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Michael Rodrigues Takes up Cause of Restoring Azorean Jewish Heritage

Claudia Baldwin

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PICTURES OF THE old synagogue show a decrepit building with peeling paint, broken furniture, and rotting wood. Prayer books were ripped. There were water leaks, vermin, and structural damage. It looked like what it was – a house of worship abandoned for more than 40 years, built to serve a community that no longer existed. 

Today, the restored synagogue in Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Portuguese Azores, welcomes local schoolchildren who come to learn about the islands’ Jewish history as well as a stream of visitors making stopovers on cruise ships.  

The synagogue’s revitalization and ongoing efforts to preserve the Jewish history of the Azores is a story of determined persistence that includes an unlikely player who lives some 2,400 miles away: a Catholic politician from Massachusetts. State Sen. Michael Rodrigues has for the past decade been a champion of projects aimed at restoring Jewish historic sites in the Azores, a string of islands in the North Atlantic that form an autonomous region of Portugal. Rodrigues, whose family has Portuguese roots, says fundraising for and working on the restoration has become a passion and a hobby for him.   

“When I walked into this temple and saw a place of worship in total disrepair, in destruction, it just broke my heart. I knew I had to try to help restore it,” said Rodrigues, a Democrat from Westport who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  

Torah scrolls in the restored Sahar Hassamain synagogue in the Azores, including one donated by a Fall River congregation. (Photo by Michael Rodrigues)

The Sahar Hassamain Synagogue, whose name means Gates of Heaven in Hebrew, was established in 1836 on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores to serve a Jewish community that had experienced centuries of ups and downs in Portugal.  

Portugal was a haven for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 – until the Portuguese king issued an expulsion act four years later, and Jews were forced to leave or convert. Many Jews fled to the Azores, but the inquisition spread and some Jews there were jailed or killed.  

In 1818, a number of Jewish families relocated from Morocco to the Azores, and became active in Azorean business, commerce, and trade. It is those Jews who established Sahar Hassamain. Yet a decline in the orange trade in the late 1800s led to the exodus of many Jews involved in the industry, according to a history compiled by the Azorean Jewish Heritage Foundation. Large numbers of Jews also converted over the years due to fear of persecution, particularly during World War II, or because of pressure to convert to participate in business. Over time, the community died out. 

A piece of artwork found in a restored synagogue at Ponta Delgada. (Courtesy of Michael Rodrigues)

The Sahar Hassamain Synagogue was effectively abandoned in the 1950s, although a group of Jewish soldiers from a US military base held one last service there on Yom Kippur in 1966, according to historian Jose de Almeida Mello.  

In the 1980s, a group based in Fall River, which has a large Portuguese community, tried to restore the synagogue, but failed. Paula Raposa, a Somerset resident who was born in the Azores, said she got involved in early attempts to restore the building after visiting it as part of a business delegation when she was chairman of the board of the Fall River Chamber of Commerce. Raposa said the group tried fundraising but was unable to get anyone in the Azores to champion the project. “It was very difficult. No one knew who owned the synagogue, then they changed mayors,” Raposa said of the situation in the Azores capital 

Another revitalization effort started in the early 2000s, and in 2009, the city of Ponta Delgada got a 99-year lease on the building. In 2010, Rodrigues, whose Fall River area district has a large Azorean population, heard about the synagogue while on a trip to the Azores and visited for the first time. He returned months later with two Jewish friends. One of them, Gideon Gradman, then a Boston resident working in renewable energy, said he requested to see the synagogue while on a business trip organized by Rodrigues because of his interest in Jewish history. 

“We went to visit the synagogue, and we all left in tears to see the condition it was in,” Rodrigues said. 

The group formed the Azorean Jewish Heritage Foundation, a small nonprofit now led by Gradman that supports historic preservation of Azorean Jewish sites and artifacts.  

Raposa said the city lease and the ability to get a sizeable grant from the European Union made the difference in getting the synagogue restoration project off the ground this time. Those involved say Rodrigues’ political connections, clout, and ability to fundraise also had an impact.    

Dr. Jose DaAlmeida Mello, city of Ponta Delgada cultural attache and leader of the Shahar Hassamain restoration project in the synagogue’s new library. (Courtesy Sen. Michael Rodrigues)

Rodrigues said the government grant paid to renovate the building’s structure, but private fundraising was necessary to rebuild the religious components and furnishings – buying prayerbooks and Torah scroll covers, restoring the sanctuary and woodwork, and fixing furniture, rugs, and chandeliers. The foundation bought religious books and books about Jewish history to fill the synagogue library. They identified candelabras in an antique store that had been stolen from the synagogue and bought them back, Rodrigues said. 

Because he was a senator, he was able to bring some of the people that served with him in the Senate and House, people of Jewish descent, to come to visit the Azores or make a financial contribution,” Raposa said. Gradman said Rodrigues made connections between Americans and Azoreans, and between Jewish and non-Jewish supporters. Then-state treasurer Steven Grossman’s family foundation donated new prayerbooks. Senate presidents Stan Rosenberg and Karen Spilka have both visited the synagogue with Rodrigues, as have Sen. Marc Pacheco, Rep. Antonio Cabral, and Sen. Cynthia Creem.   

In 2015, the synagogue was reopened as a cultural center and museum. Because there is no longer a Jewish community on the island, it is not used as a functioning synagogue, though occasional services are held there upon request. It has become a go-to destination for Jewish cruise ship travelers. Schoolchildren also come each year for tours to learn about the Azores’ Jewish history. Raposa said the museum was getting around 2,000 visitors a year pre-COVID. It is said to be the oldest Portuguese synagogue still standing. 

