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.

Read more at Times of Israel

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


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy