Bragança: Terra de Sefarad

Last week, I participated in the second edition of Terra(s) de Sefarad – an event dedicated to the historical presence of Jews in the northern region of Trás-os-Montes.

The event included three days of lectures, hosted in the auditorium of the municipal theatre, exhibitions in various venues in the city, outdoor screening of movies and concerts.

A first interesting point, that I have made in a previous post, is the fact that the Jewish presence is seen as a marker of “diversity” in regions where Jews lived up to the 15th century, and were then forced to choose between converting or being deported…

What I mean is two-fold. Firstly, the historical Jewish presence is a marker of diversity, understood (roughly) as “something to market”. I started working around this issue during my doctoral project. A colleague and I did some fieldwork on immigration, municipal branding and poor cities (see here), and later on, I looked at diversity and tourism; and diversity and the urban development nexus.

Kosher market in Bragança

During the event, participants to the “forum for economic development”, which took place the last morning, made various statements confirming the economic opportunities the former Jewish presence might trigger. One lecturer affirms that Jewish heritage museums generate opportunities around them for businesses, territorial development or simply for the renewal of neighbourhoods. He mentions the fact that tourists could simply increase activities for small cafés or other local businesses. In his opinion, 38 municipalities have the potential to implement related projects. Another proposes to produce Kosher food in Portugal, and even more in Bragança, that he calls a “land of Jews”.

The Q&A that follows is amusing. One proposes to produce Kosher chestnut. Another one proposes to establish a certification centre in Bragança. Another suggests to establish a genetic heritage centre in Bragança!

Secondly, the historical Jewish presence is a marker of diversity, because this Jewish presence is put in parallel with a tradition of welcoming the other. I already clipped some descriptions photographed in some of the museums I visited:

A lecturer, from Cascais municipality, describes a project called Espaço Memória dos Exílios. What catches my attention is the relation she establishes between Jewish refugees during WWII, Cascais as a transit area, and today’s questions on asylum. She mentions cooperation with Mezze or Lisbon Project.

In both cases, the relation between the periphery character of Bragança, the Jewish presence and its potential today, triggers interesting statements on borders, which link to previous reflections I made.

As a matter of fact, one of the organisers argues that Trás-os-Montes suffers from O fado de ser uma zona periférica, de ser do interior… alguma coisa de menos, como se sempre será assim. Then he goes on to explain that during the Sephardic past, Bragança was not a periphery. Bragança was in the centre. At present time, tourism, Jewish tourism, and the Citizenship Law for Jews of Portuguese ancestry (sic) that generated 30,000 applications, can offer future perspectives. He says: “we discovered the goose that lays golden eggs”.

After the event, I drove to the border, up to Moiementa. Below are photographs taken from the Portuguese-Spanish border close by.

I do not exactly want to keep focusing on this dimension of local development in Trás-os-Montes, but I still think that the re-narratisation of the Jewish presence in bordering areas is worth contemplating!

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