The Jews of
Portugal
Sephardic Jewry in Iberia
April 26–May 7, 2023

Overview

From the Golden Age of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry to the present, the Sephardic community has played a vital role in contributing to Jewish and Western culture. Forming an integral part of medieval Iberia, the Jews of Portugal experienced periods of great creativity, as well as tragedy, until their fateful forced conversion and expulsion in 1497.

This 2023 trip to Portugal will bring to life the culture, heritage, and tradition of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula as we immerse ourselves in the rich culture, vibrancy, and creativity of Sephardic Jewry. In Lisbon, there will be an opportunity to enjoy an (optional) evening of fado, Portugal’s traditional music. Along the way, we will see Portugal’s stunning scenery. Highlights of our trip will include presentations by our accompanying scholar, Professor Chaim Seidler-Feller.

Beginning in cosmopolitan, thriving Lisbon, with its newly established Jewish community, our travels will include the bustling cities of Oporto, Coimbra, and Belmonte—a crypto-Jewish town, hidden from world Jewry for centuries until rediscovered in the 20th century. We will visit mystical Sintra and the quaint town of Óbidos, with its whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets, whose Jewish quarter was in the center of this perfectly preserved, 13th-century walled town, before returning to Lisbon for our final touring, including Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery.

We invite you to join us on this exciting, extraordinary journey and learn about the Jewish heritage, culture, and tradition of this important country on the Iberian Peninsula.

Highlights

  • 10 nights of deluxe accommodations in Lisbon, Belmonte, and Coimbra
  • Tours of the Gulbenkian Museum, National Archives of Lisbon, National Museum of Art, Belmonte’s synagogue and new Jewish Museum, Machado de Castro National Museum, and Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis
  • Walking tours through Tomar’s former Jewish quarter and Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery
  • Presentations and discussions with local scholars
  • A night of fado, Portugal’s traditional music
  • The recently discovered town where “crypto-Jews” practiced their faith secretly for hundreds of years

Itinerary

Wednesday, April 26 | Lisbon
Arrival in Lisbon. Check in to our hotel, the 5-star deluxe Portobay Liberdade Hotel, a stone’s throw from Avenida da Liberdade, the most elegant avenue in the heart of the city center. Rest and relax from our journey.

Evening: Opening presentation by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, “Ashkenazi Martyrdom vs. Sephardi Conversion: On the Many Differences Between Ashkenazim and Sephardim”; orientation, and introductions, followed by a welcome dinner (included).

Thursday, April 27 | Lisbon
Our day will start with a panoramic city tour, including a visit with Jewish community members in Lisbon at the main synagogue, followed by lunch on our own and a tour of the Gulbenkian Museum—a fascinating, eclectic, and unique collection assembled by Calouste Gulbenkian; its wide-ranging contents include Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Islamic, and Oriental art, as well as European paintings.

Evening: Presentation by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “The Travails of the Abravanel Family: From the Royal Court to Exile”; dinner on our own.

Friday, April 28 | Lisbon
We will begin this morning by touring the National Archives of Lisbon, where we will view original Inquisition documents, followed by a visit to the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal) to see its department of rare books and manuscripts, which include documents dating back to the 11th century.

After lunch on our own, we’ll have a guided tour of the Tile Museum. This delightful museum is well worth a visit, presenting five centuries of decorative ceramic tiles (azulejos), tracing the history and production of the art form. The highlight of the museum is a blue-and-white composition of 1,300 tiles, 75 feet long, of Lisbon’s cityscape made in 1738, prior to the Great Earthquake, and reputedly the country’s longest tile piece.

Evening: Shabbat dinner (included).

Saturday, April 29 | Lisbon
Free to attend services on our own, enjoy the hotel amenities, and/or visit sites of personal interest in Lisbon.

Afternoon: (optional) Tour of the National Museum of Art.

Evening: (optional) Fado dinner and show.

Sunday, April 30 | Sintra | Guincho | Lisbon
Drive to the magnificent village of Sintra, with time to visit the Town Palace and explore its historical village center. From Sintra, we will drive to the coast, where lunch (included) will be served in one of the famous fish restaurants at the beach of Guincho.

Evening: Presentation by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “Converso Culture and the Portugese Hebrews of Amsterdam”; dinner on our own.

Monday, May 1 | Tomar | Belmonte
Depart Lisbon for Tomar, where we will visit the Museu Luso-Hebraico Abraão Zacuto and Portuguese-Hebrew Museum, housed in a synagogue originally built in 1430, followed by a walking tour of the former Jewish quarter. Tour the Convent of Christ, a masterpiece of Manueline Gothic architecture and once headquarters of the Knights Templar. Free time for lunch on our own before departing for Belmonte.

Evening: Dinner (included) and overnight at the Pousada Convento Belmonte, housed in an old Franciscan convent from the 13th century.

Tuesday, May 2 | Belmonte
Today we will visit Belmonte, a subregion of the Beira district in Portugal, where the community of Belmonte Jews, or “Marranos,” survived in secrecy for hundreds of years by hiding all external signs of their faith. We will visit the Belmonte synagogue and tour the new Jewish Museum with local historian and researcher José Levy Domingos. Founded in 2015, it is the first Jewish museum that portrays the history of the Jewish people of Portugal and the decisive role that Jews played in Portuguese culture, art, literature, and trade.

Lunch along the way (included) before visiting the medieval town of Trancoso, one of the most important towns in Portugal during the Middle Ages because of its strategic location, which was essential to retain Portugal’s independence as well as its borders; the town was strongly influenced by its ancient Jewish presence. Upon arrival, we will tour the town and visit the Isaac Cardoso Jewish Interpretation Centre, a place for culture and debate that teaches the ancient legacy that Beira Jewish communities left behind.

Evening: Dinner at our hotel (included).

Wednesday, May 3 | Coimbra
Depart Belmonte for Coimbra, famed for its university, the oldest in the country. Kings were born and entombed here—once the capital of the Portuguese nation. Upon arrival, a brief city tour, followed by lunch on our own.

Afternoon: Private guided tour of the Machado de Castro National Museum (MNMC), named for the famous Portuguese sculptor Joaquim Machado de Castro (1731–1822). The permanent displays of Roman archaeology, which include a remarkable cryptoporticus, 12th- to 18th-century southern European sacred metalwork, 14th–18th-century jewelry, and one of the finest collections of medieval statuary in Portugal that span the 10th–18th centuries is supplemented by rare and valuable paintings, drawings, textiles, furniture, and ceramics.
Check in to the Quinta das Lágrimas hotel, with its famed gardens.

Evening: Presentation by Chaim Seidler-Feller, “Jewish Art as Commentary: The Magnificent Illuminations of the Cervera Bible”; dinner at our hotel (included).

Thursday, May 4 | Oporto | Coimbra
Full-day tour of Oporto, including a visit to the old Jewish quarter, and the original 12th-century city of Oporto, with its narrow winding streets. Lunch on our own on the waterfront.

Afternoon: Tour of the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, with its outstanding collection of Portuguese art spanning the 16th–20th centuries and including sculptures by António Soares dos Reis, the country’s celebrated 19th-century sculptor, after whom the museum is named.

Return to Coimbra in time for dinner on our own.

Friday, May 5 | Lisbon
Depart Coimbra and begin our day by traveling to Óbidos, with its whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets, whose Jewish quarter was in the center of this perfectly preserved, 13th-century walled town. Lunch (included) by the sea in the picturesque fishing village of Nazaré, before continuing on to Alcobaça, known for its beautiful tiles and ceramics. Here we will view the magnificent monastery church and learn about the romantic legend of King Pedro I and Inês de Castro, a love story that left its mark on the history of Portugal.

We return to Lisbon for the remainder of the tour, checking in to the boutique 5-star Palacio do Governador, once a grand palace. Overlooking the Belém Tower, this elegantly restored hotel still retains many historical details. Its superb cuisine, spa, and indoor and outdoor pools are but a few of the hotel’s delights.

Evening: Festive Shabbat dinner (included).

Saturday, May 6 | Lisbon
Morning: Free to explore sites of interest in Lisbon our own, or rest, relax, enjoy hotel amenities or (optional) participate in a study session led by Chaim Seidler-Feller.

Afternoon: Walking tour of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery. One of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon, the Monastery and nearby tower of Belém are both classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Evening: Festive closing dinner (included).

Friday, May 7
Depart Portugal for return flights home.

Please Note: Daily schedule may be modified subject to weather or unanticipated changes.

Traveling with you…

Chaim Seidler-Feller recently celebrated his 40th year of working with students and faculty as the executive director of the Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA. Currently director emeritus, he also serves as director of the Hartman Fellowship for Campus Professionals. An ordained rabbi, he also completed a master’s degree in rabbinic literature. Chaim has been a lecturer in the Departments of Sociology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA and in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University. He is also a faculty member of the Shalom Hartman Institute, North America, and of the Wexner Heritage Foundation and was rabbinic consultant to Barbra Streisand during the making of the film Yentl. The International Hillel Center has granted Chaim the Hillel Professional Recognition Award “for blending the love of Jewish tradition with the modern intellectual approach of the university.”

Maria Ferreira, born and based in Lisbon, has been working as a national tour guide since 1988. She has also led tour groups throughout Europe, Asia, and the Far East. As a tour manager and guide, Maria has worked with people of different origins and with groups of different interests, including tours specializing in Jewish heritage in Portugal and Spain, as well as groups focusing on such diverse fields as architecture, art, and wine and food.

Over the years, Maria has frequently worked with Jewish groups and has observed, especially in the last few years, an exponential interest in the history and culture of the Jews of Portugal. She notes that, for her, born and raised in Portugal, “the Jewish heritage of Portugal is an invitation to unveil our own history and the influences of Judaism in Portuguese culture.”

We have worked with Maria on tours to Portugal and Spain for almost 20 years; it is a pleasure to have Maria as our tour manager and to be part of the team again!

Accommodations

Lisbon: Portobay Liberdade Hotel
This boutique hotel has all the features of an urban resort: an indoor swimming pool and gymnasium with natural lighting, spa with treatment rooms for two, sauna, Turkish steam bath, esplanade, patio, and terrace balconies in most rooms. All rooms feature thoughtful touches like espresso makers, free Wi-Fi, and LCD TVs with cable channels, 24-hour room service, and minibars.

Belmonte: Pousada Convento Belmonte
The former convent of Nossa Senhora da Esperança (Our Lady of Hope) is now the luxurious Hotel Convento de Belmonte. The ecclesiastical origins of the convent have been maintained in this new, elegantly designed hotel, which features panoramic views over the plains across to the peaks of the Serra da Estrela mountain range.

Coimbra: Quinta das Lágrimas
Quinta das Lágrimas is a member of the “Small Luxury Hotels of the World” and a retreat of peace and tranquillity set within an 18th-century palace surrounded by 10 acres of lush gardens in Coimbra. Located a short walk from Coimbra’s medieval center. The hotel offers two restaurants, an outdoor swimming pool, a heated indoor swimming pool, and a spa with a fitness center, Turkish bath, and steam room.

Lisbon upon return: Palacio do Governador
Palacio do Governador (Governor’s Palace) is located near the River Tagus in the historic center of Belém, one of the most beautiful areas of Lisbon. This emblematic boutique hotel revives a unique historical heritage, while investing in quality, intimacy, and refinement. Built on the site of the former house of the governor of the Tower of Belém, this exquisitely restored 5-star hotel reflects a modern style with historical detail.

Details

Program cost: $6,965* includes:

  • 10 nights’ accommodations at deluxe hotels
  • Full breakfast daily; three lunches; seven dinners
  • All group transportation via deluxe air-conditioned coach
  • All lectures, presentations, guided tours, and site entrance fees

*Per person, double occupancy; single supplement: $1,460. Fees not included: gratuities: $165. Museum of Jewish Heritage membership for nonmembers: $54.

Secure your place

Book Now: use the link below to reach our easy online booking form.

By phone: 845-256-0197 Monday–Friday, 10am–4pm EST.

Payment Reserve your space with a nonrefundable deposit of $1,000 per person. Final balance is due 120 days prior to departure.

Membership Tours offered by the Museum of Jewish Heritage are available to active members. The individual annual membership is $54 and will be collected at the time of final payment for any nonmembers. To see the list of benefits, visit the museum’s website.

Participation Tour sizes are limited to 26 participants unless otherwise noted. Trips entail considerable walking including over uneven terrain. Participants need to be in good health, be able to keep up with the group, be able to experience group and cultural differences with grace, and be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Please let us know if you have any physical conditions that may require special attention while on tour.

Cancellations All cancellations must be received by Jewish Heritage Travel in writing. Cancellations received 120 days or more prior to departure: full refund less nonrefundable deposits, per person; 119–90 days prior to departure: 50% refund per person after nonrefundable deposits. 89–0 days before departure: no refund.

Trip Cancellation Insurance Jewish Heritage Travel strongly urges all participants to purchase travel insurance for coverage of losses necessitated by having to cancel due to illness or accident. For your convenience, we are providing a link to Allianz Global Assistance, which many past participants have used. Please use code ACCAM/Agency ID# F026815 or feel free to use your own insurance agent. When purchasing insurance, please consider the plans carefully to familiarize yourself with what is covered. In this context, do take note that most insurance companies generally will waive exclusion for preexisting conditions only if your application is received by them within 14 days from the date of your program registration. If you have a preexisting medical condition and are interested in taking trip insurance, you should do so either with Allianz or through your own insurance agent within 14 days of registration.

Changes All rights are reserved by Jewish Heritage Travel to make scholar substitutions and/or to modify the itinerary (including hotels) as needed. Every reasonable effort will be made to operate the program as planned; however, should unforeseen world events and conditions require the itinerary to be altered, Jewish Heritage Travel reserves the right to do so for the safety and best interest of the group. Any extra expenses incurred in this situation are the responsibility of the participant.

Disclaimer of Responsibility By registering for this program, participant specifically waives any and all claims of action against the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Heritage Travel office and their respective staffs for damages, loss, injury, accident, or death incurred by any person in connection with this tour. The Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Heritage Travel office and their respective staffs assume no responsibility or liability in connection with the service of any train, vessel, carriage, aircraft, or other conveyance that may be used wholly or in part in the performance of their duty to the passengers. Neither will the Museum of Jewish Heritage or the Jewish Heritage Travel office or their staffs be responsible for any injury, death, loss, accident, delay, or irregularity through neglect or default of any company or person engaged in carrying out the purposes for which tickets, vouchers, or coupons are issued. No responsibility is accepted for losses or expenses due to sickness, viruses, weather, strikes, wars, and other causes. In the event it becomes necessary or advisable for any reason whatsoever to alter the itinerary or arrangements, including hotels or scholars, such alterations may be made without penalty. All rights reserved to require any participant to withdraw from the tour at his/her own expense when such an action is determined by the tour staff to be in the best interest of the participant’s health and safety and that of the group in general. Prices subject to change. Cost in effect at time of registration will be honored.

Registration