For the Sephardic Jews, the promised land was never Israel. It’s Portugal and Spain
PO1209 Castelo de Videjpg

From the medieval passage through Castelo de Vide to the synagogue of Oporto created in the 20th century. From literary imagery to the materiality of saudade. The TSF followed the route of the Sephardic memory by Portugal and in it it found the promised land.

Michael Rothwell takes the holy book up to the eye line and opens it reverently, before a quiet synagogue, at 25 Sivan of the Hebrew year of 5779. The civil calendar marks June 28, 2019, a Friday, and is missing a few hours to the sunset that begins the sabbath, and that only according to Genesis is extinguished by the appearance of the first three stars of Saturday night.

The temple is emptied of the union of 10 men over the age of 13 required for religious service, but keeps the light, always lit, directed to Jerusalem. For the Jews, the synagogue has to orient itself, as the action itself indicates, to the East, where the true temple existed in times.

“Hear, O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is one. Blessed be the name of the one whose glorious kingdom is forever. You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your possessions. ” The words are read from the Torah, where the Hebrew and the Portuguese coexist as they have spoken, without hindrance. The Portuguese synagogue, Kadoorie – Mekor Haim (“Fountain of Life”), the largest in the Iberian Peninsula, reverberates the words of worship against the Moroccan-inspired tile walls in favor of the Star of David.

Michael Rothwell is aware that 500 years ago he could be caught between the prayers, by the collars, and taken to the auto-de-fé. There is a historical weight that falls on your shoulders, a memory that is being renewed, as a story that has several ways of being told.

“Here in Portugal, have no fear. What we have is a historical consciousness, and we know what today is tomorrow and can not be,” confides, the TSF, the professor of mathematics, English, 65. The shadows of a heavy hand of the Inquisition are only silenced in school programs, where the Jewish question, he points out, rarely finds prominence.

“Light symbolizes life, does not it? This light must always be kept.” It was under this ideal that the Jewish community of Porto was created 96 years ago in 1923. It tells the Jewish history that the military Barros Basto, guided by the motivation to return to Judaism the families of crypto Jews / Marranos who had been forced to conversion from 1496. In the late twenties, Michael Rothwell recalls, creating bridges between the various remote villages of Portugal was a Herculean task.

Some young people were brought to Porto to become community leaders after a painful journey: “There were no roads, and he went on horseback. It was very difficult to travel and converse with the crypto Jews, who by nature hid their religion . “

In the escalation that preceded World War II, however, “the captain was the target of envy and hatred, accused of crimes he had not committed, so he was removed from the army.” The Marranos no longer felt confidence in the leader and returned to the villages of origin. “With the outbreak of war, the ideas of an enchanted project collapsed. The idea of redeeming Marranos was replaced by the need for survival,” says the representative of the largest synagogue on the peninsula.

The works had ended in 1938, a particularly dramatic year for the Jews, with November marking the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), in which dozens of Jews were raped to death and their shops vandalized, until Jewish pride was broken in a thousand pieces of glass that made his chest bleed. “It was probably the only synagogue that opened in Europe that year.”

Although Barros Basto’s project had been landed in its earliest years, Portuguese Jewish seeds had spread all over the world, without fundamentalisms having succeeded in decimating them. “Sephardic culture has continued over the centuries. There are still prayers in Portuguese and another very rich language, the Ladino, formed with a combination of medieval Spanish and Portuguese,” explains Michael Rothwell.

Hugo Vaz, 31, one of the rare cases of conversion to Judaism, raises a bunch of keys, which tinkle: “One of the most representative objects of this presence is precisely this.” Many families still have medieval keys of their houses in Portugal of the height in which they received the edict of expulsion in 1496. “

“The houses no longer exist, but the keys still exist,” the 65-year-old teacher adds. In diaspora time, the Jews carried pieces of Portugal and Spain into the heart and into the four corners of the world. “Even today there are people in Turkey with grandparents who speak Ladino and who can come here and understand us, without any member of the family, since 1497, having set foot in the Iberian Peninsula”, asserts the member of the leadership of the Jewish community of Porto.

Teacher, Michael Rothwell turns to History with the same emphasis as adding mathematical knowledge. From the perspective of Portuguese living in Portugal, it is urgent to review the textbooks. “After the expulsion decreed in Spain in 1492, we estimate that 100,000 Jews from Spain joined the 100,000 that were already in Portugal, which made up 20% of the Jewish population It is practically impossible for anyone in Portugal not to descend from these Jews. “

According to Michael Rothwell, the Jewish community prefers to remain discreet, sheltered from anti-Semitism that “comes from envy, because there are undoubtedly many successful and intelligent Jews.” “Just look at the Nobel Prize statistics to realize that the Jews earn them in a very high proportion in relation to their quantity, “he says.

A small community, on which “conspiracy theories” are still hailed, with a Portuguese lexicon to favor prejudices. The expressions ‘thou art as a Jew’ or ‘jewish’ have not encountered tongue-twisters over the centuries and have settled in the culture of the country.

