Portugal's Oldest Standing Synagogue Rededicated in São Miguel Island

The shul is supposed to serve an Orthodox congregation, though the island currently has but one Jewish resident.

Sahar Hassamain Synagogue
Sahar Hassamain Synagogue Wikimedia Commons / Carlos Luis M C da Cruz

Dozens of Portuguese Jews were set to convene on an island in the Atlantic Ocean for the rededication of the country’s oldest intact synagogue.

Thursday’s rededication ceremony at the Sahar Hassamain synagogue on Sao Miguel, located 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) west of Lisbon, follows renovations that began last year. The repairs cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Jose Oulman Carp, president of the Jewish Community of Lisbon.

“The renovation has been completed in a very thorough and professional manner with a lot of help from the United States, from descendants of the big community of Jews from the Azores archipelago there,” said Oulman, who traveled on Wednesday to attend the inauguration in Sao Miguel with other dignitaries from his community of 800.

Among the representatives of the American contingent at the inauguration in Ponta Delgada, the island’s capital, was Gideon Gradman, president of the Azorean-Jewish Heritage Foundation, which has several members from Massachusetts. Michael Rodrigues, a Massachusetts state senator, was scheduled to attend.

Sahar Hassamain, which was founded in the early 19th century, is Portugal’s oldest standing synagogue, according to the Jewish Heritage Europe website.

The building– a small space with a residential design and two patios — was restored to function as an Orthodox synagogue. But Sao Miguel has only one Jew living there, George Delmar, and part of the building’s space will function as a museum and library of Jewish scripture, Oulman Carp said.

“It will encourage Jewish tourism to the Azores and facilitate matters for Jews who want to observe Shabbat,” he added.

Delmar kept the key to the synagogue, which he gave to the municipality when it began repairing the building.

Lisbon’s Jewish community, which owns the property, has leased it to the municipality for 99 years.

Interest in restoring the synagogue peaked after the publication in 2009 of a book about it by historian Jose de Almeida Mello. The author also proposed a renovation scheme for the synagogue, which last served as a place of worship 50 years ago and had fallen into severe disrepair.