European Jewish Congress
New Lisbon museum tells story of Portuguese Jews
Portugal
New Lisbon museum tells story of Portuguese Jews

In the ancient Alfama quarter of Lisbon, where steep and narrow cobblestone lanes open to a tilted plaza, a new museum will soon break ground featuring the history and heritage of Portuguese Jews.

The Jewish Museum of Lisbon will be a showcase of Portuguese Jewish life, both of the nation and the Diaspora, said Esther Mucznik, a historian who is the director of the museum. The Alfama site is where a large population of Jews lived before the Inquisition in Portugal.

Explaining the thematic presentation of the museum, Mucznik said the first will be the La Convivencia, from the 8th to 12th Centuries when, under Moorish rule, Jews, Christians and Moslems lived in harmony. About 20 percent of the population at that time is estimated to have been Jewish, with notable contributions to the civilization.

The second theme, following the Inquisition of 1536 will centre on the dispersed Portuguese Jewish communities, in Europe, North Africa and the New World. The last section will be about “the Return”. After 500 years of hiding and banishment, Jews have come back to Portugal.

“Much of what people think about Portuguese and Spanish Jews focuses on the Inquisition,” said Mucznik, whose Eastern European grandfather came to Lisbon in 1913 when he was invited to become the chazan (cantor) of the small community. “What is less known is the contribution that Jews made, before and after the time,” Mucznik said, which is one of the main purposes of the new museum.

With a donation of land from the municipality in Plaza San Miguel, and the generosity of the Paris-based Drahi Foundation, the museum will be an important educational centre for locals and visitors interested in Portuguese Jewish heritage.  It is the latest and most comprehensive of Jewish heritage sites in Portugal, the result of growing interest by Portuguese in their own Jewish history.

Today the community is a mix of Sephardim and Ashkenazi. Lisbon is the main hub of Portugal’s 4000 Jews, with smaller communities in Porto and the once-hidden Jews in Belmonte.

Click here to read the full article in Jewish Week

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
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