Portugal wants to encourage more Jews to emigrate to the country and to encourage Jewish investment, its secretary of state for tourism said in the US on Tuesday.
“We want a Jewish presence in Portugal,” said Ana Mendes Godinho, “and we look to Jewish investment.”
On her visit to the US, Mendes Godinho spoke with dozens of Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Sephardi Federation and Anti Defamation League, and discussed the long historic connection of Jews to Portugal.
“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 AD — 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 percent of the Portuguese population was Jew, so we always say that every Portuguese may have a Jewish origin.”
In 1497, following the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, Portugal gave its Jews the choice of conversion or expulsion. The Portuguese inquisition did not officially end until 1821, by which time thousands of Jews had been killed, including 2,000 in a pogrom in Lisbon in 1506, and thousands more had been forced to leave the country.
Many Jews who converted remained crypto-Jews, and today some 20% of the population claims Jewish ancestry.
Mendes Godinho spoke of the impact Portuguese Jews had throughout the world after their expulsion.
“The Jewish communities have had crucial roles in the Portuguese history, namely Pedro Álvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil, and in the United States, 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.”
In 2013 Portugal passed a Law of Return for Sephardic Jews and their descendants to encourage Jews to return.
Last year, Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, told a group of Jewish leaders in New York, “Your history is our history.”