AMSTERDAM (JTA) — During a visit to the Dutch capital’s Portuguese Synagogue, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said European Jews “exemplify cultural integration.”
Barroso, a former prime minister of his native Portugal who now holds the most powerful position within European Union institutions, visited the synagogue on Tuesday. He also said that Jews were “at the front line of the fight against extremism.”
Referring to the completion of an ambitious renovation project that last year won the European Union’s Europa Nostra prize for conservation work, Barrosso said the synagogue was “impressive” and “great to see after the renovation.”
He added, “It is part of the work of keeping alive this great tradition, the Jewish tradition, which is a part of our European Union.”
The Portuguese Synagogue complex has been in use since its inauguration in 1675 by descendants of Jews who fled the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions in the 15th and 16th centuries and settled in Amsterdam, which was known for its religious tolerance.
“For Jews, the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam represents religious freedom, and I think that is part of the importance of President Barroso’s visit here,” Nuno Wahnon Martins, the Lisbon-born director of European Affairs at B’nai B’rith International, told JTA.
The red-brick synagogue, which is known as the "pearl of Amsterdam" because of its distinctive arched windows and magnificent interior, is situated at the center of the city’s newly inaugurated Jewish quarter. The area, which has seven Jewish institutions, including the Jewish Historical Museum, attracted 275,000 visitors in 2012, according to the museum’s director, Joel Cahen.