Driving Supply and Demand

There aren’t enough boots on the ground, planes in the air, boats afloat, or heavy artillery for Ukraine to combat and defeat Putin’s War.

Not enough water is causing draughts in too many places, just as a scarcity of food are keeping too many people thirsty and hungry.

Climate crises are creating more hurricanes, floods, typhoons, mudslides, ice melts, and earthquakes than the earth can handle.

The Israelis and Palestinians are at it again, India and Pakistan continue their disputes, and tribal feuds around the world are doing away with entire populations.

Covid is still rising, ebbing, and hovering like the flu, without enough masks, vaccines, doctors and nurses to staff hospitals and treatment centers.

The soaring cost of housing has increased rents in Portugal by 25% and house prices by 65% over the last ten years.

And new cars are almost nowhere to be found.

According to a report by CNN Portugal, the government hopes to gain a further €59 million with the Vehicle Tax (ISV), which is paid when you buy a new car. But the market has a different perspective from the government.

Because there are several factors that negatively influence the car-buying sector.

Starting with the semiconductor crisis, which is “far from being resolved,” thus limiting supply. Then there is the impact of the war in Ukraine, as exemplified by the “Ukrainian factories that stopped due to the shortage of cabling.” Raw materials are in short supply. Finally, the uncertainty generated by fuel prices may also delay the decision of many Portuguese people to buy a new car.

“Reduce the taxes to reasonable levels, sales may increase and might very well result in higher tax revenues,” commented one reader of the story published by The Portugal News from which the above paragraphs are quoted. Said another, “With ridiculously high vehicle taxes, accelerating inflation, rapidly rising fuel costs, very high vehicle prices, low wages and low wage increases, why would anyone try to help the government coffers?” 

Hyundai’s Santa Fe model starts at €58,950 (US $63,750) and the median price of a Kia is €36,000 (US $39,000)–neither including IVA (23%), road taxes (between US $250 and $500 or more), transportation and administrative expenses including matriculation costs (upwards of €1,000). That’s not cheap for “entry-level” cars. How much do they cost now in the USA?

Inflation is back, with too much funny money chasing after not enough goods and services that people need to live and economies to survive.

It’s said that confession is good for the soul, so here goes mine:

We decided to buy a new car—all things considered, probably the worse time to do so.

Nonetheless, I can’t have what we want or need … at least not now.

Because it just ain’t available!

“It” is a 2022 Dacia Duster, requiring about 10,000 euros out-of-pocket after adding in IVA (23%), Portugal road tax (about €375), transportation, dealer preparation, matriculation, and administrative costs (€1,150) … less whatever they’ll give me for my humble, hard-working minivan.

First it was the supply chain, now it’s the lack of “raw materials” needed to build the car, combined with mobility difficulties of transporting such relatively large heavyweights manufactured in the eastern part of the EU to the west.

Yeah, if you want one of those upscale vehicles costing > €50,000 or more, you may be able to get a Peugeot, Renault, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, or Volvo – let alone cherry pick the top of the line on some of these pristine brands selling easily for €100K, €150K, €195K … and more.

How do they afford it, I wonder, in one of the poorest per capita countries in the European Union? (I’m told by banker friends, people who ought to know, that most of these high-priced ego-boosters are leased, not purchased. Still, paying upwards of €500 per month on time seems like doing time when it comes down to it.)

Mark my words: we’ve already experienced a huge hike – 30% or more – in the cost of used cars. Once new vehicles begin trickling through the supposedly barrier-less countries comprising the European Union, we’re going to see a major jump in new car prices, as well.

To be sure, so that we’re clear: Vehicles are, perhaps, the only major commodity not included in the free movement of trade across national boundaries. They’re subject to taxes, import fees, regulations, and retrofitting between one country and another (or several).

“So, why don’t you just buy a decent used car?” you may ask. “After all, unlike elsewhere (i.e., the USA), they’re generally covered by two-year guarantees imposed on dealerships by government mandate.”

