Rabbi Eli and Raizel Rosenfeld arrived in Portugal at the end of 2010, the first full-time Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in one of the few countries at the time that had yet to see a permanent Chabad House.

In that time, they keep finding Jews in a country that famously expelled its Jewish residents in the 15th and 16th centuries. Today, whether in the form of business travelers, tourists, or young local families, members of Lisbon’s small Jewish community join each other for holidays and other celebrations.

“We’re very proud, and we stick together,” surmised the rabbi.

Nowhere was that pride more evident than at this winter’s Chanukah menorah lighting ceremony, a public celebration organized by Chabad of Portugal, the Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa and Lisbon City Hall. It drew attention to the Jews of Lisbon, who have had a continual presence in the Portuguese capital since Moroccan families returned there in the 19th century, and also highlighted a strong connection between the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and Portugal, from where the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, boarded the S.S. Serpa Pinto for the shores of America in 1941.

“We came here as emissaries to the community, but we already felt a very strong attachment to its history,” said Eli Rosenfeld. “Not only because of the Rebbe’s stay here, but also because Portugal served as the home to many great Jewish leaders during its history.”

With Deputy Mayor Dr. Manuel Salgado sharing the dais, Rabbi Eliezer Shai Di Martino, the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Lisbon, addressed the crowd at the menorah lighting and talked about the history and inspiration of Chanukah. He also pointed out that because of past persecutions, many lit their candelabras inside.

“Now,” he said, “they are returning in their rightful place: out in the open.”

People drove by the nine-foot menorah – erected in the central Parque Eduardo VII with the permission of Mayor Dr. António Costa – just to see it up close. Parents brought their children, and attendees went home with their own personal menorahs to light themselves.

Jewish community president Dr. Jose Oulman Carp pointed to the public lighting as part of a global celebration. On behalf of all the participants, he thanked the municipality for its warm relationship with the Jewish community and the atmosphere of multiculturalism and respect shown by the city.

Rabbi Eli and Raizel Rosenfeld arrived in Portugal in 2010. (Photo: Yair Freundlich)
Rabbi Eli and Raizel Rosenfeld arrived in Portugal in 2010. (Photo: Yair Freundlich)

Meanwhile, Rosenfeld said he came away inspired by the public display.

“The flame of the Chanukah menorah belongs outside,” he echoed. “Although for many years in Portugal everything Jewish had to be inside, the fact that the Chanukah lights are back out where they belong is very fitting.”

The community celebrated together almost every night of Chanukah with parties and organized events, Rosenfeld said, adding that the public displays also marked a transition from mostly one-on-one connections to larger, integrated events.

In addition to women’s programs and an ongoing kosher lunch and learn at a nearby business park, the Rosenfelds continues to fuel Jewish pride at their Sabbath table, where people connect and reconnect with neighbors they may have never known existed.

“I like when people meet each other at our table,” said the rabbi. “That’s a tremendous feeling.’”

Looking to the future, Rosenfeld wants the Chanukah celebration to serve as a model.

“Every Jewish holiday,” he stressed, “should be celebrated with such excitement and awareness.”