Historian José de Almeida Mello
Historian José de Almeida Mello is the chief librarian of the Ponta Delgada Municipal Library and the cultural attaché of Ponta Delgada City Hall. In 2003, the Israeli Community of Lisbon appointed him the coordinator of the Azores Synagogue Restoration Committee to oversee the renovation and conservation project of the Sabar Hassamain Synagogue of Ponta Delgada.
The Sahar Hassamain Synagogue is the only surviving Synagogue on the islands and the oldest of Portugal’s remaining synagogues. It was established around 1820, by a group of Jewish entrepreneurs who migrated with their families from Morocco and settled on São Miguel island in the early 19th century.
At one point, the island of São Miguel was home to four synagogues in Ponta Delgada and one in Vila Franca do Campo. There was a Jewish cemetery in Ponta Delgada and four additional Jewish burial grounds: one on São Miguel, one on Terceira, one on Faial and one on Graciosa island.
Provisionally owned by the Israeli Community of Lisbon, the building is in the process of transferring ownership to the Ponta Delgada City Hall to be renovated and turned into a public space.
The recovery project is the culmination of 30 years of efforts to save the Synagogue and preserve the Jewish legacy in the Azores. In the last 15 years, the Azores Synagogue Restoration Committee has been lobbying actively to advance the process. The undertaking has the support of the Ponta Delgada City Hall, the local community and the Israeli Community of Lisbon, together with the immigrant Azorean community and Harvard University in the United States.
The Sahar Hassamain Synagogue in Ponta Delgada.
The Synagogue of Ponta Delgada was built indoors,
inside a residence, concealed from public view.
In this interview for the Portuguese American Journal, Mello describes the long process to save that legacy and speaks of those involved in the effort to place the Jewish experience in the Azores in the context of history.