On our last day in Porto, we set out to find it. We were close, and kept asking directions. Everyone knew it, “it’s right around the bend, then take a left at the corner, you can’t miss it.” But we couldn’t find it. Discouraged in the midday heat, we wandered down a side street, and all of a sudden, there it was.
The Kadoorie Makor Haim synagogue is a big. bold building, set in a nondescript neighborhood of low-rise apartments and small businesses. Eventually, a man and woman came to the gate and talked to us. Tours were available, but usually needed to be arranged in advance. Learning that we were departing the following day, they told us a little of the history of the synagogue.
It is a story of perseverance. The synagogue stands today largely because of the decade-long efforts of a determined former Portuguese army officer, Artur Barros Basto, and of a key benefactor, the family of Laura Kadoorie, whose ancestors had been forced to flee Portugal during the Inquisition. The synagogue opened in 1938, and has led to the revival of Porto’s still small Jewish community, which had gone underground and virtually disappeared since the early days of the Inquisition, over 500 years ago.
After leaving the synagogue, we wandered the back streets until we found a neighborhood cafe. We asked if there was any food beside the displayed pastry items. The owner’s face brightened and asked if we’d like some chicken and salad. A few minutes late, we were enjoying lunch, newcomers in a comfortable place where everyone seemed to know each other.