In 1999 a group of Marranos (Bnei-anussim) learned of the existence of an Ashkenazi synagogue, Ohel Yaakov, in Lisbon, which was not in use but was nevertheless opened every Saturday by a Polish-born 'keeper' who, although not religious, was worried about the fact that Jews might turn up to pray and find it closed. The Israeli Youth Association Hehaver had been founded during World World I and, although lacking in membership at the time, provided a venue of belonging for these Marranos, who joined and had it legally recognised.
Meetings and services started taking place in the Ohel Yaakov Synagogue, with the religious guidance of a few Orthodox members of the Sephardic congregation, who were sympathetic to the Marranos’ plight. This was the only venue available to the Marranos, who were not welcomed in the Sephardi synagogue, sometimes even having been prevented from entering. At the time, no one knew a single thing about Jewish liturgy; no one knew how to participate in or lead a service, what to do, what to say or when to say it.
Between 1999 and 2004 several rabbis came to visit and promised their help in finding a solution. The Hehaver members even met with the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Moshe Amar, in 2004, at the house of the former rabbi of the Jewish Community of Lisbon, Rabbi Boaz Pash. Rabbi Shlomo Amar promised to set up a committee to evaluate the situation of the descendents of the Portuguese Anussim who had escaped the Inquisition.
We are now officially Jews, and respected as such. We no longer fret about the future of our children; our heritage has prevailed. The first Masorti kehillah in Portugal has been born and we have since grown and learned more than we ever thought possible. We are a small yet happy and committed organisation, comprised not only of Marranos but also of people who decided to convert. Our memories are as long as the shadows of our ancestors. We have not forgotten, we will not forget and our gratitude is immense.