Many Sephardic Jews fled persecution in Spain and Portugal beginning in the late 15th century and formed communities in new places around the world. In Amsterdam, Sephardic Jews established an extremely successful community, and in 1675, they completed construction of the spectacular Portuguese Synagogue here, which is now one of the city’s greatest treasures.
I must say that stepping inside the building completely took my breath away; this was unlike any synagogue I have ever seen before. I think the oldest synagogue I’ve been inside back home must have been built in the 1960s, and the architecture of the Jewish temples back home can be described as “suburban” at best. I went to a bar mitzvah in a strip mall once, in a temple sandwiched between a Papa Johns and a liquor store. I never could have imagined something on the scale of the Portuguese Synagogue.
The grandeur of this synagogue speaks to that success of Amsterdam’s Jewish community, especially during the city’s so-called “Golden Age.” This building was built right in the middle of that period of Dutch expansion and wealth accumulation, and it serves as a reminder that Jews were a part of that, even if they weren’t a part of mainstream Dutch society.