Since then, Rodrigues has remained involved in the Azorean Jewish Heritage Foundation, although fundraising slowed down after the synagogue restoration. The foundation raised $80,000 in two years in 2014 and 2015, according to tax returns, but has since been raising between $1,500 and $4,000 annually. 

The foundation is now turning its attention to the Jewish cemeteries in Portugal to determine what the needs are for maintenance and record-keeping. The synagogue restoration turned up a trove of documents, which shed light on everyday Jewish life in the community and communications between the synagogue’s rabbi and Jews abroad. The foundation has offered to support efforts to translate and digitize the papers. Rodrigues said he is also getting involved in supporting a new Jewish museum in Lisbon, which is in the planning stages and being designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeksind. 

Rodrigues leads tours to the Portuguese mainland and the Azores, and he now brings visitors to the restored synagogue. “People are amazed, it’s breathtaking, at how beautiful and how powerful it is, and the story behind it,” Rodrigues said.   

The post Michael Rodrigues takes up cause of restoring Azorean Jewish heritage appeared first on CommonWealth Magazine.

Source: commonwealthmagazine.org

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25 One-Hit Wonders You Probably Haven’t Thought About Since Your Childhood, but They Look Good As HECK Today

Claudia Baldwin

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Sean Kingston has only gotten better with age.

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Original Source: buzzfeed.com

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Street Photography by Juri Nesterov Documents Ukrainian Life Across Decades

Claudia Baldwin

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Kyiv. 2020. All images shared with permission.

Photography, and street photography, in particular, has the power to preserve the fleeting, framing the brief encounters and dalliances that sometimes end as quickly as they began. This impulse to document the momentary permeates throughout Juri Nesterov‘s body of work that serves as a visual record of those he’s witnessed within the last five decades. “When I look into the camera’s viewfinder, something inexplicable happens: thousands of images appear in my memory,” he writes.

Nesterov was born in 1954 in Krasnyi Luch, a city in the Luhansk province of what is now Ukraine. At the time, the area was part of Soviet Russia, and this shift in borders parallels the photographer’s practice, which often centers on the transient and ephemeral nature of the human experience.

Krasnyi Luch (Khrustalny). 1987.

Because of revolution, war, and collapse, Nesterov’s photos also chronicle life under the control of governments that have since dissolved, and the context of being surrounded by such inability makes his focus on the fundamental humanity of his subjects even more impactful. He says:

After a while, looking at my prints, I feel like the photos are electric. Most of the time I hear the question: “Where was this picture taken” or “What kind of camera? What lens?” I really want to answer: “in the world of people with their thoughts, disappointments, and hopes.”…Does it matter where exactly I pressed the camera button?… Look at the world, we all have the same starry sky.

Nesterov worked in journalism for many years and has exhibited his photos throughout Europe, although some of his prints housed at a Ukrainian museum were destroyed during shelling a few years back. Head to Flickr to explore an incredible archive of his photos that until recently, he was still developing in his kitchen in Kyiv.

Krasnyi Luch (Khrustalny). 1985.

Christmas ornaments. Kyiv, Ukraine, 2016.

Krasnyi Luch (Khurstalny). 1984.

Holiday village. Near Kyiv, Ukraine. 2018.

Makeevka. 1987.

Friendship. Kyiv, Ukraine. 2018.

Makeevka. 1987.

Kyiv, Ukraine, 2016.

Pereyaslav-Khmelnitski, Ukraine, 2016.

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Kourtney Kardashian Says She Got Therapy After She ‘Couldn’t Stop Crying’ Following Scott Disick Split

Claudia Baldwin

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Kourtney Kardashian revealed therapy has made her ‘really sensitive’ and helped her deal with an ‘abundance of feelings.’

Kourtney Kardashian, 42, revealed she’s been on a “therapy journey” since 2017 — which would have began shortly after her split from longtime boyfriend Scott Disick, 39. “I would just start crying all the time,” she said in Bustle magazine’s March 3 issue of what made her seek mental health support. “‘I just have feelings; like, an abundance of them,” she added, noting that working with a therapist has made her more “sensitive.”

The Poosh founder and former beau Scott began their rocky romance back in 2007, and welcomed three kids together: Mason, 11, Penelope, 9, and Reign, 6. Shortly after the birth of Reign, and amid Scott’s on-going struggles with drugs and alcohol, the pair called things quits. Over the years, Scott has maintained a close relationship with the Kardashian-Jenner clan — particularly with Kourtney’s younger sister Khloe Kardashian and mom Kris Jenner. Kourtney has admitted that Scott continuing to be included by her family members on vacations and holidays made moving on from the relationship more difficult.

Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick began their romance in 2007, and split for good in 2016. (SplashNews)

After engaging in therapy, she says she experienced “growth” that helped her move forward. “I see the growth that comes from those unhappy places which make it all worth it. I’m like, ‘If we didn’t go through these roller coasters, you wouldn’t get to the good part,’” she added.

Kourtney Kardashian and fiancé Travis Baker. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock)

Kourt is now in a much happier place in her life: the reality star began a romance with fiancé Travis Barker, 46, in early 2021 that lead to a proposal just 10 months later. This marks Kourtney’s first time being engaged, and the pair — affectionately named “Kravis” — seem happier than her. After her split from Scott, the 42-year-old also dated model Younes Bendjima on-and-off.

The health guru has previously opened about therapy, revealing she has a “double session” weekly to Health magazine. “I look forward to it every week! Having that awareness, I find that I can almost catch things before they become a bigger deal,” she said. “When those harder moments do happen, I think, ‘What’s the lesson that I’m supposed to be learning?’” she pondered.

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Original Source: hollywoodlife.com

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