'We want a Jewish presence in Portugal'

Portugal’s Secretary of State for Tourism reaches out to Jewish communities in US, calling for Jews to visit and live in Portugal.

Tags: Portugal Jews
Arutz Sheva Staff ,


Portugal’s Secretary of State for Tourism Ana Mendes Godinho has just ended a whirlwind visit to the U.S., where she met with a variety of Jewish leaders and communities, specifically in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“We want a Jewish presence in Portugal,” said Secretary Mendes Godinho, “and we look to Jewish investment.” Citing low unemployment and calling Portugal the “third most peaceful country in the world,” she stressed the importance of bringing Jews to visit and live in Portugal.

During events with dozens of Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Sephardi Federation and Anti Defamation League, Secretary Mendes Godinho talked about the long and strong history and connection between Portugal and the Jewish People.

“As we have a vast Jewish heritage and a very ancient and profound connection to Jewish communities - we have evidence of Jewish presence in Portugal since 390 AD – we identified as a priority the promoting of the Jewish Legacy and of the Jewish routes in Portugal,” she said. “It is quite interesting to remember that in the 15th century, circa 20% of the Portuguese population was Jewish, so we always say that every Portuguese may have a Jewish origin.”

“The Jewish communities have had crucial roles in Portuguese history, namely Pedro Álvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil, and in the United States, the oldest synagogue, Shearith Israel, located in New York, was founded by Portuguese Jews. This is why we have created a special law to grant Portuguese nationality to descendants of Sephardic Jews, and we have been experiencing a very high demand.”

Accompanying Secretary Mendes Godinho was Gabriel Steinhardt, President of the Lisbon Jewish Community (Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa) and Rabbi Natan Peres, the new chief rabbi of Lisbon, himself of Portuguese background. Rabbi Peres spoke about the importance of Portuguese Jewish history and Diaspora.

“With regard to the core real Portuguese Jewish heritage I feel our story hasn't been properly told in terms of the real impact we had in Jewish and world history, not only in Portugal but also in the Portuguese diaspora communities,” Rabbi Peres said. “While they were established outside of Portugal, they maintained very close cultural ties with their former home, like the use of the Portuguese language to this day in communities like Amsterdam, London and New York for services, and the angle of what our Portuguese Jewish legacy has to contribute to current Judaism challenges.”

The Jewish legacy in Portugal also includes years of persecution, including an expulsion in 1496, four years after Jews were expelled from Spain. Beginning in 1536, Portugal carried out an Inquisition against those Jews who had fled Spain for that nearby country, during which an estimated 40,000 conversos (New Chrisitans, Jews who had converted to Christianity but were suspected of secretly adhering to the Jewish faith) were killed. A square in Lisbon, for example, was put in "kherem", a rabbinic injunction prohibiting Jews from walking there for 500 years, due to the auto-da-fe in which Jews were burned at the stake in its center. The Inquisition was formally ended only in 1821, but the twentieth century saw a renewal of Jewish life in Portugal.