Amsterdam’s Portuguese Esnoga (Synagogue) was inaugurated on Shabbat Nahamu, August, 1675. I was graciously invited to speak at the Esnoga over Shabbat to help celebrate the anniversary. The invitation was extended to me by their new Hazzan, Rabbi Natan Peres, a friend of mine from our times in New York, then London, and now Amsterdam. He showed me the ‘trap door’ which is used to pour out the Birkat Kohanim water into the canal below!
Throughout Shabbat I spoke about the historic relationship between London’s Bevis Marks and the Esnoga. I also discussed the similar opportunities and challenges that both of our historic Portuguese communities face. And I of course invited everyone to visit London to enjoy a shabbat at Bevis. Their friendly Shamash, David Nunes Nabarro, showed me the beautiful Torah pointer (yad) that they annually use on the anniversary Shabbat. It was a gift from Bevis Marks in 1875!
The streets surrounding the Esnoga were once home to a vibrant Portuguese Jewish community. That lasted up until the Holocaust when most of Amsterdam’s Jews were killed by the Nazis. There are still reminders of that earlier vibrant time. On some buildings you can still see the engraving of a pelican, the Portuguese community emblem. There are also modern day signs affixed to the exteriors of some of the buildings which highlight their earlier Jewish inhabitants.
It was a delight to see the work that the Amsterdam community is doing to reenergise the life of the Esnoga. I enjoyed getting to know the many members that attended the community Shabbat dinner and lunch. City communities like Bevis and the Esnoga might not currently be the centres of Jewish family life that they once were. I believe, however, that with the help of G-d and by utilising positive attitudes, they will prevail. Thus, while they continue to preserve their unique Portuguese traditions, they will also serve numerous other important roles in their respective Jewish communities. It was easy to see one aspect of that future potential in the over one hundred and fifty Jewish tourists that came for Shabbat day services! With energy like that the potential for growing a local Jewish community is palpable. I look forward to seeing that continued growth in my future visits to the Esnoga in the years to come. Long live the Esnoga and the worldwide Portuguese Jewish community!