Tuesday, December 15, 2009


In September 2009, I traveled to Portugal on behalf of CVJHP to raise awareness among the Lisbon Jewish community and the descendants of the Jews of Cape Verde, many of whom reside in Lisbon. I met with members of the Benros, Benoliel, Cohen, Wahnon, Seruya and other families at a meeting organized by Mr. Pedro Benros and Viriato de Barros. I also had the pleasure of meeting the President of the Lisbon Jewish community, Mr. Jose Bensaude Carp, a cousin of former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio. Distinguished businessman and historian, Roberto Bachmann also attended as did the vice president of the Jewish community, Esther Mucznik, and Cantor of the Lisbon Synagogue, Isaac Assor.

I also visited the Jewish cemetery in Faro, Algarve. This Jewish cemetery is an inspiration to me as it was restored in the same way we hope to restore and preserve the small burial plots in Cape Verde. Thanks to Isaac "Ike" Bitton, a Portuguese - born Jew of Moroccan descent, who lived in Illinois, the Faro Jewish cemetery has been registered as a Portuguese National Monument!!! We are trying to do something similar in Cape Verde! Unfortunately Ike passed away a few year ago, but not before he shared his passion and advice with me. Moroccan-born Sephardim "returned" to the Algarve at the behest of Marques de Pombal in the late 1700's. He reportedly told them that they would be "safe," even though many came before the Inquisition had officially been abolished. Marques de Pombal said Portugal needed the expertise of their former Jewish inhabitants, many of whom fled to Morocco at the time of the Inquisition. Although the Faro cemetery has many more graves than all four Cape Verdean Jewish cemeteries combined, it stands as a physical and spiritual inspiration for our work in Cape Verde. To Ike Bitton, a gregarious, proud Portuguese Jew --- May you rest in peace knowing that you are spurring us to replicate your good work in Cape Verde. Thanks to Ralf and Judy Pinto who manage the cemetery for their kind hospitality.

In Lisbon, I also met with senior officials at the Gulbenkian and Luso-American Foundations. Objective ---obtain funding and / or support for research into the families of the Jews of Cape Verde. We need to field researchers who can comb archives in Portugal, Morocco and Cape Verde to obtain more information about the commercial and professional activities of the Jewish families, many of whom contributed greatly to Cape Verdean development. We know that David Benoliel literally fueled the economy of Boa Vista in the early 1900's. We need to know more based on archival and oral history. Gulbenkian has an international fellowship program to which we plan to field a scholar next year (2011). And, I asked Cantor Isaac Assor, Portuguese Jew of Moroccan descent (whose lilting Hebrew chanting is divine) to be CVJHP religious advisor. His background as a scholar of Hebrew and Sephardic culture will help us decipher the meanings of the Hebrew and Portuguese etchings on the tombstones in Cape Verde.

In November 2009, I made a slide presentation on the Jews of Cape Verde for the Washington DC's Jewish Study Center. Joining me was John Wahnon, former President of AMICAEL, distinguished descendant of the grand Wahnon family. John is researching and documenting his family and provides invaluable support to me and CVJHP in general. John and I have become a veritable duo -- talking to groups about the Jews of Cape Verde and the need to honor their memory by preserving their burial grounds and documenting their legacy.