said it was an "historic event for Jewish life in Portugal," adding: "The center will also serve to commemorate the countless Portuguese Jews who were persecuted, displaced or forcibly converted more than five centuries ago."
Trancoso was home to a sizeable Portuguese Jewish community in the 14th and 15th centuries, before the monarchy ordered the Jews of Portugal to either convert to Catholicism or face death - effectively wiping out the Jewish community as many unwillingly underwent conversion in order to save their lives.