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Jewish communuty recognized for more than 100 years

In Lisbon, anyone who goes up the Rua Alexandre Herculano towards Largo do Rato can barely notice that no. 59 runs the Lisbon Synagogue. When it was inaugurated in 1904, the Jewish religion was allowed in Portugal, but not officially recognized. Therefore, the facade of the Synagogue was turned away from the street to allow the practice of Judaism to be done discreetly, far from the reproachful looks.

Everything changed in 1912 when a Civil Government charter dated 9 May approved the Statutes of the Jewish Community of Lisbon (CIL) – thus baptized and not Jewish Community of Lisbon, because, at the time, the word “Jew” had a connotation pejorative

This historic date is set for Thursday at a ceremony that will take place at the synagogue at 7:00 pm, with the presence of the Secretary of State for Culture, Francisco José Viegas, and the Mayor of Lisbon, António Costa.

“The recognition of CIL was very important,” explains Espresso Mucznik, vice president of the organization. “It was possible for Portuguese citizens to choose a religion other than Catholicism. It was a step forward in religious freedom and also in the possibility of social integration of the Jews.”

“Until then, non-Catholic cults were assimilated to foreign cults,” continues Esther. “It was a ‘Jewish colony’ as it was spoken in the ‘English colony’ or ‘German colony’, and even today the oldest people in the community speak of ‘Jewish colony’ but with legal recognition, there will be Portuguese citizens of Jewish confession. ”

In addition to the Jewish Synagogue and Cemeteries, CIL has a whole range of services to support Judaism, such as the Kosher food service, for example, and activities to promote Jewish religion and culture as well as the Hebrew language, open to non-Jews.

Esther Mucznik has no doubt that World War II was the most difficult period of CIL’s 100 years of life. “The community was not disturbed in the sense that Portugal was not invaded by Hitler and the Jews did not suffer this occupation, but many Jews who came here and who were here had their relatives in Poland, Germany, Austria, etc. “he says.

“It was perhaps the most difficult time in which the community played a very important role, and it was an interlocutor among the international Jewish organizations that financed refugee aid, and it was the Community that provided this help, and at the same time it was also the interlocutor It was a very rich but also very painful time – albeit not comparable to the communities that were occupied and decimated, of course. ”

For the leader of the CIL, there were two particularly remarkable visits to the Synagogue. In 1993 Mário Soares became the first President of the Republic to visit the temple when he paid tribute to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux who, in 1940, defying the orders of the Government of Lisbon, granted thousands of visas to refugees who wanted to flee occupied France.

Another memorable visit would take place the following year featuring Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize this year and to be assassinated in Tel Aviv on 4 November 1995 by an extremist Jewish was opposed to the Oslo Peace Accords (1993).

Today, Esther Mucznik considers that the Jewish community is not the target of anti-Semitism. “It is evident that in Portuguese society there are still many prejudices and stereotypes, and this is because there is a great ignorance of what it is to be a Jew. Sometimes we feel it in an involuntary and unconscious way – but not necessarily because people feel hatred to the Jews. ”