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Celebrating 75th Birthday of Sephardic Portugal Shul

Nearly 300 guests attended the 75th anniversary celebration of a Portuguese synagogue.

Last week’s event for the Kadoorie-Mekor Haim synagogue in Porto brought Jewish leaders from the U.S., Israel, the United Kingdom and Argentina to the northern Portuguese city. The synagogue services a community of 39 members, according to the Porto-based daily Jornal de Noticias.

Many members of the Porto’s Jewish community have converted to Judaism after having traced their lineages to Anousim, or conversos – Jews forced to convert or practice Judaism secretly during the Portuguese Inquisition of the 15th century.

The synagogue was built by Artur Barros Basto, an army captain who started an outreach program for the descendants of conversos. Basto paid for his actions with his career and his reputation.

“The fact that the synagogue still stands and serves the local Jewish community is a testament to his vision,” said Michael Freund of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that provides outreach programs to former Jews. Shavei Israel has a permanent emissary in Porto named Daniel Litvak, the community’s rabbi.

According to Freund, Portugal has thousands of descendants of conversos who should be encouraged by Israel and the Jewish world to return to the fold.

“I hope that one day we can fulfill Capt. Barros Bastos’ vision and fill the pews of the Porto synagogue with Bnei Anousim,” he said. “That, after all, is the legacy and the challenge that he bequeathed to us.”

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