The key that came back home 400 years later

It was in Castelo de Vide, in the northeast of Alentejo and 12 kilometers from Spain, that one of the oldest and most significant streets of Portuguese Jewish housing was built. He is a marrano who walks through the Jewish quarter (in the Priberam, ‘Jewish quarter’ or ‘assembly or set of Jews’) without a mischief, but with a watchful eye on the menorah – seven-legged candelabra – stylized on the stone at the door of the houses and over the recesses where the sacred Jewish scriptures were kept.

Carolino Tapadejo, a former mayor and scholar of Sephardic affairs in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tells of the origins of Jewish history in Castelo de Vide, which are also the pages written by his ancestors. And it begins like this: when, in 1320, 17 Hebrew families settled down in the village belonging to the county of Portalegre. “Over time, a lot of other families have gathered on Jewry Street.”

With the arrival of the Inquisition in Portugal in 1536, the list of murdered victims in auto-de-fé rose, and white in black did not lie: more women were persecuted, to break the bond of Jewish education that progenitor would pass to the children. Clara Mendes, Catarina Gomes, Bonita, Isabel Gomes, Beatriz Henriques, Violante Lopes, Mécia Rodrigues, Inês Tristôa, Leonor Vaz. These are just a few of the names why Mário Soares, President of the Republic in 1989, asked for forgiveness “in the name of Portugal”.

In veiled engagements, some houses kept the practices (and the hidden synagogues) that Judaism had instructed them. The Crypto Jews, forced to convert by a baptism into the central fountain of the village, continued to say ‘I will not drink of this water’, as far as Catholicism was concerned, all enshrined in secret rituals and in the shadow of fear. “My neighbors, on Friday afternoons, performed ceremonies that I never understood, and one of them placed a candle here [withdraws the lid of a clay pitcher].” She cut the rim of the vessel into pieces, “said Carolino Tapadejo, in an interview with TSF.” It was not possible to see the light from the street.

The enthusiast who has already passed through Spain, Greece, Italy, France, England, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Canada and Brazil in a crusade using only the gift of the word came to find one of the most surprising land love stories in Israel.

“I was giving a lecture at a university north of Tel Aviv. As I was already leaving the stage, one of the ladies, already old and very sick, told me in a much-changed ladino: ‘I am from Castelo de Vide, but I I never went there. ‘ I told her I had not understood, and she answered me: ‘My family fled from Castelo de Vide in the first half of the sixteenth century to the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, then Istanbul, but they always told me that my land it was Castelo de Vide, I saw that a man came from my mother-country, and wanted to come and listen to him. ‘”The Castelo-vidense, displaced in geography but never in identity, traveled more than 170 kilometers because it had no descendants , had cancer and just wanted to go home.

It was in 2015 that the last chapter of a long-standing book on the shelves of family legacy was closed. Arriving at Castelo de Vide, “the lady deposited in my hands the medieval key and the names of the street and a few neighbors.” Guardian of the home and the history of his countrymen scattered throughout the world, Carolino Tapadejo affirms: it is the first time that a key of that time returns to the door that once opened.

In Ladino, also says ‘saudade’

“It is very interesting how we came to the twentieth century and then to the twenty-first century with a diaspora of Jews around the world who keep a little tear in the corner of the eye when we talk of Sefarad.” Sefarad has almost become a myth, which means that many Jews of origin now seek Portugal to make an archeology of his memory. ” The words are of Paulo Mendes Pinto, coordinator of the area of Science of Religions of the University Lusófona.

Sefarad – Portugal and Spain – remained in the imagination of these families forced to leave the peninsular territory as a land of hope, a land where they were happy, where there was prosperity and possibility of dialogue, from the time of Islamic rule until the first dynasty. “The end of history is Portugal and Spain,” analyzes the ambassador of the World Parliament of Religions and founder of the European Academy of Religions.

Chapters that have not yet concluded with a happy ending have found opportunities to rebuild the idyllic image that these distant ancestors have of Portuguese lands. Since 2016, more than 2100 Sephardim have applied for Portuguese citizenship, and by the end of June 2018, the Israelites were already in second place among candidates for Portuguese nationality. From open doors, Portugal is unlikely to suffer persecution from the Jewish community, according to Paulo Mendes Pinto, who explains: “Curiously, we do not have the anti-Semitism that rages across central Europe. Most of the Portuguese assuredly never crossed the street with a Jew, and even if he had crossed, he would not know. “

With more literacy and hygiene than the other medieval inhabitants of towns and cities, the Jews were ostracized and misunderstood. “The Jew begins to be seen as the scapegoat for all situations that go wrong: it can be a year in which there is hunger, it can be a year of plague, it can be a source with contaminated water,” says the author, who points out that the most religious Jews did not get sick because they already had disinfection, cleaning and boiling habits of used clothes.

The Bar Mitzvah, performed at the age of 13 in the case of the boys and at 12 in the case of the girls, also obliged everyone to share the literacy so that, without difficulty, they could say the sacred words.

