Portugal’s tourism chief seeks to inspire more Jews to move to the country

Mendes Godinho met with Jewish communities across the US, highlighting Portugal's Jewish history.

Portugal (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Portugal’s Secretary of State for Tourism Ana Mendes Godinho reached out to Jewish communities via a tour of the US this month, during which she called for “a Jewish presence in Portugal.”
“We want a Jewish presence in Portugal and we look to Jewish investment,” said Mendes Godinho, who returned to Portugal at the end of last week after a two-week visit.
Citing low unemployment and calling Portugal the “third most peaceful country in the world,” she stressed the importance of bringing Jews to visit and live in Portugal.
Mendes Godinho met with a variety of Jewish leaders and communities in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
These included representatives of the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Sephardi Federation and Anti-Defamation League.
During the events, Mendes Godinho talked about the long history and connection between Portugal and the Jewish people.
“As we have a vast Jewish heritage and a very ancient and profound connection to Jewish communities - we have evidence of Jewish presence in Portugal since 390 – we identified as a priority the promoting of the Jewish Legacy and of the Jewish routes in Portugal,” she said. “It is quite interesting to remember that in the 15th century, circa 20% of the Portuguese population was Jewish, so we always say that every Portuguese may have a Jewish origin.”
Mendes Godinho highlighted key contributions made by Jews to Portuguese history, naming Pedro Alvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil. In the United States, she noted that the oldest synagogue, Shearith Israel, located in New York, was founded by Portuguese Jews.
“This is why we have created a special law to grant Portuguese nationality to descendants of Sephardic Jews, and we have been experiencing a very high demand,” she added.
Accompanying Mendes Godinho was Gabriel Steinhardt, the Lisbon Jewish Community’s president, and Rabbi Natan Peres, Lisbon’s chief rabbi who is of Portuguese background.
Peres spoke about the importance of Portuguese Jewish history and the Diaspora.
“In regards to the core real Portuguese Jewish heritage I feel our story hasn’t been properly told in terms of the real impact we had in Jewish and world history, not only in Portugal but also in the Portuguese diaspora communities,” Peres said. “While they were established outside of Portugal, they maintained very close cultural ties with their former home, like the use of the Portuguese language to this day in communities like Amsterdam, London and New York for services, and the angle of what our Portuguese Jewish legacy has to contribute to current Judaism challenges.”
In 2013, Portugal became the second country, after Israel, to pass a Law of Return for Jews and their descendants.
The law grants Portuguese citizenship to Sephardic Jews of Portuguese ancestry who belong to a tradition of a Portuguese-descended Sephardic community, which they must prove through documents which attest to their connection to the country.
The authors described the legislation as an act of atonement for the expulsion of Portuguese Jewry in 1536 – during the Portuguese Inquisition.
According to officials, the legislation has boosted Jewish presence in cities such as Lisbon and Porto.
The legislation followed renovation of Portuguese Jewish neighborhoods and heritage sites. A new synagogue was established in 1996 in Belmonte for the longest standing Marrano community, and in 2008 a memorial was dedicated in Lisbon’s Rossio Square to commemorate the massacre of thousands of Jews there in 1506.