Yeah, well …

First: previously-owned cars with low mileage in good condition at fair and reasonable prices are few and far between. Second: That “guarantee” requires you to return a car needing repairs – by hook or by crook or by tow truck – to the dealer you purchased it from, regardless of the distance. Insurance companies usually won’t pay for long-distance towing costs and who knows how or with whose parts the dealer will meet that obligation? Third: my grandmother, in her wisdom, warned me, “Never buy a used car. Why inherit someone else’s problems? Better to purchase a lower-cost new car than a fancy frock covering who-knows-what blemishes?”

We learned that the hard way after buying two used cars from dealers and “stands” during our first six months living in Portugal.

Hence, we decided to buy a Dacia Duster. Good reviews. Great history. Ample space for passengers and baggage. And all the extras – air conditioning, push buttons to open or close windows and doors, plenty of headroom and space for your knees as legs, comfortable and reasonably attractive. All for less than €22,000 ($24,000)—including IVA, road taxes, and all those assorted fees.

Trouble is, none are to be found. Nowhere in Portugal.

“We are living in a time of real car shortage,” said Nuno, one of the dealer reps I spoke to (in Portuguese–the quote is translated to English). “In addition to production delays, there is now a lack of raw material, which leads to a lack of vehicles for delivery. Finding a Duster like this is a real find, as I have no forecast to receive another of these vehicle.”

The dealers (who have access to exactly what cars are here and where in in the country) are estimating six months to a year, maybe even longer, from the time you order a car until it’s delivered.

Which brings us to supply-and-demand economics and the inability to cut corners or negotiate a better deal.

These are things to know before buying a vehicle here:

● You can’t go out and kick the tires of cars on the lot.

● That’s because there aren’t really any “lots,” except for used vehicles.

● Those cars you see in front of or surrounding car dealerships either already have been sold, are “service” cars and used trade-ins for sale, or belong to employees or customers.

● In Portugal, there are no taxes when you buy an used car – you’ll only pay the registration fee (about 55€/65€, online/offline). There are no state, province, or regional taxes, either.

● More often than not, new car dealers don’t hang onto their trade-ins. Usually, they’re quickly wholesaled to Portugal’s used car trade.

● Trade-in values are exceptionally low. We were offered €3,800 for a car that typically retails between €11,500 and €15,000 on the used car stands. Truth be told, though, we accepted €7,500 for our car from the dealer who ultimately sold us the Dacia.

● Unlike the USA and (maybe) some other countries with huge inventories of new vehicles in different colors and with a variety of options just waiting to go on sale – especially right before the next year’s models arrive – typically, only one car of a given make or model is in a Portuguese showroom. Dealers are required to hold onto these “tester” or viaturas de serviço (“service” or “courtesy” cars) for at least four months become they can sell them.

● Most new cars are ordered by the customer, not selected from available inventory, and customized to his or her specs. Then begins the interminable wait from order to delivery.

● Prices are set by the manufacturers, not the dealers, so there’s often very little room to negotiate. Dealers have only a little leeway in their “administrative” costs and how much they’ll give for your trade-in. So, ultimately, the search for a dealership to buy from has more to do with how much it will give you for your car than what they’ll charge you for theirs.

● Unlike nearly everything else in Portugal (and Spain), the advertised price of new vehicles doesn’t include sales tax–IVA (23% in Portugal, 21% in Spain). That’s a hefty chunk of change–about a quarter of the designated sales price must be added onto the vehicle’s price to cover the costs of IVA and Portugal’s road tax.

● “Matriculation” (i.e., ownership as evidenced by your license plates or tags) in Portugal is visible on license plates—which stay with the cars, regardless of how many times those cars change hands. With your matriculation number, dealers already know a lot about your vehicle, even before inspecting it.

● If you decide to purchase a “service” car from a dealer, remember that it will already have been registered and you will be considered the second owner–even if the car has only 500 kms. This may or may not matter to you, but it will affect the vehicle’s value if and when you decide to sell or trade it in later on.

● Due to the uncertainty of when new cars will arrive, dealers are hesitant to quote prices on trade-ins. After all, how many miles (kilometers) may actually be on your odometer six months … eight … a year or more after you place an order? Surely, the value of your old car decreases as the wait for your new one increases.

