London's Belmont Synagogue visits Belmonte Portugal
On most weekday mornings, the synagogue in Belmonte Portugal stands alert but empty. The small Bnei Anousim community in town just can’t take the time off from work to make up a minyan, Shavei Israel’semissary to Portugal, Rabbi Elisha Salas laments.
But last week, the morning shacharit services were overflowing as a group of 35 visitors from London swung through Belmonte on a trip through Jewish Portugal and “brought back the brachot,” as Rabbi Salas said.
“How nice it was to be among brothers, to hear the Torah read again in Portugal, and to feel the small reminisces of the Sabbath still in our souls, to sweeten our daily petitions,” Rabbi Salas added, his joy unmistakably running over so much like the group that had filled the pews.
Rabbi Salas’s arrival in Portugal to work with the Bnei Anousim community there, coupled with the 2013 decision by the Portuguese government to open the door to citizenship for descendants of Sephardic Jews, has generated a strong increase in Jewish tourism to Belmonte and other towns with Jewish history in Portugal.
When the groups pass through Belmonte, Rabbi Salas is there to greet them, happily explaining the Jewish history of the town, providing details on the modern Bnei Anousim renaissance, and speaking of his work organizing prayers and kosher food options for visitors and locals alike (for example at the newly kosher Har Sinai Hotel).
When Rabbi Salas met with the group from London, he discovered a surprising connection: they were from a synagogue called Belmont. Is there a connection more than just linguistic similarity? Was the Belmont Synagogue in London established by former Portuguese Jews who fled from the Inquisition some 500 years ago?
Neither Rabbi Salas or London’s Rabbi Elchonon Feldman could say for sure. If it was simply a coincidence, it was certainly a happy one.
Here are a few pictures: