Jacob and Miriam (Toots) Lefkowitz

During the month of May, my wife and I travelled to Portugal with a dual purpose in mind; we wanted to see the sights in this small country at the SW corner of Europe and also we wanted to discover the forgotten relics of a once flourishing Jewish community that existed here until the year 1497 when King Manuel married the daughter of the King and Queen of Spain. One of the conditions for the marriage was the expulsion of the Jews as occurred in Spain in 1492. Many of the Jews in Portugal eventually left, going to France and Holland, Salonika and North Africa. Those that remained were forcibly converted to Catholicism and where known as ‘New Christians’.

Our plane landed about 8:30 a. m Monday May 6, 2007 in Lisbon. After going through customs and getting our rental car we drove to our hotel, the Mundial, arriving about noon. It is a nice hotel located in the old historic part of the city. We took a nap for about an hour because time wise it was 6 a. m in Houston.

Before leaving Houston I had made contact with a man living in Portugal, Manuel Azevedo, who agreed to meet us and give a walking tour of the old areas of Lisbon. He is involved with a group of people whose ancestors, including his, lived in Portugal as Jews until they were forced to either leave the country or convert to Catholicism.

We started our tour in an area known as the Baixa. In 1755 there was an eartquake in Lisbon followed by a tidal wave from the Tejo River. This area, the Baixa was hit the hardest. Most of the buildings were destroyed and many people died. It was in this area that a number of Jews lived and where they had their businesses. According to old records the main Synagogue was in this area also. The new streets of the Baixa were laid out parallel and perpendicular to each other doing away with most of the ancient maze of the original streets in parts of the Baixa.

Adjoining this is the neighborhood of Alfama where many Jews escaping from Spain lived. There is no physical evidence of past Jewish existence in Lisbon, other than the name of a street, Rua da Judiaria. Along this street there is an old Roman wall above which are two windows of a house built in a style indicative of those used in Jewish homes.

In our four hour walking tour we did see the location of the building where the Tribunal of the Inquisition interrogated and kept prisoner those “new” Christians accused of secretly practicing their religion be they Jewish or Moslem. We also went to the Praça do Comercio where those who were convicted of heresy were burned to death.

These areas are made up of many short winding streets all of which are cobblestone. The buildings are very ornate. Most were probably built during the time that Portugal was reaping great wealth from its colonies.

After our walking tour we decided to go back up to our hotel as we were a little tired. Manuel had recommended a restaurant in the area serving traditional food so we decided to go there. The restaurant named Joao do Grao was being operated by the fourth generation after being founded 150 years ago. It seems as though Cod fish is a favorite of the Portuguese, be it grilled, sauteed, or fried. It is always served with boiled potatoes. We found it to be a tasty dish.

The next morning, Tuesday we went by taxi to an area west of Lisbon named Belem. It is also on the River Tejo, which flows from Spain and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It is from Belem that the explorers, including Vasco da Gama who sailed to open a sea route around the southern tip of Africa to India went to sea. Belem is loaded with great sights; we did not go to all of them, but we did our best. First along the River front is the Tower of Belem, built around 1515 as a fortress on the River Tejo to guard the approach to Lisbon. It was built in a style of architecture known as Manueline, named after the king at that time Dom Manuel I. It is a structure so unique and beautiful that it is impossible to describe in words. (It was classified by UNESCO as World Heritage and is under the auspices of the UN). We explored it from the top turrets down to the bottom dungeon.

Next to the Tower is a monument built in 1960 to honor Prince Henry on his voyages. It is an impressive building with a museum inside.

Across from these is the Monastery of Geronimo also built in the Manueline style. Vasco da Gama is entombed here. It is an enormous place with a large church and museum. There are several other museums of interest in the area; one of which is the Coach Museum which has a unique collection of 16th to 20th century coaches and carriages.

We stopped at one of the many outdoor cafes for lunch and then went to the world famous Casa Pasteis de Belem Café birthplace in 1837 of a wonderful custard tart known as ‘pastel de Belem’. The recipe is as well guarded as that of Coca-Cola. They are small custard tarts; very good with cinnamon and sugar and coffee.

