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Hehaver-Ohel Jacob History | Part II

  |   Institutional

The Return of the Sephardis and the Coming of Ashkenazis - Two Distinct Lines, a Fracture of the Past

The Ohel Jacob and the B'nei Anusim

On 19 October 1739, the last victim of the Court of the Holy Office in Portugal was burnt – the Jew António José da Silva. In 1773, the rise of the Marquis of Pombal to power brought major changes to the Jews in Portugal. He franchised the return of the Jews, by the introduction of relevant reforms and the extinction of the distinction between new-Christians and old-Christians, proclaimed the extinction of the Inquiries, as well as the abolition of the prohibition of the practice of crypto-Judaism and signed the Letter of Law/General Constitution and Perpetual Edict, which puts an end to discrimination. Even before the extinction of the Inquisition, the Jews began to return to Portugal, continually, initially the ones coming from north Africa – Morocco and Gibraltar – and subsequently the ones from various other territories, including countries in Latin America and the East. These Jews from North Africa, cohesive Sephardis and zealous in their Jewish faith and with a cultural level above the average, came initially to Faro, the Azores, the Madeira Island, and finally to Lisbon, and, for over a century, worked on reintegrating themselves to society creating social structures and community spaces which grew rapidly since the end of the 19th century.

After the Law of Separation of State and Church and the new Constitution that gave the Jews the same rights of other citizens was passed in 1911, the Jewish congregations were able to have their documents approved in 1912. Back then, the major congregation was known as the “Israeli Colony” which gave rise to the Israeli Community of Lisbon (CIL). These Jews unfolded in private initiatives; small synagogues built in rented apartments, charity associations, prayer centers, cemeteries, newsletters, commissions, dinners, libraries, proms, concerts, tours, among others, of which we should highlight the Somej-Nophlim (“Support for the poor”, 1865), which later (1916) gave rise to the opening of the Israeli Hospital (of supreme importance during the Second World War); the Guemilut Hassadim (1862); the Economic Kitchen (1899); The Great Synagogue Shaareh-Tikvah, built from scratch on land acquired on behalf of private individuals, and inaugurated in 1904; the Association of Hebrew Studies Ubah Le Zion (1912), the Israeli Library (1914), the Malakah Sionith Association, founded by Barros Basto (Porto, 1915), the Zionist Federation of Portugal (1920) and the Israeli School (1929). It is in this context that the Israeli Youth Hehaber Association is founded, in 1925, by a group of young Israelis of Lisbon. This institution would assume a role of great prominence at the time of the Second World War.

This institution began to cover “social and entertainment activities, such as Hebrew classes, parlor games, chavurah, etc. Initially, the association was located at Alexandre Herculano Street, an institution that united both young Sephardic Jews as the Ashkenazis who were coming later.” [Marina Pignatelli]

Still according to Marina Pignatelli, “it is from the second half of the 1920s that the Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe began to arrive to Lisbon, without great resources and struggling in the middle of integration difficulties. They were migrants forced to flee from the pogroms that ravaged their land of origin and/or frightened by serious economic crises, particularly in Poland, from 1924, contexts that forced them to seek better living conditions elsewhere. Many of these Jews were temporarily in Lisbon, because they wished to continue on route, particularly to the United States or Israel. However, some ended up staying under various circumstances, including financial impossibilities or difficulties in obtaining the necessary documentation to continue their journey. Their integration into Portuguese society was not very easy for the most part, at least at the beginning, and for some it would never be fully achieved. The cultural shock was evident, because these Jews came from villages and towns in Poland, Ukraine, Germany or Russia, some inhabited only by Jews, bringing with them not only the financial needs but also great contrasts on the levels of education, language, religion and culture in general, compared not only to the Portuguese as the Jews themselves who were already installed here. (…). They began by settling on small pensions and ambulating through the streets of the city to sell their items on trays hanging from their necks, especially meshes, neckties, cutlery and jewellry. But because they were very humble, as well as Jews, many were subjected to discrimination and anti-Semitism. Even so, they sought to “do for life” and were acquiring small spaces to streamline their activities and professions.”

