During my recent swing through Europe, and my visits to the Spanish and Portuguese congregations of Amsterdam and London, I also visited the Portuguese synagogue of Paris, Temple Buffalt. I say ‘also,’ because in some respects this Portuguese congregation is of a different nature than the others.
Generally speaking, in the 17th century, the Portuguese Conversos coalesced in Amsterdam, returned to Judaism, and from there spread throughout the Atlantic basin. However, some Conversos formed communities in southern France. As France was also a Catholic country (as apposed to the Netherlands which became Protestant), the Conversos there were still not free to openly return to Judaism. However, as there was no major Inquisition in France, these Conversos were not prevented from forming discrete Jewish communities.
Following the era of Napoleon, some of these Portuguese made their way to Paris where they formed this congregation and ultimately constructed this synagogue building. While the various Portuguese communities communicated and traded with each other, their different paths meant that their traditions and melodies have also evolved somewhat separately from each other. Still, with the limited number of Portuguese communities today, I think it is fair and prudent to include Temple Buffault and similar congregations in southern France as part of the wider Spanish and Portuguese community. As the rabbi in Paris told me, the French S&P communities are made up of the three B’s – Buffault, Bayonne and Bordeaux!
I visited the congregation for minha and arbit one evening and had the pleasure of meeting afterwards with several leaders of the congregation. Rabbi Didier Weil invited me into his office to meet with Elie Balmain, the president of the community, as well as with the former Hazzan, and with the current Hazzan, Phillipe Darmon. We shared with each other about the state of our respective communities, discussed rising Antisemitism in France, and explored ways for us to work together moving forward. There was a beautiful sense of camaraderie.
I’m glad that I had the opportunity to visit Temple Buffault, to expand my Portuguese horizons, and to form new connections. They invited me to come back for a future Shabbat, which I look forward to doing!