The Hidden Synagogue of the Azores in the Footprints of Jewish History
BARRY DOV SCHWARTZ
"There are only four Jews left
here. Our synagogue is seldom
used. Twice a year, Rosh Hash-
anah and Yom Kippur, we enter
the sanctuary, sit in our desig-
nated seats, which once belonged
to our fathers, grandfathers and
great-grandfathers, and their great-
grandfathers before them, and
alone recite our prayers."
These were the words of two
aged sisters, both in their nineties,
garbed in black from head to toe,
in the rear of whose dilapidated
but sparkling clean flat, I found
the hidden synagogue of the
As a Jewish chaplain in the
U.S. Air Force assigned to West-
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Between Kentfield and Heyden
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over Air Force Base, Mass.
I had be en temporarily as-
signed to the Azores to conduct
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
services for the isolated American
Jewish military and civilian per-
sonnel stationed at the Lajes Air
Force Base. This U.S. Air Force
outpost is on Terceira, one of the
nine Azores islands, a 924-square
mile group in the Atlantic which
is owned by Portugal. An import-
ant station on the Atlantic air
routes, the Azores, 875 miles from
the coast of Portugal, have had
U.S. bases since World War II.
Jews had first reached the
Azores as refugees from the
Portuguese Inquisition in 1497
when the islands were a Dutch
possession. When the Portuguese
conquered the Azores, the In-
quisition followed. In the early
1500s many Portuguese Jews
were sent to the Azores as cap-
tives and slaves. Over the cen-
turies they established a tenuous
community, erected a synagogue
at Ponta Delgado on the island
of San Miguel, and opened ceme-
teries at Ponta Delgado, Horta
on the island of Fayal and at
Angra de Heroismo on Terceira.
On the outskirts of Angra there
is an ancient port still known as
Porto Judaeo, probably because
this is where the refugees of
1497 first landed.
By the early 1900s only a hand-
ful of practicing Jews remained,
together with an unknown number
of Marranos. On the eve of World
War II, visitors to the A z o r e s
counted 40 Jews on the islands;
30 in Ponta Delgado, four at Horta
and six at Angra. Most of the Jews
were in the export business and
the old Sephardic families of Pon
tugese ancestry had become
mixed with Jews from Morocco. In
1961 another Jewish Air Force
chaplain, Rabbi Paul S. Laderman,
now of Oakland, Calif., who came
to conduct Passover services at
Lajes Air Force Base, found only
two Jews on the island of Ter-
ceira, both in their 80s.
When I arrived in 1965, the last
of these Jewish natives of Ter-
' ceira, Solomon Levy, had been
dead for two years. The only Jews
living on Terceira were those serv-
ing with the U.S. Air Force. The
leader of the Jewish community
was a civilian, Robert Richman,
housing and billeting officer at
Lajes Air Force Base, who had
been there for a number of years,
with his wife and three children.
Except for Passover and the High
Holy Days, when a Jewish chaplain
or civilian rabbi was flown in from
the United States, Richman con-
ducted Friday evening services.
Between Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur, I was able to explore
the main islands of the Azores
thanks to the cooperation of Wing
Chaplain (Maj.) Travis Blaisdell.
At Ponta Delgada, I set out to in-
vestigate a report that in the poor-
er and oldest section of the city
there was a synagogue. No one
seemed to know about it nor had
anyone actually seen it. The U.S.
Consul in Ponta Delgada, Perry
Hallam, was eager to be of help,
but all inquiries proved fruitless.
A chance conversation with a
Portuguese laborer who had
once been the gardener of a Dr.
Freedman, a Jewish physician
who had since moved to Lisbon,
Portugal, proved to be the key
to the mystery. The laborer re-
membered Dr. Freedman as the
Happy Passover to All
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only doctor on the Azores who
would care for the poor at nom-
inal fees. Other physicians con-
fined their practice to the rich.
Hallam, it turned out, was living
in the mansion that had once be-
longed to Dr. Freedman.
