Our Jewish travels along the Douro eventually returned to Porto, where we began our expedition. As we have said before, Porto is a place brimming with Jewish heritage, a Sephardic legacy that persisted in the face of tribulation and forced conversion. The port city is a wonderful place of tall buildings and corridor-like streets, where each turn of the corner feels like a step further into the past.
Of Sycamores and Aron Kodesh
As shown in Dr. Henry Abramson’s video, there is a major square in Porto full of sycamores. These trees are beautiful, but the ones in the square are sickly. The square is the site of Porto’s only 2 auto-da-fes (Inquisitorial punishments/executions) against Jews, and the sickliness of the sycamores seems to reflect the stain of such an act in an otherwise peaceable locale. Despite the forced conversions, many historic Porto Jews continued to practice their faith in secret, as evident by the Aron Kodesh alcove in a former house of prayer turned retirement home. We couldn’t visit the location on our current expedition, but photos of our previous visit can still be seen online.
The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue
Near the end of our Porto tour, we visited the wonderful Kadoorie Synagogue, the largest synagogue in all of Iberia. Founded in the 1920’s and funded by the Kadoorie family, along with several other generous Jewish patrons of that time, the Synagogue was a place where Crypto-Jews could congregate and reconnect with their heritage. Nowadays, it supports a diverse community and has been greatly improved and renovated since its inception, almost a hundred years ago. Jewish heritage tours through Porto are enriched by a visit to the Kadoorie Synagogue.