We took a bus back to Lisbon and got off in the Baixa area. We then took another bus that climbed up a number of circular streets to a high place between Baixa and Alfama known as Castel de Sao George (Castle of St. George). From here we were able to see all of Lisbon and up and down the River. There were many impressive views of the area from here. We then took the bus back down through the maze of winding, twisting streets. We took an elevator to an upper area adjoing the Baixa known as Baixa Chiado. It was an “open air” elevator that was designed by a student of Eiffel (tower) and built in 1902.
Here we were able to see the original arches of the Convento de Carmo which was destroyed in the earth quake of 1755. The Gothic arches are all that remained. The Convent had been rebuilt but the arches remain as a monument.

We then walked back to our hotel and rested a while before going out to dinner (at 8 p.m). We took a taxi to a restaurant recommended by the hotel located on the river. The atmosphere was great, but the food was average. Had a nice time there and then came back to the hotel.

Wednesday morning we checked out of the Hotel Mundial and headed east toward the medieval walled city of Evora, about 90 miles away, whose history goes back to the Greeks. On the way to Evora we stopped at a place known as Cromeleque Dos Almendres. It is Portugal’s 4000 year old ‘Stonehenge’, 90 large erect granite stones in the shape of an oval set in the midst of cork trees. The site served as a gathering place for Stone Age Sun worshipers. Besides the beauty of the ancient site I liked seeing the cork trees. After about 25 years of growth the trees are large enough to have their cork harvested. The bark is stripped back and the layer of cork is exposed. It is cut out and processed. This can then be done every 9 years. Portugal produces about 60 per cent of the world’s cork. From here we drove about 20 miles to Evora.

Our hotel the Cartuxa (pronounced ka tu sha) was just inside the old city walls.
We checked in and after unloading our luggage walked to the town center to explore. The main square is ‘Giraldo Square’. We found an open air café and had lunch. Over the centuries Evora had been ruled by the Romans, Moors, and Portuguese Kings; there are sights from each of these cultures. At one end of Giraldo Square there is a large fountain. Its water came from an aqueduct which carried water from a source north of the city.

On the west side of the square the tourist information office is housed in an old palace used by the kings to house their guests. The area behind the tourist information office was the Jewish Quarter. There are few physical remains that have been identified. The two streets of the Jewish Quarter are named Street of Coins and the Street of Merchants; indicative of the type of business they were allowed to engage in. At address number 65 on the Street of Merchants you can see there possibly had been a Mezuzah and over this had been chiseled a cross to indicate a ‘

New Christian’. Some studies and excavations have been made by Carmen Balesteros, a history professor at the University in Evora. We contacted her and she briefly outlined some of her finds in Evora, Castelo da Vide and other towns in the area. One of the Kings who lived here, King John III, was a fervent proponent of the Inquisition. He sanctioned the deaths of hundreds of people burned to death on the Square as heretics. Evora had one of the largest Jewish communities in Portugal during the XV Century, and thus, was one of the main Inquisition centers in Portugal

We took a self-guided walking tour of the area. Most of the sights are within 10 minutes of Giraldo Square. Parts of an old Roman wall are built into a building. There are large windows along the walkway that allow you to see the excavations under parts of the building. Many buildings cover Roman ruins. On our walk we came to another square. The town hall building is on this square. Inside, in one corner, there are the remains of a Roman bath which was uncovered during some repair work on the building.

Nearby at the highest point in Evora is the remains of a Roman temple. Concerts are held here during the summer. Across from the temple is the Museum of Evora. It was built on what had been the Roman Forum; the Museum was closed for remodeling. Next to the ancient Roman temple is the building used by the Tribunal of the Inquisition.

Here, Jews, Moors, and others thought to be heretics were tried and if convicted, would be marched through the streets down to the main square to be burned. Outside this building, which is now used by the University, is a granite sculpture of a body in a coffin as a memorial to those killed by the Inquisition.

We had a full day of exploring Evora so we decided to head back to our Hotel. We walked down from this upper square on a street named the 5th of October in commemoration of the date in 1910 that the Monarchy was abolished and Portugal became a republic. This is the same road built in Roman times to connect the upper area with the main square. On the way down we stopped at several small shops and bought some gifts to bring home. Off the road we saw a restaurant named Mr. Pickwick. The menu looked good and we decided to come back latter to eat here. We rested up for awhile and about 8 P. M. headed back to the Mr.Pickwick restaurant. The food was very good; I had some fish and Toots had some spaghetti pomodoro. We went back down to the Giraldo Square and walked around a bit and then went back to the hotel for the night.

The next day we went back up to the Roman Temple and took some more pictures and then went to the Cathedral which was nearby. Portugal has three bishops and one of them lives in Evora. We walked around the area and decided to eat our picnic lunch which we had bought at a market earlier in a garden park along with other people doing the same. Afterwards we went back down to the Giraldo Square and headed for the Church of St. Francis and the Chapel of Bones.

In the Chapel are a grotesque collection of 5000 skulls and bones which had been dug up by three monks in the 1500’s. Supposedly it was so that the people of then wealthy Evora could ‘reflex on the transience of material things in the undeniable presence of death’. It is a macabre sight.

We then decided to follow the route of the aqueduct. We walked along the street where the houses had been built into the aqueduct structure until it got past the city walls. We went into this area and took pictures of the aqueduct and then headed back to Giraldo square where we had some refreshments and ‘people watched’. We then headed back to our hotel walking down the Rua dos Mercadores in the former Jewish quarter. We stopped at the house No. 65 which Carmen Balastero had determined the markings on the mantel were the remains of where a Mezuzah had been and a cross carved over it. She did a lot of her research from the records of the Inquisition which are stored in the Cathederal and Museum. We took pictures of the house and door and continued on to our hotel.

There was a German tour group at our hotel. Some of them were swimming in the pool. We decided to sit out by the pool and watch them in the cold water.
In the evening we went back up to Mr. Pickwick Restaurant for dinner.

Friday morning, after breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed north along the eastern coast of Purtugal toward the town of Castelo de Vide. About 5 miles south of Castelo de Vide we stopped at the site of a small Roman excavation, named Cidade Romana de Ammaia. The remains included parts of a bathhouse, forum and temple. There was also a small museum. The museum was built over and included the kitchen and basement of an ancient Roman house. Only about 5% of the remains have been excavated.

We then continued on to our hotel, the Sol e Serra in Castelo de Vide. Portugal seems to be well known for its golf courses. This hotel was near one and it had pictures and advertising about golf courses.

Castelo de Vide has a XV Century Synagogue and adjacent school. We went to the medieval Judaria and followed the signs pointing to the Synagogue. It was being remodeled and had a barricade around it. We went into the room that had the tabernacle and took some pictures. Two nosy ladies saw us go past the barricade and started yelling for us to get out; the workmen heard them and we had to leave because they were afraid we would get hurt. We let the ladies know what we thought of them in no uncertain terms. We did accomplish the photographing of the room. Also in the area there was a Rabbi’s home and an oven used for baking. They were not marked on our map so we did not find them. Along the maze of streets we did find the ancient water fountain which the Jewish community had built.

Saturday morning we set out for a town named Valencia de Alcantara just across the border in Spain. This is where the marriage of King Manuel of Portugal and the Spanish Princess Isabella took place in 1497 which lead to the forced conversions of all of Portugal’s Jews. We were surprised that there were no border guards to check us as we crossed the border, but we were told later that with the EU countries most have open borders. It was a nice town, the main street was lined with orange trees.

Here in this town a Synagogue has been restored. The tourist office was closed so we decided to locate the Synagogue on our own. Someone in the area pointed in the direction and we found a tour group at the Synagogue. They let us join them and we took pictures. The group left but one of the guides stayed and allowed us to take as many photos as we wanted before she locked the building. We caught up with the group. The tour was in Spanish but we did pretty good understanding about the sights in the Jewish area she referred to. The group went back to the tour office that housed a small museum. We got some pamphlets on the Synagogue and the area.

On the way back to Portugal we found a picnic area and ate our lunch. Before getting to Castelo de Vide we stopped at a small village named Marvao. In the guide book it was described as be very picturesque, but we did not find it too ‘exciting’. We continued on to our hotel.

We walked back to the Synagogue thinking we could get in but the workman were still working Saturday afternoon, so we left happy with the pictures we had gotten the day before. We walked around the town square and stopped at a sidewalk café and got some dessert and drinks. We stayed there quite a while and watched the people.

We looked around at a few restaurants but decided to eat at the one in our hotel. There was a tour staying at the hotel so there were quite a number of people in the restaurant.

The next morning, Sunday, we checked out and headed to a town named Covilha. It is the ‘entrance’ to the Serra da Estrela mountain range, the 6,000 foot peaks are the tallest in Portugal. In the summer hikers and picnickers are all over the hillsides. In the winter the town is used by skiers as a base for trips to the slopes.

Covilha has a Kosher Winery and a museum which had been a XVIII Century Woolen-textile factory, accidentally discovered during enlargement of the adjacent University. This industry was one of the professions dominated by the Jews in this area; also at the University of Beira a center of Jewish Studies program has been started to research the Jewish history of the region. We did not get to the winery or museum because it was Sunday and everything was closed.

Instead of going directly to Belmonte, our next stop, we decided to take the scenic route through the mountains. We did not know the direction to the road we needed so we asked at a police substation. An officer got in his patrol car and told us to follow, and he took us to the road leading through the mountains; we thought that was pretty nice.

We headed for the town of Caldss de Monteigas which was at the peak. We had to stop twice; once for a group of long distance bikers and the second time for a group of joggers. Both groups seemed to be in some kind of marathon. It was interesting with all the by-standers watching and cheering. At Caldas de Monteigas we got out of the car to take some pictures of the view (along with other people). We did not realize how cold it was until we got out. It was 4.5 degrees C (about 39 degrees F); and windy. We quickly got back into our car. The drive through the mountains was really nice.

When we got to Belmonte the Pousada we were staying in was on the far side of town at the outskirts. We kept asking directions until finally we found it. It was worth the search; the Pousadas are usually convents, or castles or palaces which the government has made in first class hotels.

After checking in and eating lunch we headed back into the town of Belmonte. It is the home to about 125 families who had been forcibly converted in 1497, but through 500 years maintained some semblance of their Judaism. They would openly be Catholic but in private they maintained their Jewish Religion. In 1974 when the dictator Salazar was overthrown and a democracy was established they came out into the open and have built an orthodox Synagogue. We visited the Synagogue and the President of the Congregation gave us a tour of the building including their Mikvah and Kosher kitchen. Many of them do not know Hebrew, they conduct their services in Portuguese. We were fascinated by this group of people, thinking they were the only remaining Jews, stayed together and maintained their beliefs. They comprise about 10% of the Belmonte population of 2,000 people.

In addition to the Synagogue they have a very nice museum built in 2002 with many old family treasures on display. They also have a display listing those who were killed by the Inquisition; listing their names and ages and their date of death, and whatever other information was available. We bought some items in the Synagogue and Museum which had been made by the local people.

Nearby, is the large Cabral Castle where Pedro Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil was born. His tomb is just below the walls. The Castle has been restored and is equipped with a bar and modern amphitheatre for outdoor concerts during the summer. In the gift shop we found some Challah covers made by the Belmonte Jewish Community.

Late in the evening, we went back to the Pousada. The dinner we ate was the best we had eaten in Portugal. The Pousadas are known for their good food.

The next morning, Monday, we bid Belmonte farewell and headed further north to a town named Guarda. At the tourist office we got a local map, the lady in the office marked the area that had been the Judiaria. She said they only know of the area but nothing remains to indicate any Jewish presence. It was kind of cold and windy (it had been almost 90 degrees in Lisbon), so we decided to forgo Guarda and go to a town named Trancoso. Trancoso is a walled village with a gigantic entrance arch. We parked outside the entrance and after getting a map from the tourist office we walked through the village. Before the forced conversions Trancoso had a sizeable Jewish population. In the old Jewish area a lot of the houses had two entrances; one was a large door and the other a smaller door, the large door would lead into the store area and the smaller door would lead into the living quarters. This way they had their business and home in one building.

We also located a building with a large Lion of Judah above the entrance and two other protrusions indicating the gates of Jerusalem. This was thought to have been the home of the Rabbi.

We found a nice café and had a good lunch before leaving Trancoso and heading west to Porto, the home of Port wine, several hours away. We usually like to travel on the scenic roads but being that Porto is on the western coast of Portugal we decided to take a main highway.

I had gotten an email from our hotel in Porto giving us directions as to how to get to the hotel. The directions were good, except they stopped about two blocks before our destination. After coming around twice we asked someone and they pointed out the hotel. The Hotel Bolsa was a great location, but the room was a little drab; all the other facilities and desk clerk were very good.

I had the name and phone number of the Rabbi at the almost 100 year old Kadoorie Synagogue in Porto; I phoned and asked if we could come Tuesday and get a tour of the Synagogue, but he was going to be out of town and told us to come over now as he was teaching a class later that evening. We cleaned up and called a taxi and went to the Synagogue. There is an iron fence around the premises and they have a guard dog at night. The caretaker, who let us in, told us that this was necessary because vandals would write graffiti on the building. This graffiti writing on buildings seems to be prevalent in Lisbon and Porto, it is not a sign of anti-Semitism; as a matter of fact, we were told that Portugal has the least amount of anti-semitism of any country in Europe.

We were allowed to take pictures and wonder through the building. It has a beautiful interior. It was financed and built in 1927 by the Kadoorie family; the elder Kadoorie’s wife came from Porto. There is also a small museum in part of the building. The Rabbi is a young man from Italy. He has about 40 families in Porto who attend services; tonight he was having a class for several people in the process of converting. It has been estimated that at least about 10% of Portugal’s population of 10,000,000 people are descendants of Jews who were forced to convert. We then called a taxi and went back to our hotel.

We walked around the area and luckily came across a very nice restaurant. After dinner (about 10:p.m.) we did some window shopping and headed back to the hotel.

Tuesday morning we boarded a double-decker tour bus which was to go through the historic areas and along the river. We had English language earphones and had the privilege of getting off and on where we wanted. The tour wasn’t anything special, so when it crossed the river where the wineries were located we decided to get off. We stopped at several places looking for Kosher wine but found none. We went into the Croft Winery which had been in business since 1737 to look around and a young lady told us that she was starting a tour in English and we could join. We had an explanation of the types of grapes and where they are grown and harvested for wine making. She took us through their wine storage areas and into the area where they store their old, old, wine. We ended up in their display room and each of us, about 8 couples, were given samples of white and red wine to taste. Before we left we bought 2 little 3 packs of their wine to bring back with us.

In addition to the wineries there were gift shops and outdoor restaurants on both sides of the river. We walked around and then crossed the river at a nearby bridge and found an outdoor restaurant we liked and had a cheese sandwich for lunch. We took pictures of the sights and headed back to the hotel because it was getting late in the afternoon and we wanted to rest after being out all day.

That evening we went back down to the river front, about 5 blocks from our hotel.
There were a lot of people there walking and sitting at the outdoor restaurants eating dinner. We found a nice restaurant and instead of sitting outside we went in and they seated us upstairs at a large window facing the river; it was nice. We had a good dinner and then walked around a little more and called it a night.

Wednesday morning May 16 we left Porto and headed south toward the university city of Coimbra. At one time Coimbra was the Capital of Portugal until replaced by Lisbon. The University founded in 1290 is the oldest in Portugal. At the tourist information office we got a map of the area and instead of sticking with the old lower city with all its small stores and cafes and ancient streets which we enjoy we took a bus to the upper city where the University is located. We looked around there awhile and decided to work our way back down.

Walking down a sloping sidewalk Toots slipped and seemingly sprained her ankle. We got an elastic bandage from a nearby pharmacy wrapped it and ‘gingerly’ continued on our trek down to the lower area not learning she had broken her ankle until we got back to Houston and had it x-rayed. We found a little shop that sold some plates hand painted in Portugal so we bought several to bring back as gifts. On the main road down we did a little window shopping and took pictures of the area. We stopped for lunch at an outdoor café and then walked to our car.

The hotel we were staying at, the Posauda Santa Christina was a few miles south of Coimbra near an ancient Roman town that had been excavated, named Conimbriga. Conimbriga is by far the most important Roman site in Portugal.
When we arrived at the Posauda we got a bucket of ice and made an ice pack to put around the ankle to keep down the swelling. We were going to watch TV but found they had no English channels except CNN sports. I went to the desk to see about using the internet to check emails but they had no computer I could use, so went back to the room. We were to stay here two nights, but decided being that they did not have the facilities we wanted we would only stay one night. Looking in our travel guide we found a nice hotel in the next town we were going to visit, Tomar, so we made reservations there for Thursday night.

Toots took a couple of Advil and after awhile was able to walk better. We walked around the grounds of the Pousada, which was a converted monastery. The room we had was ‘Friar Gabriel’. We went to dinner and walked a little more and
Finally watched an English language movie with Portugese sub titles for awhile.

