While Jews today are only a tiny percentage of Portugal’s population, a growing number of Jews from abroad have been attracted to the country, some going so far as to apply for citizenship.
That quest for naturalization has been facilitated by the passing of legislation that, in February 2015, extended Portuguese citizenship to the descendants of Portugal’s Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the country as a result of the Portuguese Inquisition (Spain also issued a similar decision that year); many of those who have applied do not officially practice Judaism. In the last two years, 14,000 such applications were filed for Portuguese citizenship, according to Secretary of State for Tourism Ana Mendes Godinho. “We are very, very proud of this,” she said.
The organized Jewish communities in Lisbon and Porto are responsible for vetting the applications and liaising with prospective candidates. Gabriel Steinhardt, president of the Lisbon Jewish community, estimated that around 5,000 people received citizenship as of October 2018, with “many more to come,” he told NJJN in an email. Many of them continue to live abroad, such as British Jews who stand to lose their European Union passports if their country goes through with Brexit. While the absolute numbers are small, he said, “still, the Jewish population of Portugal is growing mainly due to immigration” from places like France, Brazil, Israel, and Turkey.
Portugal as a whole has also become an increasingly popular tourist destination, with the number of overnight visits by Americans to Portugal doubling in two years, according to Mendes Godinho. While the country was once viewed as a sort of “region of Spain,” she said, now, “We are being discovered as this very well-kept secret that no one knew exactly what it was about.”
To facilitate religious and Jewish tourism in particular, the tourism authority has developed a website, Paths of Faith (pathsoffaith.com), which highlights Jewish attractions in cities and regions of the country and lists amenities available for kosher travelers, such as hotels and restaurants that cater to observant tourists’ needs. The Lisbon Jewish community also has a website in English (cilisboa.org/tour_contacts.htm) with information on kashrut and general tourist information.
Finally, Portugal’s national airline, TAP Air Portugal, recently announced that it is inaugurating new service to Tel Aviv from Lisbon (along with Dublin and Basel) beginning in April 2019. The three new routes are part of TAP’s global network of 72 destinations that are part of the airline’s Portugal Stopover program, where travelers can spend up to five nights in Lisbon or Porto before flying to their final destination, for no additional airfare. For more information, visit flights.flytap.com/en-us/flights-to-tel-aviv.