WHO WE ARE
m lopes azevedo (from www.lusitania.ca, Nov. 2006)
(ver versão portuguesa a seguir)
Jorge Martins, upon completion of “Portugal e os Judeus” (Nova Vega, 2006-3 Volumes), concludes, that on balance, Portugal will never recover its Jewish soul, “ Na verdade, perdemos a nossa plena identidade a partir do incio do seculo XVI e nunca mais a recuperamos ate hoje (The truth is that we lost our full identity from the beginning of the XVI century and have never recovered it to this day).” In other words, he says, despite the very public presence of Judaism in being Portuguese, we are still not able to assume in the twenty first century, the Jewish dimension of our identity.
It is true that Portugal is considered a Catholic country and its citizens Catholic. It is true that its Jewish history is largely unknown, even amongst the so-called educated classes. It is true that the Inquisition almost succeeded in wiping off the face of the earth every last vestige of Jewish heritage. To this day there is no public acknowledgement, not a plaque or a sign in downtown Lisbon where 4,000 New Christians were butchered in April of 1506. Nor where new Christians or Marranos were left to rot, sometimes up to 10 years or more in the Inquisition cages under the Rossio square in the heart of charming Lisbon, nor in the very public squares in Lisbon, Coimbra or Evora where patriotic Portuguese were beheaded or burned alive. In Evora, the very symbol of the Inquisition remains untouched on the side of an institutional building with no sign of the nefarious business that when on there. No one has ever been charged. No reparations have ever been paid.
Yet, the memory has not been extinguished. Jorge Martins seminal work is itself a monument to Portugal’s Jewish identity. And that Jewishness continues in the people; the Inquisition and the Catholic Church did not succeed. In a recent survey conducted by the European Union, Portugal was found to be the least anti-Semitic country in Europe. The former mullah and rabbi in Lisbon were friends and visited each other’s temples. A child who acts up whom we might call a “smarty-pants’ is called a ‘Rabbi’ in Portuguese. In Tras Montes province, a woman who spends time with her friends in discussion is said to be doing the “Sinagoga”. There are plenty of place names too, like Sinagoga in the Algarve, or Vale dos Judeus, or street names, like Beco da Judiaria in Sintra, Patio dos Judeus in Coimbra, Monte dos Judeus in Porto, or Rua da Judiaria in Lisbon etc. There is still a 15th century building in Tomar that was once a synagogue an now houses the Luso-Hebreo Museum (most synagogues were converted to churches-especially Misericordia churches). And there are active synagogues today in Lisbon, Porto and Belmonte.
What Jorge Martins states and what the generous reviewers of his work have commented on, is the great invisibility of Portuguese Jewishness. However, given 300 years of the Inquisition and 40 years of totalitarian government, it is understandable that it may take a while to recover that essentiality of Portuguese identity. But it is still there and it will be recovered.
WHO WE ARE