International Survey of Jewish Monuments
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AZORES & MADEIRA ISLANDS  (PORTUGAL):  A Guide to Jewish Sites

AZORES ISLANDS

The heritage of Jewish history, culture, and life on the Azores is grim and sad.  Among the Jewish communities of the world that have vanished, that of the Portuguese-owned Azores in the Atlantic Ocean was not well known even while it flourished.  Two of the islands, Terceira and Sao Miguel, each had a Jewish community for at least 200 years.  Members of these communities came from Portugal, Morocco and perhaps also Spain and Gibraltar.  They engaged mostly in commerce and shipping.
The first documented Jewish settlement began in 1818; by 1848 the numbers rose to 250; the most important of the communities was in Ponta Delgada.  But some contend that Jews came to the islands already in the late 15th century; "The Jewish presence in the Azores had two moments," said the director of the municipal department of culture and history on the island of Terceira, Francisco dos Reis Maduro Dias, quoted in the The Forward (January 9, 1998).  "The second, which began at the start of the 19th century and continued through the 20th century, is well documented. The first, which coincided with the discovery and the settlement of the Azores in the 15th and 16th centuries, is not documented at all. All we know is that Jews were here and, like those on the mainland, were pressured to convert."
During World War II, the Azores became a haven for some Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Poland who managed to flee Europe by way of the Iberian Peninsula.  After the war the Ashkenazi dispersed, while the native Sephardi population dwindled through emigration and death and intermarriage.  Salom Delmar, who took care of the synagogue and cemetery until he passed away in 1990, and now his son, Jorge Delmar, sustains the memory of the community as best he can.  "Thirty years ago, there were 16 Jewish families on this island," Delmar told Myrna Katz Frommer in 1998. "We were a community. We had services in the old synagogue and made all the festivities in my grandfather's house. But all the others have died or converted or moved away. I am the only one left."

 [Encyclopaedia Judaica, v.3, p.1013; Charlotte Weisbrot, “Time seems to stand still in Azores synagogue”.  Canadian Jewish News, 10/2/1986; Myrna Katz Frommer, Letter from the Azores, Forward, January 9, 1998; and Dias, Fatima, 1999 "The Jewish community in the Azores from 1820 to the present in From Iberia to Diaspora: Studies in Sephardic History and Culture, Ed. Yedida K.Stillman e Norman A. Stillman, Brill, Leiden, Boston, Koln.]
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For travel and more information:
Travel Information Department
Av. 5 de Outubro, 101
1000 Lisboa, Portugal
Tel.:  (01) 793-01-03
Fax:  (01) 352-57-79

Direccao Regional do Turismo
Casa do Relogio – Colonia Alema
9900 Horta (Faial)
Tel.:  (092) 23801/2/3
Fax:  (092) 22004
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Fayial (Island)
Cidade da Horta
Jewish Cemetery
Begun in 1852, at least 17 graves are reported to have existed with the names listed in Jose Maria Abecassis', Genealogia Hebraica (Lisbon 1991).

Flores (Island)
Jewish Cemetery

Sao Miguel (Island)
Ponta Delgada
Shaar Hashomaylum Synagogue
At one time there were five synagogues on Sao Miguel of Terceira and Fayal. Only one of the synagogues still remains: Shahak Hasamain, consecrated in 1893 in a 16th century building on a busy downtown street in Ponta Delgada.  Through the 1960's it held services; after that, two Jewish sisters who lived in the building maintained the premises. Since their death, it has fallen into disrepair.
Although the synagogue is more than 200 years old, the very plain-looking and run-down exterior belies a once proud and beautiful structure.  The interior walls are painted a Mediterranean blue that contrasts with the dark-stained wood of the benches and bima.  The Ark still contains many ceremonial objects.  While the sanctuary area is in reasonable shape, there are other areas in the building where the floor is unsafe, and the ceiling has gaping holes.  Framed on the wall is a chart of the synagogue’s founders with names like Bensaude, Buzaglo, Azulay, Zafrany and Abecasssiz.  Otherwise, the grounds suffer from lack of care and attention.  Prayer books, talesim and telfilim are quietly gathering dust and mold.
According to an article that appeared in The Forward in 1998, only Jorge Delmar stands between the Synagogue's existence and its extinction. “I pay the taxes and  the electricity and water. I keep the Torah, six silver candelabras and the other heirlooms in my home. Maybe one day the synagogue will be rebuilt and they can be put back in their rightful place," he says. "It seems impossible, but I have hope."’
While the synagogue sits closed, with very few people even acknowledging its existence, its restoration has become a goal of the local Jewish Federation.

Jewish Cemetery
 The cemetery is at the present time surrounded by factory buildings and shut out from sight by a wall.  The monuments are situated horizontally.  It suffers from neglect.  .
Crosses mark some of the graves, a well-known island practice, which purported to serve to keep anti-Jewish rhetoric muted.
In 1936 the cemetery is reported to have had 133 graves.  A list of 105 names in Jose Maria Abecassis', Genealogia Hebraica, (Lisbon 1991).

Terceira (Island)
Angra do Heroismo Jewish Cemetery
Named "Campo da Igualdade" (Field of Equality) Ponta Delgada, county of Santa Cruz,
 
 

Madeira Islands

There is currently little information on the Jewish life and history of the Madeira Islands.  The first Jews appear to have arrived in Funchal in 1844.  They were from Gibraltar.
________________________________________________________________________
For travel and more information:
Travel Information Department
Av. 5 de Outubro, 101
1000 Lisboa, Portugal
Tel.:  (01) 793-01-03
Fax:  (01) 352-57-79

Direccao Regional do Turismo
Avenida Arriaga, 18
9000 Funchal
Tel.:  (091) 229057/225658
Fax:  (091) 232151
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Funchal
Jewish Cemetery
A cemetery dates from 1851, and today is today totally abandoned.
 


International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
Box 210, 118 Julian Pl.
Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA

tel: (315) 474-2350
fax: (315) 474-2347

 
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Last updated: January 4, 2003