Elderly care for Portuguese Jews

Caring for elderly Jews was traditionally the task of the Jewish community. This community comprised Portuguese, German and East-European Jews, all of whom had their own unique customs. They also had their own synagogues and care institutions.


Portuguese Israelite Hospital on the Henri Polaklaan, built in 1916. Photo: Jan van Dijk.


The Portuguese Misjenet Zekeniem (Support for the Elderly) society was given the building on Nieuwe Herengracht in 1794. Only men resided here; there was a residence at Amstel 53 for female Portuguese Jews. The Institution for Elderly Married Portuguese Jewish Members, abbreviated to PIGOL in Dutch, was located at Muiderstraat 21.


Beth Sjalom, a Jewish home for the elderly (relocated in 1979). Photo: Roeland Koning.

A synagogue of its own

An intimate internal synagogue was located on the second floor at Nieuwe Herengracht and a minimum of ten men were always in residence at the home, making regular minjans possible. A minjan is the number of adult men required for a service. A hole was made in the ceiling of the synagogue to create a gallery and the wooden pillars that support the ceiling still form part of the interior today.


An extension to the rear of the premises functioned as a sukkah, or tabernacle. The roof can be opened during the Feast of Tabernacles, making it possible to live in a ‘hut’ in the open air, according to Jewish tradition. This is a reminder of the temporary constructions made by the Biblical Israelites during their journey through the desert.