● The car of your dreams can take six months to a year (or more) from the time that you order it until the keys are in your hand.

Across the border in (Badajoz) Spain — just 15 minutes from our house in Elvas — there’s also a paucity of new cars to be had. But the prices for identical vehicles are substantially lower there. Why? For one thing, there’s IVA: Spain’s 21% sales tax can make a lesser dent in the cost of a car. Then, too, Spain doesn’t have the “road tax” Portugal imposes. Deduct another €250-€500 (or more). In addition, manufacturers “package” their options differently. What already comes in the base price of a new car purchased in Spain may be option(s) in Portugal. Our Duster in Spain would come with everything included, except metallized paint.

Bottom line: The same car in Spain would cost us €1,700 (US $1,850) less than in Portugal.

Why not buy the car in Spain, then, you may wonder. Lots of reasons! For one, Spanish car dealers can only sell you a car if you have proof of residence (a property owned or rented) in Spain and an NIE–Spain’s fiscal number equivalent to Portugal’s NIF. Since we’ve owned a pied-a-terre in Andalucía for over 15 years, we qualify. The challenge, though, is getting the car legally across the border and driving it daily.

Portugal prohibits that.

Technically, in Portugal one can own and drive a car with another country’s license plates for no more than half a year (183 days–consecutive or not). During that time, you can expect to be pulled over by the police and GNR, asking to see all your documents–both yours and the car’s. “How long have you been driving this car in Portugal?” they’ll ask. “Why do you have residencia and a driver’s license issued by Portugal?” You better get those answers right or you’ll be subject to very expensive fines and lots of embarrassment. Don’t forget, too, that no insurer will provide the required coverage for cars matriculated in another country. And review all the “accessories” — like flashlights, first aid kits, and paperwork — required to be at your fingertips under Portuguese law.

Why not buy the car in Spain and then register it in Portugal? That will work … if you’re willing to be double-taxed: Spain’s 21% + Portugal’s 23% + Portugal’s road tax. But first, you’ll need to go through all the red tape and inspections of importing the car (which, technically, is what you’re doing).

Since border towns are so close to each other, perhaps the dealer will be willing to register the car you bought from him in Spain with the financial and tax authorities in Portugal, simply if you pay Portugal’s additional IVA and road taxes?


But, what if I buy and pay for the car from the dealer in Spain and take all the paperwork showing my bill of sale and documentation to ownership to Portugal? Maybe I can register the car directly in Portugal myself?

No way, José.

I might not be particularly patient, but I am persistent using the Internet for all it’s worth in my search for a new Dacia Duster in any of the available colors except orange.

P.S. I just heard back from two dealers: Nuno will have what we want, but in a gas-powered version, next month. It’s one of his service cars. Total price, all inclusive: €20,990. The same Friday, I heard from another dealer who is expecting a new car sometime soon. How soon? Who really knows? This is Portugal. But he promised to call me on Monday with whatever information — ETA, color, options, price, etc. — and an “offer” approved by his manager. I’m still waiting for that call …

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current issue online and subscribe to the magazine free of charge via this link:

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Rise and Shine

Sometimes I feel like Jacob, wrestling with an angel of God.

Especially when I can’t grasp an unqualified answer that satisfies me; I continue plunging on, like Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel because he demonstrated that he was willing to let God prevail in his life. In response, God then promised Israel that all the blessings pronounced upon Abraham would be his.

Remember the story?

Jacob got up in the middle of the night and took his wives, eleven children, and everything he owned across to the other side of the Jabbok River for safety. Afterwards, Jacob went back and spent the rest of the night alone.

A man came and fought with Jacob until just before daybreak. When the man saw that he could not win, he struck Jacob on the hip and threw it out of joint. They kept wrestling until the man said, “Let go of me! It’s almost daylight.”

“You can’t go until you bless me,” Jacob replied.

The man asked, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

The man said, “From now on, your name will no longer be Jacob. You will be called Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won.”

Jacob said, “Now tell me your name.”

“Don’t you know who I am?” he asked. And he blessed Jacob.

Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face, and I am still alive.” So he named the place Peniel. The sun was coming up as Jacob was leaving Peniel. He was limping because he had been struck on the hip, and the muscle on his hip joint had been injured. That’s why even today the people of Israel don’t eat the hip muscle of any animal.

The Lord never told Jacob his name.

There’s plenty of questions I have for Him, but I know He’s not ready (or, maybe, it’s me) to tell me my name or my story.

Take Easter, for instance. There are those who swear that unless you confess the bodily resurrection – that, after being dead for three days, Jesus rose to live again – the Christian faith means nothing. It’s all based on that singular miracle that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Did God?

Who knows? I certainly don’t. But neither did the people who spent their time walking and talking with Jesus. Did he really die? Why didn’t those people walking on the road recognize him? Was Mary really the first to see him? Then ran to share the good news with the other disciples? And what about Thomas, the one we refer to as “doubting?”

So many theories have historically buzzed that Jesus never died. That it all was part of a Passover plot. That there was no resurrection—at least not in bodily form. That it’s all meant to be a metaphor or a basis for building the faith. That the primary Gospel left out the resurrection, while the latter ones added and embellished it.

On the other hand, we also read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead to new life. And Elijah, who stretched himself three times upon the widow’s son … “And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:21-22).

Not that it matters.

Our beliefs shouldn’t be “eithers” or “ors,” fact vs. faith, allegorical and/or historical.

Truth be told, most people hang onto their religions for one of two reasons: They’re afraid to die and cease existing as they know it. Or, they’ve been clobbered with verses to avoid sins-or-else-hell and enticed by angelic choirs, streets paved with gold, and celestial reunions with their loved ones.

Apart from certain curiosities and circuitous circumstances, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has died and returned to talk about what it’s like on the other side of the paradise we’re hell-bent on destroying.

That’s where Easter comes in …

The Easter questions comprise our belief that hope springs eternal.

It’s not about faith. Nor love. Nor tradition. Nor creeds and confessions. Neither is it about recognizing a masterful act to validate our experience and what we believe.

Instead, it’s about our determination to persevere, hoping that our hearts and what we hold most dear will prevail. Against tyrants like Vladimir Putin. Oligarchs and capitalists who create a special kind of autocracy that absolves them of any resolve to repent and be merciful. Or democracies gone bad when the greed factor turns to prejudice and hate, special interests and injustice.

Whether I know, instinctively, that the Son of Man was or wasn’t killed and did or didn’t rise again to life, isn’t that important to me. That he was martyred, however, was … as it beckons me to his words and ways, deeds and indeeds. I want to know his story. And do my best to follow his path.

“How does us appreciating spring help the people of Ukraine?” asked Facebook friend Anne Lamott. “If we believe in chaos theory, and the butterfly effect, that the flapping of a Monarch’s wings near my home can lead to a weather change in Tokyo, then maybe noticing beauty — flapping our wings with amazement — changes things in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It means goodness is quantum. Even to help the small world helps. Even prayer, which seems to do nothing. Everything is connected.”

At my age, I ache. So, as I rise each morning to new days full of promise and potential, I am thankful. I’m still alive and kicking. As I follow the news and see trends – the ups and downs of the stock market, the urgent desire to help others against all odds, the Covid crisis taking a back seat to other “Breaking News!” of the moment, the small advances that dedicated scientists and philanthropists are making against the behemoth that is climate change, even the blessings that progressive theologians have brought to enliven the hitherto hold fundamentalists and literalist bondage to the Bible “just as God wrote it” – my faith surges and is restored … bit by bit.

When it comes down to it, that’s what Easter is really about and gives reason to rejoice: Hope restored.

“I will celebrate that I have shelter and friends and warm socks and feet to put in them, and that God or Gus found a way to turn the madness and shame of my addiction into grace, I’ll shake my head with wonder, which I do more and more as I age, at all the beauty that is left and all that still works after so much has been taken away,” Anne Lamott concludes.

It’s rising and shining beyond all the grit and grief … and I say hallelujah to that. Because, like Jacob, we too have been blessed!