“At the age of 12, every Jew is literate, knows how to read and write. We have proof that it worked that way, and that gave them an uncomfortable look at the illiterate Christian mob. In the fifteenth century, someone who is literate, has mathematical skills and is able to calculate interest and percentages is much more prepared to succeed. “

“Physically, we inhabit a space, but, sentimentally, we are inhabited by a memory”

To succeed and to manage the finances of the great Portuguese institutions. “Before the forced conversion, all the towns and villages had a Jewish community, cobblers, merchants, tailors, and participated actively in public life, and their participation in the Discoveries . ” This is how Richard Zimler, author of 11 novels, raises the veil to what he unveiled since 1996, the date of publication of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon.

“I began at the same time to understand that, when I returned to Lisbon, I was given the possibility of repairing the deviation from my destiny,” it is written on the front pages. Far from this initiatory dive, Richard Zimler, more Jewish by identity than by belief, American, Portuguese, son of a Marxist who considered religion to be the “opium of the people,” continues to look with fascination on the Sephardic presence in the Iberian Peninsula.

“What struck me the most when I started writing ‘The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon’ was that whenever I talked to my friends about the Lisbon massacre of 1506, when thousands of young Christians were burned and killed in the Rossio, all of them – lawyers, doctors and professors – said: ‘But what massacre?’ Nobody knew anything, maybe just half a dozen experts, “recalls Richard Zimler. The stigma made even the genetic code and roots of the Portuguese unfamiliar to them: “People were afraid and did not want to investigate Jewish ancestry in their family trees. It was a taboo because they learned, after 240 years of Inquisition and 50 years of dictatorship, not to speak of certain themes such as Judaism. “

The author, a citizen of New York, Porto, Lisbon, Israel, the world, makes a point of remembering that the coming times will test the openness and flexibility of the young Portuguese democracy. “Physically, we inhabit a space, but, sentimentally, we are inhabited by a memory.” It is the phrase of José Saramago that intertwines there in the ideas and convictions of the journalist too.

“A terra prometida, para os judeus sefarditas, não era a Palestina. Era Espanha e Portugal. Muitos poetas sefarditas escreveram sobre a saudade que tinham de Segóvia, Granada, Toledo, Barcelona, Valência, Lisboa, Évora ou Porto.” Podiam não falar um português perfeito, mas sabiam como soa, quando bate, a palavra ‘saudade’.

Ambassadors of Portuguese Judaism of the Modern Age

For José Oulman Carp, former president of the Jewish Community of Lisbon, just open the family album to understand how the history of Portugal is diluted, anonymously and indistinctly, in the legacy of the Sephardic Jews. The first record that dates back to 1818, the year Abraão Bensaúde returns to the Azores, to the island of São Miguel, still finds that in the continental territory, the scenery was not at all Catholic, or, on the other, too Catholic.

“My family came to Morocco under the name Hassiboni. In the Jewish cemetery of Ponta Delgada – a very beautiful cemetery, by the way, and with a very suitable name for a cemetery, which is Campo da Igualdade -, the oldest cemeteries are Bensaude , after Hassiboni, and, later, they return to being Bensaúde, “he says. The first post-Inquisition Jewish returnees began building the oldest Portuguese synagogue since the Christian persecution in Ponta Delgada, in the year 1836.

“My family came to Morocco with Hassiboni name in the Jewish cemetery in Ponta Delgada. – a beautiful cemetery, by the way, and a very suitable for a cemetery name, which is Field of Equality – the oldest graves are Bensaúde , after Hassiboni, and, later, they return to being Bensaúde, “he says. The first post-Inquisition Jewish returnees began building the oldest Portuguese synagogue since the Christian persecution in Ponta Delgada, in the year 1836.

Pioneers in the export of Azorean orange, founders of the Micael tobacco plant and owners of pineapple greenhouses, the Bensaúde, a Jewish family, boosted the economy of the island region. Knowledge was brought in from abroad, where the younger students studied, because, “by the end of the 19th century, Jews could not attend Portuguese universities.”

José Oulman Carp pauses over each of the photographs, and between his fingers reveals the more direct contributions of his family. “Matilde was a remarkable woman, who studied in Portugal and the United States, and introduced the phytosanitary certificate, which is still used today in many commodity transactions.”

“Joaquim was an engineer and historian. He published about 300 books, all about the period of circumnavigation trips,” he continues. “Alfredo Bensaúde founded the Instituto Superior Técnico.” José Oulman Carp is also the nephew of Alain Oulman, poet and composer of fados sung by Amália Rodrigues.

Portuguese, Jews, merchants, engineers and artists have restored religious and cultural diversity to the country. We need to take care of each other, especially when we are such a small community. To be president of the community was like being a gardener who takes care of this page of the History of the Judaism, “concludes Joseph Oulman Carp.

Source: TSF / By Catarina Maldonado Vasconcelos
Translation: Smartencyclopedia by José Carlos Palma


All comments.