We checked out of the Pousada after breakfast and headed to Conimbriga site. It took about an hour to go through the area and see what has been excavated. There were public hot baths, rooms with mosaic floors, the forum and temple, pools, an aqueduct with stores nearby and a complete house which is covered to protect some of the flooring. There is also a museum on the grounds housing some exceptional finds from the excavations. We walked slowly and carefully but Toots did good with the help of the Advil. The excavation was very impressive. We had an English language map and guide and the various sites were well marked.

About noon we continued on to Tomar about 30 miles away, but we accidentally missed our turnoff and had to come back around. In Tomar we checked into the Hotel dos Templarios. Located in the center of town, it is a large modern hotel overlooking the river. It was nice!!!!!!

Our purpose for coming to Tomar was to visit an ancient XV century Jewish synagogue & mikveh, one of two in Portugal; the other being the one in Castelo da Vide which is being refurbished. Now, the synagogue building houses the Abraham Zacuto Portuguese Jewish Museum. Abraham Zacuto was a mathematician who devised the mathematical tables used by Portuguese navigators during the early 16th century.

The synagogue is a square room, each wall being about 24 feet; and the ceiling is held up by four pillars which symbolize the four matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Across the ceiling and resting on the pillars are 12 pointed arches thought to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

The four upper corners of the room contain clay jars in the walls upside down, a method used during the Middle Ages to improve the acoustics. Around the perimeter of the room are various archeological findings attesting to the Jewish presence in Portugal during the Middle Ages; such as a partial tomb stone, a stone dated 1307 from the former main synagogue of Lisbon, and a 13th century inscription from Belmonte, in addition to old stone carvings of the original building.

There are several Torahs in a cupboard and a bimah in the middle of the room with chairs facing it. These are modern additons as services on a regular basis are not held here.

A French tour group had arrived just before us, so the lady in the Synagogue was giving them a talk on the history of the Synagogue and the Jewish community that had been, there are now 2 Jewish families still living in Tomar. After they left she answered our questions in English. There was a young French couple with a baby who remained so we all took pictures of everything.

We had taken a taxi because of Toot’s ankle, so walked several doors down to a little café to get a drink and ask if he would call a taxi for us to return to the hotel.
He did not have a taxi phone number so he called upstairs across the narrow street and an elderly couple came out on their porch and he asked them to call a taxi. I saw that the lady was wearing a Star of David. They came down to the street and asked if we were Jewish; and told us they had lived in Tomar for 34 years and he was the guide at the Synagogue, but today was his day off. It was interesting meeting them.

The taxi took us back to the hotel. Being that we were not too mobile we decided to sit in the fancy lobby and watch all the people for awhile before going back up to our room. We took some pictures from our balcony of the city and river scenery.

We had been having dinner anywhere from 8-9 at night, but when we came down about 7:30 we saw a number of people in the dining area, so we decided to eat. The food was very good and well presented. We enjoyed the meal and the large apple shtrudel with ice cream which we shared.

All in all it turned out to be a nice day, and we were glad we came to this hotel instead of spending a second night in the Pousada.

Friday morning we reluctantly checked out of our hotel and headed back toward Lisbon. We had located a hotel near the Synagogue in Lisbon because we planned on going to services that evening. We checked into our hotel The Fenix about noon. We had a little lunch and decided to walk around to the Synagogue. When we got near we asked someone as to where the address was located because we did not want to walk too much. He pointed out an iron gate and said it was behind it. It seems that when the Shaare Tikvah Synagogue was built in the early 1900’s the government allowed only Catholic places of worship to face the street, so the Synagogue is at an angle and set back a few feet.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at an internet café and I checked our emails; we then walked back to the hotel. On Saturday we wanted to go west from Lisbon along the River and the Atlantic Ocean along the beachs and through some areas that are real touristic. The doorman at the hotel got some maps for us and pointed out several areas to visit.

Back in our room we contacted Continental Airlines and learned that our upgrade to business/first class had been approved between Lisbon and Newark, so we were happy about that; it puts you in a different world on the plane.

Just before 8P.M. we got a taxi to go to the Synagogue. Even though it was just a few blocks away we decided it better that Toots not walk. There were about 25 men and 10 women (sitting upstairs). The services were in the Sephardic method where the reader reads out loud and the congregation joins in. The reader had a nice voice and could be followed in the Siddur. After going to so many places the past two weeks and seeing what ‘had been’ it was inspiring to be in an active, vibrant Synagogue. It was a good way to finish the trip. A man who seemed to be a leader of the congregation asked if we had a place to dine and we told him yes, not wanting to impose or go into the ‘unknown’.

