Contact B'nai B'rith

1120 20th Street NW, Suite 300N Washington, D.C. 20036


​To mark the strength of the diaspora and the power of learning Torah, B’nai B’rith President Charles O. Kaufman joined rabbis and students from the Far East, the Middle East and South America to celebrate Judaism and Jewish life in a place that 500 years ago lost a large part of its identity. Rabbis from Amsterdam to Thailand offered insights and interpretations of Torah in a Shabbaton that attracted about 400 Jews.
On Erev Shabbat, days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Kaufman told the gathering, “In every generation, as it is written in the Haggadah, we have endured perpetrators of blood libels. In every generation, our enemies have tried to extinguish us like a forest fire. And, as the forest has suffered, it has left behind enough trees and seeds to regenerate our people — the children of Israel. So, here we are in Oporto, from all corners of the earth. My voice calls to you today like the cry of the shofar, like the cry of Joseph from the pit, like the cry of those who refused to purge Judaism from their souls, like the cries of those who never were liberated from Auschwitz 75 years ago.”
The Shabbaton took place in the largest synagogue on the Iberian peninsula, the Kadoori Synagogue, across the street from the brand new Jewish Museum of Oporto, where the throng of visitors toured and watched the premiere of the film “The Light of Judah.” The museum tells the history of Portuguese Jewry, which once comprised one fifth of powerful Portugal’s population, but dwindled to next to nothing in the aftermath of the Inquisition in the late 15th Century. 
Kaufman remarked how the country is beginning to regenerate its Jewish community after hundreds of years of religious silence from this community. “These are urgent times,” Kaufman said of a world torn by anti-Semitism and assimilation. “Today, we face a different threat. It is not only from people who may wish to convert us en masse, force us to eat pork or break generations of faith to Hashem. It is not only by those who overturn headstones or paint swastikas on synagogues or even spread hatred on social media. That evil may distract our faith, block our paths, interrupt our journeys. But G-d’s wings shelter his people in many places, notably in the strong, vibrant, innovative Jewish State of Israel. 
“Precious Israel is merely the root to Jews living freely anywhere. The seeds of our Torah, our aytz chaim, can blow anywhere, in all hemispheres. . . .Our biggest enemy today is not only the ignorance of those who wish to destroy us, but the ignorance of those who fail to learn history, our liturgy, our customs. They are the families we lose to assimilation and indifference. We must be more Jewish, not less Jewish. That is the real strength of our freedom, our survival. With G-d’s blessing, we will never go into exile again. Am Israel Chai.”
Kaufman was invited to participate in the celebration six months after he promoted a groundbreaking International Council of B’nai B’rith meeting in Lisbon. Porto leaders publicly acknowledged B’nai B’rith’s important role in the Jewish renaissance in Portugal. Numerous B’nai B’rith cities are showing the community’s first film, the award winning “Sefarad.” 
Prime Minister Antonio Costa acknowledged how Portugal has rediscovered its “Jewish historical legacy,” noting how Portuguese law recognizes the right for its Jews to reclaim its nationality. In a statement, he said, “Today Portugal has a culture of tolerance, consolidated in conjunction with the democratic regime itself, which guarantees that religious freedom is a structuring element of the rule of law, protecting all citizens, regardless of the religion they practice or even whether or not they are believers.”