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the magazine’s current issue and subscribe — at no cost! — via this link:

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Illegitimate, Illegal and Condemnable:

Portugal Decries Russia’s War with Ukraine

Let’s be clear: In the early hours of 24 February, Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine, hitting cities and civilians with airstrikes and shelling. As a result, thousands of innocent people piled into trains and cars to flee the unprovoked aggression, while Russian tanks and troops continued to roll across the border launching a “full-scale war” that could rewrite the geopolitical order of the region.  

At the request of the Ukrainian authorities, Portugal agreed to provide military equipment such as vests, helmets, night vision goggles, grenades and ammunition of different calibers, complete portable radios, analogue repeaters and G3 automatic rifles.

Speaking at a televised news conference, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said that the country would be sending 175 military reinforcements to help Ukrainian soldiers on the ground secure their borders as this “is a war against the freedom of self-determination of a democratic country and therefore it is also a war against … democracy.”

“It’s been reported that close to 1,800 additional Portuguese military could be mobilized to take part in NATO’s dissuasive mission within allied countries on Ukraine’s borders. The soldiers will be made up of contingents from all three arms of the military (Air Force, Navy and Army),” reported the Portuguese Journal American. “In a second phase, another 472 military could be dispatched, along with 36 tactical vehicles and two Naval war ships.”

In addition, the United States has been reinforcing its use of Portugal’s Lajes military air base on Terceira island in the Azores, including storage and maintenance of munitions and explosives.

Ukrainians in Portugal, the second-largest foreign community in Portugal, are living in fear for their family and friends back home.

Citizens, residents, and expats of one of the world’s most peaceful nations expressed their frustration and anger, decrying Russian President Putin’s decimation of the world order.

Outside the Russian embassy in Lisbon, thousands of demonstrators held signs and waved flags to protest the Russian invasion and Portugal’s solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Additional protests in Porto and Algarve called for military support from European countries to Ukraine, as well as urged the Portuguese to not purchase products from Russia.

“Portugal supports Ukraine, which is defending itself against an unjustified, illegal, and unacceptable invasion,” Defense Minister João Cravinho tweeted.

On behalf of Portugal, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva also expressed his solidarity with Ukraine and condemnation of Moscow:

“We have to be prepared for all scenarios. I am sorry to say it, but I cannot say anything else: today we have to work with all scenarios on the table because what is happening is that Putin’s action is not only exceeding his words, but Putin’s action at every moment is also exceeding the maximum that we had foreseen as possible …”

Santos Silva remarked that “whatever the objective” of the Russian offensive, “it is illegitimate, it is illegal, and it is condemnable,” describing it as “the biggest security crisis that Europe has gone through since World War II.”

Prime Minister Antonio Costa condemned the Russian invasion, adding that any Ukrainians who have family, friends, and acquaintances in Portugal are welcome in Portugal. Instructions to facilitate visas to those feeling the Russian invasion were given to embassies in Ukraine, as well as neighboring countries. The Portuguese Embassy in Ukraine urged Portuguese citizens in Ukraine to leave through European Union borders, particularly enroute to Romania or Moldova.

“While refugees are usually allowed in Portugal through a case-by-case analysis of the danger each applicant faces, the government acknowledged that all refugees from Ukraine are facing dangerous conditions,” wrote Lara Silva in Portugal.com. “The only reason someone might be denied asylum is if they have committed crimes against humanity or serious crimes, according to the Minister of Internal Administration and Justice, Francisca Van Dunem.” 

Unclear whether any changes will be made to the Portugal Golden Visa, “the war in Ukraine is likely to affect Portugal’s state budget for 2022,” Silva predicted. The Prime Minister, however, said it was too early to assess whether this is the case; some Portuguese economists, however, have stated that it will – directly and indirectly – impact the state budget:

“Oil and natural gas prices will continue to skyrocket, as Russia is one of the main energy suppliers to European countries. GDP is also likely to decrease in Portugal and there could be increased military spending attributed to the budget, depending on the course of the conflict.”

The Foreigners and Border Service previously announced that it would stop the Golden Visa scheme for Russian citizens. In addition, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva stressed that more Russian citizens inn Portugal would be subject to sanctions.