Saturday morning after breakfast, armed with our map and information we headed west for the coast and beaches. We drove along the beach area and decided to stop at Estoril to walk along the sand and take some pictures. There were a lot people in the area. We then continued along and after stopping at several places for viewing and picture taking we went to the site that is the most westernly point in Europe. It was very cold and windy; the temperature was about 50 but the wind made it feel like 35-40. The town of Sintra is inland and to reach it we drove through the Sintra-Cascais National Park, a very picturesque and rugged area. After reaching Sintra we took a southerly road that took us back down to the water.

We stopped at a place along the beach and decided to have lunch. We ate and watched the people sunbathe and going into the Ocean. When a big wave would come in they would dive into it; and several had surf boards to ride back in on the waves. There were whole families on the beach taking in the Sun.

We had left out about 8:30 in the morning and did not get back to the hotel until after 5 P.M. We had a full day.

Later, we cleaned up and went to a restaurant recommended by the hotel, but when we got there it did not appeal to us, so we left and headed toward the area where we had been told there were other restaurants. We found an Italian restaurant which was very nice and a good place to spend our last evening in Portugal.

Sunday morning we got up about 6 A. M. and checked out of the hotel and headed to the airport. Our flight took off about 10:15 to Newark, N.J where we would connect to Houston and home. Being in first class made all the difference and was like adding cream to strawberries.

Several years ago when we were in Spain the only remains of the ancient Jewish existence we found were in Toledo other than some on the East coast of Spain. We found in Portugal every town we went to (and many we didn’t get to go to) have their Jewish areas marked and in many cases some indication of Jewish artifacts. We were told though by people we met that the government is reluctant to vigorously uncover and mark areas for various reasons, one is that they may not want to admit their violent past. Hopefully action will be taken to locate and mark the many sites from the ancient Jewish community.

We enjoyed the trip and are happy to be home, broken ankle and all.


For Immediate Announcement

First Woman Rabbi in Italy conducts first Jewish Wedding

and Bar Mitzvah in Calabria

the deep south of Italy since Inquisition Times

It’s a time of firsts for the Jews of Calabria, the region of Italy in the deep south or the “foot of the boot.”

In 2004 Rabbi Barbara Aiello, whose Jewish ancestors were once crypto or secret Italian Jews, became the first woman and first Progressive rabbi in Italy.

In 2007, with the help of a grant from a US philanthropy, The Vuolo-Bernstein Family Foundation, Rabbi Aiello established the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC) along with the first operational synagogue since Inquisiton times.

On May 5, 2007 Synagogue Ner Tamid del Sud (The Eternal Light of the South) hosted the first Jewish wedding to take place in Calabria since the long arm of Torquemada reached into Sicily and Calabria, forcing Jews to convert or be killed. The wedding was held at Nicastro the old fortification from the first century that overlooks the “Timpone” the Jewish Quarter that dates from the 9th century and is still intact. In this beautiful setting Andrew Ewart and Lupe Torres were married under the chuppah. They exchanged wedding vows using the ancient Italian Jewish practice of wrapping the couple in the tallit, symbolizing God’s loving embrace.

On June 15, 2007 the Waldman family will travel from New York City to Calabria to celebrate their son, Tyler’s becoming a Bar Mitzvah. The ceremony will be the first one held at the synagogue and will include Progressive Jewish families from as far away as Turin and Naples.

Local Calabrian historian Professor Vincenzo Villella has been instrumental in documenting the Jewish presence in Calabria since ancient times. Prior to the Jews’ expulsion from Spain and subsequent forced conversions during the Inquisition, the Jewish population of Calabria was nearly 50 percent of the total.

Now, with the advent of the IjCCC, synagoga Ner Tamid and a rabbi living and working in Calabria, the Jews of Calabria have the opportunity to reconnect with their roots and traditions that characterize them as the oldest Jews in the Diaspora. For more information

Rabbi Barbara Aiello rabbi@rabbibarbara.com

Via Scaramuzzino 36

88046 Lamezia Terme (CZ) Italy

Telephone: from the US: (home) 011.39.0968.44 86 14

Cell: 011.39.333.535.0647