From the President October 31, 2019

Sinagoga Hehaver Ohel Jacob is on the third floor (no elevator) of an unmarked apartment building on a nondescript street in Lisbon.

It is a Sephardic shul founded by Ashkenazi Jews who left Poland in 1932, seeing what was coming. The traditions merged as the refugees prayed with the existing Portuguese Jewish community.

The synagogue itself is an apartment, with an ark and benches in the living room. In the Sephardic tradition the bima is in the center of the room, the ark on the eastern wall.

The prayers are basically the same. Most are recited in Hebrew. Ohel Jacob is a reform congregation but the Ma’ariv was more like an orthodox service, with many of the prayers kind of mumbled quickly – but men and women sat together. The melodies were all different except shema, v’shamru and kiddush. The gender inclusivity in ouralenu was not there (the same as my childhood). The drash was in Portuguese but Bereshit is Bereshit.

The oneg was a sit down light meal around a large table with china and silverware. Kiddush was made over very good local wine in wine glasses. A potato kugel baked in a pie tin is called a tortilla (I have no idea how to spell it in Portuguese).

There are 25 families in Hehaver Ohel Jacob yet they have 8 Torahs from the various waves of immigrants, including one that is 500 years old from the Mizrachi Jews of Iraq. There is no rabbi. Because the Jewish community in Portugal is quite small, the Siddurim are published in Brazil.

The congregation was warm and welcoming – most spoke English and they translated for us and the four Brits who were also there.

We were told that anti-Semitism does not exist in Portugal. They have heard of the problems we face in the US.

It is truly heartwarming to be welcome as part of a worldwide community so far from home.

We are what we do.


Neil Zarchin