It was this gardener who tol i
me about the Jewish communit v
that had once existed in Pont a
Delgada and about the four r ,-
maining Jews on the island. Consu l 1
Hallam generously offered me hi 3
chauffeur and interpreter and w ?
went in search of the four Jews .
We drove to a narrow, cobble _
stoned street, Rua do Brum, when ?
there were only shabby and ancient -
looking houses. At Number 16 w
halted and began to climb th
stairs of a rickety building.
On the way up we were met b ,7
two elderly ladies, dressed entirel ,,
in black, who met us with a smil ,
and welcomed us cordially. Thes ?.
were two of the surviving Jews ,
both in their 90s. At first the 7
doubted I was a rabbi owing t )
the absence of a beard.
When I asked them where th
HOLIDAY GOOD CHEER
The tombstones, all flat as was .I.
the old Sephardic custom, included 1
some dating to the 15th Century. i
The synagogue is also said to have i
been erected in the late 16th or !
early 17th Century. The most re i
cent grave was that of the father
of one of the Jews from another
island, Elias Sebag. who had ac- •
companied us on the tour. He asked
me to say a special prayer, and as
I recited the El Moleh Rachamim
for his father and others who were
buried in the cemetery, tears
rolled down his face. He was close
to 70, and had spent most of his
life in Portugal, far from a Jew-
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synagogue was and who its rabb i
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was, they explained softly that th !
last rabbi on the island was thei
late father, and that since hi ;
death years before, they had care
for the synagogue. They led m !
Specializing in Cantonese Food
to the rear of their apartment an I
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quietly opened a set of slidin ;
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Northland Center, Southfield
1 Block from New Center Bldg.
There before me was a splen-
did synagogue that dated from
the 16th Century. It was distinct-
Best Wishes for a
Greetings on Passover
ly Spanish in architecture. The
Torah Scrolls were obviously of
museum value, symbolically
wrapped around with wimples.
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The parchment was brown, in-
stead of the customary white,
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and each letter and every word
were works of art. The Yad,
Rimmonin and Keter had the
look of relics and of grandeur.
When I offered to buy some of
Best Wishes for a Happy Passover
these appurtenances, the women
to Our Friends and Patrons
quickly informed me that they and
Mr. and Mrs. Kalman Lustig of
the synagogue were their last links
with Jewish life. Their mere pre-
sence gave them a f e e ling of
warmth and inspiration with which
they did not wish to part. When
I offered to provide transportation
for the two ladies and the other
two Jews on the island to Lajes so
Best Wishes for a Happy Passover
they could join their American co-
to All Our Friends and Patrons
religionists for Yom Kippur serv-
ices, they politely declined. They
told me Yom Kippur was one of
the two days on which all four
Jews entered the sanctuary, took
Serving Restaurants, Hospitals and Institutions
their hereditary seats and prayed
in solitary grandeur. Before leav-
ing I gave the ladies a ease of
kosher wine, a supply of matzo
and some cans of gefilte fish, part
of the supplies furnished me by I
the Jewish_ Welfare Board commis-
sion on Jewish chaplaincy. The
gefilte fish puzzled them because
they had never seen any before.
As we left the building, the
ladies asked if I would like to see
WE 3-1850 I
the old Jewish cemetery.
It was hidden behind brick walls
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A Soccer Champ
Coach Gary Rosenthal of the
Long Island U. of N. Y. soccer
team is a mighty proud man. His
club ended the season with a 11-
1-1 record and won the Metro-
politan Soccer Conference title.
The Blackbirds are a team made
up almost exclusively of foreign
players. The lone exception is
Mickey Cohen. The star of the
L.I.U. team is Don Markus, a
sophomore center forward from
Israel. Markus has set all sorts
of scoring records including a sea-
son total of 33 goals for an aver-
age 2.54. The Israeli modestly
downgrades his scoring ability.
"People here in the United States
don't realize that scoring isn't
everything. Many others on the
team have better skills than I do.
But I shoot so I score."
The human brain is a wonder-
ful organ. It starts working the
day you are born and never stops
until you're called upon to make
a speech. — The New Glarus
Happy Holiday to All
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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Happy Passover To All
Friday, April 1, '1966-45