The majestic Portuguese Synagogue from 1675 in the Old Jewish neighbourhood of Amsterdam
The Portuguese-Israeli Synagogue (aka Esnoga or Snoge) was built in the period 1670-75 by Elias Bouman at, what was at the time, the edge of the city. The synagogue is located on the Mr. Visserplein, today a busy roundabout between the Weesperstraat and the motorway leading to the IJ Tunnel. This area used to be the heart of the Jewish Quarter.
The building is free-standing and rests on wooden poles; the foundation vaults can be viewed by boat from the canal water underneath the synagogue. The entrance to the main synagogue is off a small courtyard enclosed by low buildings housing the winter synagogue, offices and archives, homes of various officials, the rabbinate, a mortuary, and Etz Hayim library , one of the oldest Jewish libraries in the world.
The beautiful interior of the Portuguese Synagogue
The interior of the synagogue is a single, very high rectangular space retaining its original wooden benches. The floor is covered with fine sand, in the old Dutch tradition, to absorb dust, moisture and dirt from shoes and to muffle the noise.
The Portuguese Jewish community, is the oldest Jewish community in the Netherland. The community was established in 1639 by Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forced to leave Antwerp after that city came under Spanish rule. They had previously fled Spain and Portugal to escape the Spanish Inquisition. These Sefardim found a safe haven in the tolerant city of Amsterdam.
The Esnoga during WWII
Until the Second World War there were Portuguese communities in Den Haag, Naarden, Rotterdam and Middelburg. The persecution of the Jews in that dark era dealt a heavy blow to the community. 3,700 of the 4,300 Portuguese Jews perished. Yet, on May 9, 1945, four days after the liberation of the Netherlands, services were resumed at the Esnoga, as can be clearly seen in a famous photograph taken by Boris Kowadlo. It shows the parnassim carrying a Torah scroll, almost as if nothing had happened. The Esnoga and its ceremonial object were untouched.
The Portuguese Synagogue's first service after liberation - photo by Boris Kowadlo
Treasures of the Snoge
From the 17th century on, Amsterdam developed into a centre of learning and Jewish studies. For centuries Amsterdam was the centre of the West-Sefardic world, bringing forth many rabbis, scientists, philosophers, artists, merchants and bankers, who made an enormous contribution to the prosperity of the Netherlands from the Golden Age onward.
The Portuguese community has one of the world's most important Jewish heritage collections. Its ceremonial objects, Torah scrolls, silver and textiles collection, prints and manuscripts are of inestimable value. The ceremonial objects are used to his day.
That prominence and wealth found its ultimate expression in the Esnoga, also referred to as Snoge, in the heart of the old Jewish neighborhood.
The community's valuable possessions, the magnificent building, valuable ceremonial objects and the Ets Haim library, have been transferred to the Jewish Historical Museum since 2009.
The Esnoga, together with the Old-New Synagogue in Prague, is the oldest functioning synagogue in the world.