These Jews established themselves in the center of the city and organized to celebrate the religious services. They began to meet at the premises of Hehaber in 1932 and later this group the one responsible for the creation of the Ohel Jacob Synagogue in 1934. The synagogue began operating in a rented floor over a garage at Miguel Bombarda Avenue and then moved to the Elias Garcia Avenue,where it would be known as the “Synagogue of Poles”, the only one of Ashkenazi rite at the time and the only one in Portugal until the present day.

The interviewees by Marina Pignatelli recall names of Polish families as Ryten, Ridel, Bekermen, Eisenberg, Tennenbaum, Brodder, Katz, Sapese (business of meshes), Katzan (ironmongery in the Azores), Herzberg and Back Gordon (physicians), Hiller (dentist), Kopeijka, Segal, Romerowsky, Aberlé, Abolnik (cutlery), Goldstein, Kak, Azriel, Pine Cones Cohen, Jablonski, Hagler and Olozinsk.

“There are many differences that can point among the Sephardic Jews and the Ashkenazi, when it comes to rites and traditions, in religious services wether public and domestic, in the songs, clothing, food, etc. In fact, all of them build branches of Judaism characterized by cultural heritages which are distinguished according to the national, historical and cultural contexts, in which they were placed and from where they necessarily soaked their specificities. Such traditions were being built through the centuries, transported in time and space and transmitted from generation to generation and they mark, without a doubt, until today, two major lines within Judaism in the diaspora.” [Marina Pignatelli] To this issue of distinction another issue would come to join, the sensitive issue of the B’nei Anusim, the descendants of the cripto-Jews, those dispersed and in need to return to the Jewish faith. Between the 1920s and 1930s, there was initiated the movement “Work of Redemption”, an initiative of Captain Artur de Barros Basto, a Marrano converted to Judaism in 1920, and also an initiative of Engineer Samuel Schwarz, a Jew of Polish origin and investigator of the Hebrew culture. Both wanted the reintegration of Marrano Jewish communities to make them return to orthodoxy. Although there was an impact at the international level, this project ended up being extinguished suffering from too many differences between the distinct Jewish lines, in addition to an anti-Jewish period fostered by the New State implementation, which would even sacrifice Captain Barros Basto military career itself, as he got kicked out of the Army by the CSDE (Superior Council of Discipline in the Army). However, despite the numerous initiatives and institutions have disappeared, as the Portuguese Marranos Committee (formed in London, 1926), there is a considerable legacy, as the recognition of the Israeli Community of Porto (1923), the foundation of the Ha-Lapid newspaper (1929) – a large spreader of zionists ideas -, the installation of the Mekor Haim Synagogue (1938), considered by Barros Basto as the “Jewish Cathedral of Northern Portugal”, as well as the book “The New Christians in Portugal in the 20th Century” which gave to Schwarz the reputation required for obtaining funds and support to the cause for some time.

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Old-Christians > referring to Jewish Christians sons of converted ancestors, but also Christians who were not Jews nor had Jewish ancestors.
Ashkenazis > Jews from Germany and Poland; the word comes from medieval Hebrew which translates “Germany” – Ashkenaz – a name derived from Ashkenez, a grandson of Jafet or Japheth and Noah’s grandson, whose descendants are believed to have advanced from Minor Asia to the North of Europe.
Ha-Lapid / The Torch > The official newspaper of the Israeli community of Porto considered to be the ”redemption work of the Portuguese Marranos”, with 156 editions published between 1927 and 1958.
Salomão Marques > Sephardic trader from North Africa, born on 9 November 1931 and deceased on 5 April 2012.
Sapese Noymark > Polish Jew, worker in the meshes factory, born on June 4 1928 and deceased on 19 May 2000.
Ohel Jacob
The synagogue of Progressive rite, the only Askenazi synagogue in Portugal, founded in 1934. Affiliate member of EUPJ/WUPJ (European Union of Progressive Judaism/World Union of Progressive Judaism) since April 2016.