“SEF has suspended the appreciation of any dossier of candidacy for authorization of residency through investment, commonly known as golden visas, for Russian citizens,” he pointed out.

In addition, Santos Silva stressed that the scheme was also suspended for citizens from Belarus.

According to Portugal’s Immigration and Border Service (SEF) data, investment from citizens from Russia brought a total of €277.8 million to Portugal’s economy in the nine years since the program was created.

With a view to receiving refugees from Ukraine, Portugal’s government recently published in the Diário da República the amendment to an ordinance that regulates the regime for granting temporary protection to refugees. In a press conference after an extraordinary Council of Ministers, the Minister of Social Security announced that Ukrainians who arrive in Portuguese territory “are guaranteed to stay regular,” being immediately assigned a user number of the National Health Service, Social Security number, and Tax Identification Number (NIF).

The official also announced that the Institute for Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP) has created a “task-force” “to accompany people in a personalized way and manage to find ways of real integration,” through accommodation and a platform where companies will be able to upload job offers.

According to the Minister of Justice and Internal Administration Francisca Van Dunem as quoted by CNN Portugal’s Barbara Cruz, the regime will have an initial duration of one year, renewable for two periods of six months “provided that conditions are maintained that prevent people from returning” to Ukraine.

Although no one in the West is quite sure what Putin’s intentions are, a weakening or breakup of the European Union is suspected of being one of his primary goals, says Len Port, a journalist and author based in the Algarve who writes for the Portugal Resident.

“Fortunately for Portugal, unlike much of the rest of Europe, it is not dependent on natural gas supplies from Russia, which it is feared the Kremlin might be using as a weapon in the current stalemate. Portugal’s gas originates in Algeria, Nigeria, and the US,” Port wrote on 26 January.

Nonetheless, Portugal has concerns even though it is the most distant EU country from Ukraine and, thus, perhaps the least vulnerable should dialogue fail. It is situated more than 3,000 km west of Ukraine. In past years, top Russian warships have passed along Portugal’s coast, at times as close as 26 nautical miles from the Algarve’s shores.

“As distant as it is, defence minister João Gomes Cravinho told his 26 EU counterparts at a meeting … in Brest, France, that he was delighted with the ‘absolute refusal’ by all EU member states to give in to Russia’s attempts to divide the Union by threatening Ukraine,” Port added.

“It’s clear that Russia’s attitudes seek to divide–divide the Europeans and divide the Europeans from the North American,” claimed the defense minister. He described it as “a very worrying situation that must be dealt with firmly, with a clear purpose, and in unity among all Europeans.”

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, thanked his Portuguese counterpart, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, for the support Portugal has provided to Ukraine.

Zelensky said on Twitter that he spoke to Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, whom he thanked for the closure of Portuguese airspace to Russian planes, Portugal’s support in excluding Russia from the Swift international interbank platform, and for “concrete defence assistance.”

The Ukrainian head of state called the President of the Republic, who reiterated Portugal’s “strong condemnation” of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and “solidarity support for the courageous Ukrainian resistance,” according to a note published in official website of the Portuguese Presidency.

Portugal also aims to accelerate its energy transition and increase the proportion of renewable sources by 20 percentage points to 80 per cent of its electricity output by 2026, four years earlier than previously planned, a transition that is being accelerated after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” according to a 2 April report by Reuters.

Unlike central European countries, Portugal does not depend on Russian natural gas pipelines, as it mainly imports liquefied natural gas from Nigeria and the USA, not importing Russian crude since 2020.Committed to become carbon-neutral by 2050, Portugal currently gets 60 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources—one of the largest proportions of green energy in Europe.

Elsewhere, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine in a ceremony that harkened back to a century-old apocalyptic prophecy about peace and Russia sparked by purported visions of the Virgin Mary to three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

The pontiff invited faithful from around the world to join him in the prayer, which opened with Francis entering St. Peter’s Basilica before an estimated 3,500 people and concluded with him sitting alone before a statue of the Madonna. There, he solemnly asked forgiveness that humanity had forgotten the lessons learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two World Wars,” noted Nicole Winfield for the Associated Press.

“Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons,” the pope prayed.

The service was Francis’ latest effort to rally prayers for an end to the war while keeping open options for dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church and its influential leader, Patriarch Kirill. “Francis has yet to publicly condemn Russia by name for its invasion, though his denunciations of the war in Ukraine have grown increasingly outraged,” observed Winfield.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the magazine’s current issue online and subscribe at no cost via this link:

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A Seat at the Table for Elijah?

For many of the same reasons that Christians celebrate Easter – being released from bondage into freedom – Jewish people traditionally celebrate Passover as a series of observations passed down from generation to generation. It’s a holy day to recall how God saved his called people from plagues and the death of their first-borne sons, the latter by painting the lintels framing their doorways with the blood of sacrificial sheep so that the angel of death “passed over” their homes while the Egyptians suffered an entirely different fate.

One of the central themes of Passover is telling the story of oppression and the journey to liberation.

“Let my people go!” Moses repeatedly pleaded with Pharaoh.

And finally, with the death of his own first-borne son, the story goes that Pharaoh relented. Miracles of the water parting so the Jewish people could walk safely through while, later, as Egyptians had second thoughts and pursued the Israelites through that same water, it gathered back together and drowned the Egyptians hunting their hostages. Even the matzoh – the unleavened bread – is part of the Passover story, reminding us of the haste in which the Hebrews fled (with not even enough time for their bread to rise).

While we may understand that spiritual maturity means accepting that life is the integration of the bitter and the sweet, the matzoh sandwich also reminds us that we live our lives “in-between.” We hang in the balance, alive, but not immortal, sandwiched between a fragile, limited, carnal self and our eternal Divine DNA.

For both faiths, Easter and Passover have the same significance: remembering our freedom from bondage. We gather together, observe certain rituals, and share a communal meal while passing down these remarkable legends.

For Christians, Easter Sunday is preceded by Palm Sunday which, in turn, is preceded by days of Lent, preparing ourselves for worship in church. Often, there are processions (especially in predominantly Roman Catholic countries) with banners, floats, and flowers. For Jews, however, Passover is a home-based, solemn festivity, worshiped around the family table … with a very interesting tradition: one of the chairs is always left empty.

It’s Elijah’s.

Jewish tradition teaches that Elijah the prophet will be the harbinger of the coming of the Messiah and the world’s redemption. It is a chair of hope. Elijah’s cup, in Judaism, the fifth ceremonial cup of wine poured during the family (seder) dinner on Passover is left untouched in honour of Elijah, who, according to belief, will arrive one day as an unknown guest to herald the advent of the Messiah. His presence signals the messianic era: a time of redemption, peace, and spiritual bliss. The full cup ―one for the future ― remains untouched to honor and offer hospitality to Elijah when he ultimately appears. Symbolically, he is also welcomed when families open their doors during the Passover Seder.

During the last generation, however, Elijah’s chair and cup have been taken.

By cell phones and digital devices.

How ironic that holidays which are supposed to lead us by faith from bondage and oppression to freedom and peace have been usurped by humans putting their faith on hold should they be beckoned by a telephone call, Facebook message, or Instagram photo.

Each year, the chairs around our table are filled with different individuals who join together to retell, once again, the story of our enslavement and redemption. The Passover seder is more than a history lesson, for each of us is instructed to see ourselves as if we had personally been freed from Egypt. It must become our own story, told in the context of our family’s generations and community. We add new layers as each new year’s experience melds with the memories of the past.

Some years are painfully different. A beloved family member or friend has died during the past year. A country has been destroyed, whether by politics, war, and division. There is an empty chair – Elijah’s – at the table. How can we go through the same rituals when life has been so drastically altered? What if we begin to cry at the seder table? What if everyone is so afraid of pain and grief that they ignore the empty chair? Are we even allowed to bring our sadness to the seder, which seems like it should be a happy occasion? Sometimes death changes family/social relations, also the empty chair at the table.

How do we find meaning in the holidays now?

With God’s grace, hopefully beyond our fleeting “new normals.”

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the current issue and subscribe — at no cost! — by clicking on this link:

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