Hehaver-Ohel Jacob History | Part IV
Renewal and Future
The Ohel Jacob and the B'nei Anusim
In 1999, a small group of B’nei Anusim, aged between twenty and fifty years old and rejected by the dominant Jewish community of town, approached the Ohel Jacob Synagogue at Elias Garcia Avenue and were welcomed by Sapese Noymark who opened his arms to them. This event established a revitalisation of the Synagogue and of Hehaber. On 26 October of that same year, the Hehaber Association, which became Hehaver, was finally constituted by public deed published in the Republic Diary III Series, No. 296 of 22.12.1999 with the tax number 504564064. Some of the B’nei Anusim were also incorporated in its organizational structure. Up to this date, only Hehaver’s statutes had been recognized by the Civil Government of Lisbon, since the 1930s.
During the following five years, several Rabbis visited the synagogue in order to resolve the situation of these B’nei Anusim with little or no liturgical knowledge of Judaism and with no guidance on how to pursue the path of “returns” and/or conversions. Cabalat Shabbat services resumed as well as the celebration of main festivities, activities outside of the synagogue began to take place and Jewish and non-Jewish visitors started to show up. These visitors were Portuguese and foreigners as well, mainly from Canada, France, Italy and Israel, drawn to the synagogue for many reasons such as faith or cultural issues. There was a violin recital organized by Danilo Souza, with the special participation of the violinist Christa Ruppert and the presence of the Consul of Brazil, and a Rosh Hashanah dinner with the presence of a group of B’nei Anusim from the synagogue of Porto.
By then, the facilities in the Elias Garcia Avenue were in a high state of degradation and the apartment needed major renovation work. It had been kept under great efforts from the synagogue members over the past few years but eventually it was no longer able to receive its members. Hehaver was forced to start another adventure in search of new a home which took a long period of 17 months. Initially, taking into account the meager resources of the Association, the community requested the support of the city Mayor (9.11.2004), who made several promises and ended up not fulfilling a single one. The solution eventually arose when the previous landlord Américo Carvalho, touched by the situation, offered one of his properties to the leadership of Hehaver/Ohel Jacob. The synagogue was installed at its current address in April 2006.
It is important to mention that in 2004, another important milestone for these B’nei Anusim took place. The Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, was received at Rabbi Boaz Pash’s home, who was the Rabbi at the Shaareh Mikvah Synagogue. The Chief Rabbi travelled to Lisbon to participate in the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Shaareh Tikvah Synagogue. “ (…), a meeting which proved to be historic because it was the first to be performed between crypto-Jews and the Chief Rabbinate in five hundred years in Portugal.
However, the Chief Rabbi took too long to constitute a committee to assess the situation in the community. When Rabbi Leo Abrami came to Lisbon, he took notes of the needs of the B’nei Anusim, and how they wanted to fully integrate into Jewish orthodoxy. He acknowledge them, showed great sympathy for their cause and pledged to help them with a detailed and strict program in order to reach that goal. But finally, it was the Conservative Jewish movement (Masorti Olami) that resolved to support the crypto-Jews cause in Portugal. In 2006, the Jerusalem Office of Masorti Olami/ World Council of Conservative Judaism asked Rabbi Jules Harlow” [Marina Pignatelli] to support the Portuguese B’nei Anusim on this endeavour.
Under the guidance of Rabbi Jules Harlow, the first rule was to create an official community because this step would be necessary to legitimise the “return to spiritual roots” process for some members and the conversion process to other members according to each case. That’s how the Jewish Community Masorti Beit Israel was born, still in Elias Garcia Avenue, during the period of searching for new home. This community was subsequently approved by the Board of Hehaver so that they could use the premises of the Ohel Jacob Synagogue for services. Over a period of eight years the synagogue’s rituals were of the Masorti rite maintaining the Ashkenazi profile – “Because the Ashkenazi Jews were the ones who opened the doors to us” wrote the current board at the time. This Masorti community ended in 2013.
On 17 December 2006, the ceremony of dedication, Hanukkah HaBait, took place at the current premises, presided by Rabbi Jules Harlow and attended by 20 people. The event was marked by a simple tribute to the man who “with a simple gesture from the heart, made it possible for us to have a place where we felt welcomed, a place that served not only the perpetuation of Ohel Jacob, but also for the perpetuation of the faith that existed inside of those who ever so humbly only asked to be accepted; (…) with his simple and great heart, dismissed of any kind of elitism, he contributed to the fact that we could have a “home” where we could pray and dream (…).” That man was Sapese Noymark, deceased in 2000. In this long history it is still relevant to mention several generous donations made by Harold Michal-Smith (2005 and 2007), doctorate in psychology and dignified with multiple awards for his outstanding efforts to the support of people with disabilities or mental disturbance. Dr. Harold met the Ohel Jacob Synagogue through Yaakov Gladstone, founder of Hatzaad Harishon in 1960 in New York City. This organization was known for its outstanding work with the issue of Jewish diversity which includes Jews of different rites and also black Jews. Both Harold and Yaakov were active members of the Ladina, an organization dedicated to the memory of the B’nei Anusim in Portugal.
In 2011, the Ohel Jacob Synagogue received the visit of Rabbi Alona Lisitsa, the first female rabbi to participate in a Religious Council in Israel and Phd in Talmud and ancient texts by the Tel Aviv University. Having been nominated sponsored rabbi for the entire Iberian Peninsula (EUBD), Rabbi Lisitsa became the supervisor rabbi for Ohel Jacob since 2014 in matters regarding liturgy guidance and conversion preparations after the extinction of the Kehilat Beit Israel and the transition of the synagogue to the Progressive Movement.
In November 2014, the Ohel Jacob Synagogue celebrated its 80 years of existence, since the opening of its Book of Records in 1934. A symbolic ceremony took place as a tribute to the four members whose support was crucial for the synagogue to exist. These members were Samuel Sorin, founder of the Ohel Jacob Synagogue; Sapese Noymark, who kept the synagogue opened on Saturdays during the years of activities suspension; Salomão Marques, for his remarkable religious and financial support; and Aron Katzan, the member who encouraged the inclusion of the B’nei Anusim and the one who remained the synagogue’s leader until the end of his life. The ceremony began with a small reading, a tribute to the members as described, followed by a speech by a descendant of one of the original members of one of the honoured families who was very grateful for the tribute and a musical moment – three pieces for violin and a few songs.
In 2016, the Hehaver Associtaion and the Ohel Jacob Synagogue became an affiliate member of World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), by the time of the celebration of its 90th anniversary – an event held in London, between 14 and 17 April, and promoted by the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ). At the present time, the synagogue has prepared its website, as well all its visual identity documentation, fusing the Association and the Synagogue in one optimized graphical representation.