The Dona Gracia Project

Commemorating a Remarkable Jewish Woman


Who is Dona Gracia Nasi?

A 16th century Jewish woman, born a conversa (belonging to a group otherwise known as anousim or Crypto-Jews) who fought to save thousands of Jewish lives during the time of the Inquisition - and also made a significant attempt to start a modern state of Israel.

Gracia Nasi (1510-1569)

A drawing of Dona Gracia as imagined by the modern illustrator, Arthur Szyk. Image reproduced with the cooperation of the Arhtur Szyk Society, Burlinghame, CA.


Dona Gracia Nasi was born in Lisbon in 1510, into a venerable family of conversos (forcibly converted Jews) originally from Spain, who had fled to Portugal when the Catholic Monarchs expelled the Jews in 1492.

Though the family thought they would thus be safe, they were forcibly converted once they got there. Furious, they were determined to return to Judaism, helping other forced converts who felt similarly violated, to do the same. As conversos, they could also now be persecuted by the Inquisition.

Meanwhile, following the death of her husband, Dona Gracia took over the operations of the family’s pan-European banking, trading and shipping entities. One of the wealthiest Jewish women of Renaissance Europe, she became an outstanding leader of her people using her position to help other conversos flee to safety in the Ottoman Empire.

Once there, she used her personal fortune and powerful contacts to help them resettle, reclaim their ancestral faith and flourish once again. She also worked diligently to develop a modern state of Israel.

In 1556, she even threatened the Pope with reprisals from the Turkish Sultan when he allowed 23 conversos to be burned at the stake in the Italian port city of Ancona.

A deeper look into the life of Dona Gracia gives us a better understanding of her business and negotiating skills, leadership and fierce commitment to her Jewish faith.

Why is she important

She gives us a role model of an outstanding woman who can inspire similar leadership and skill in today’s women worldwide, while fostering pride in their history.

What's New

EXHIBIT: We can now offer a traveling (portable) exhibit to accompany a talk or festival. See contact info at right.

Images from the world of Dona Gracia Nasi. From top: her physician, Amatus Lusitanus; her residence in Ferrara, portrait medal of her niece; the new Dona Gracia white wine; a letter announcing her death (courtesy of the Univesity of Zagreb); map of her journey; seated with her nephew at her shoulder in Venice


NOTE: a detailed time-line of Dona Gracia's life and deeds can be found on the Events/​books page. Once there, you will also find a free pdf download of a lesson on Dona Gracia for 5-7th graders (by scrolling down and clicking on "For Children").

1. We have arrived.
2. The ceremonies at the first Dona Gracia Nasi Day in New York City,
and a year later in Philadelphia, PA.
3. Israel pays tribute to Dona Gracia too.
4. Our celebrations captured for Portuguese TV news.
5. Reaching out to Italy.
6. Dona Gracia: a major TV mini-series in development.
7. Dona Gracia gets her own wine label.

See details below

(l to r) Brooks, Porto and Winters celebrate our beginnings at the Brotherhood Synagogue in Manhattan. Zuares, our other board member, could not attend. A year later in Philadelphia with costumed "members of Dona Gracia's family."


1. We are what is really new! We are barely two years old.

The DGP was created in the spring of 2010 to commemorate the 500th anniversary year of the birth of Dona Gracia.

The project was originally developed by four women, eager to tell her story and promote the values of this extraordinary Jewish woman leader. They comprised the Board of the Project.

Founder and President: Harriet Porto, a marketing consultant. E-mail Harrietporto@​yahoo.com

Andrée Aelion Brooks, author, journalist and lecturer, who wrote the definitive biography of Dona Gracia titled “The Woman who Defied Kings.” E-mail andreebrooks@​hotmail.com

Lynne M. Winters, Director of Programming, American Sephardi Federation at the Center for Jewish History, New York City.

Gwen Zuares, Chair, Center for Jewish Culture, B’nai B’rith International. E-mail gzuares@​apgross.com


2. Early Recognition! Two Official Proclamations

Our very first worldwide commemoration of Dona Gracia was held on June 6, 2010, at the Brotherhood Synagogue in Gramercy Park, New York. Before an audience of almost 200 people, we were presented with a proclamation from the City Council of New York declaring that day to be "Dona Gracia Day." A Kaddish prayer was said in her honor for the very first time in 500 years. A year later, on June 12, 2011, a similar festival and proclamation took place at Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia.

The proclamation from the City of New York naming June 6, 2010, Dona Gracia Nasi Day and a similar proclamation from the city of Philadelphia on June 12, 2011

3. Recognition finally comes in Israel too

At a special ceremony in Israel later the same fall, Shimon Peres, president of Israel, paid formal tribute for the first time to Dona Gracia as a Zionist before her time.

4. Video produced for Portuguese TV news program.

Our special 500th birthday celebrations were captured on Portuguese TV - with plenty of commentary in English. (click here to see it) Enjoy!

5. Reaching out to Italy and Brazil

We were fortunate recently to receive a two-page spread in the Italian Jewish magazine, Il Bollettino, which gives us great visibility among the Jewish communities of Italy. More recently, there was a major article and a beautiful spread, with illustrations, on Dona Gracia -- a summary of her life -- in the Brazilian magazine Hebraica. It was written by Ariel Finguerman and concentrated upon her attempts to start a modern state of Israel in and around Tiberias. Finguerman is a Brazilian journalist.

6. Dona Gracia: a major TV mini-series

We are the initial stages of working on a major TV mini-series, based upon the life of Dona Gracia. For more details E-mail: andreebrooks@​hotmail.com

7. A Dona Gracia wine from Italy
There is now a kosher white wine available made from grapes grown in the Po Valley near where Dona Gracia lived during her stay in Italy. Her name is on the label and the wine can be obtained by contacting vendors - who are still limited mostly to the New York area, but could possibly ship elsewhere. Go to the: (Sentieri Ebraici) website for a list of local suppliers.

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How to reach us?

July 5 - 11
A session on Dona Gracia will be part of a week-long program studying Jews in the Renaissance. Berkshire Hills Adult Vacation Center, Copake, N.Y.
August 3 - 5
Ninth annual conference of anousim/conversos. Congregation B'nai Zion, El Paso, TX. Details contact Sonya Loya, tav_22@yahoo.com
Numerous programs for Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, at the Hotel Elegante, Albuquerque, N.M. Contact Sonya for dates and details at: Email: tav_22@yahoo.com