A New Film Tells the Story of a Jewish Revival in Portugal

Jan. 21 2019

Unlike in Spain, where the secret practice of Judaism by converts to Catholicism and their descendants was thoroughly repressed by the Inquisition, some Portuguese crypto-Jews succeeded in preserving religious rituals for centuries. Artur Carlos de Barros Basto (1887-1961), a captain in the Portuguese army, did not grow up with any such rituals, but learned of his Jewish ancestry in a death-bed confession by his grandfather. Thereafter, Barros Basto formally converted to Judaism and worked to establish Jewish communal institutions. A new film, Sefarad, dramatizes his story. Rich Tenorio writes:

Sefarad tells the sweeping story of Jews in Portugal across 500 years—from the Middle Ages to the Inquisition to the modern era. The script was written by the Center for Historical Research of the Jewish community of Oporto (Porto), a large northern port city that witnessed pivotal moments in Portuguese Jewish history in the 20th century.  . . .

Portrayed by actor Rodrigo Santos, Barros Basto worked to establish a Jewish community in Porto—including the construction of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula, in 1938. Barros Basto also made outreach efforts to fellow crypto-Jews in northern Portugal, but they resisted his [attempt to convince them] to join an organized community. Adding insult to injury, he was expelled from the army after a tribunal convicted him of conduct unbecoming an officer. . . .

“When he created the community there were only seventeen Jews in the city, all of them Ashkenazi,” [explains] the Israel-based journalist, translator, and researcher Inacio Steinhardt. “They opened the first prayer quorum in a rented flat and were surprised when a few crypto-Jews from the villages, living in the city, came to this place and introduced themselves. Those crypto-Jews were no less surprised to learn that they were not the sole remnant of Jews in the world.”

During World War II, Barros Basto worked tirelessly to bring Jewish refugees to Portugal.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Film, History & Ideas, Inquisition, Marranos, Portugal, Sephardim

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat