PJN spoke with David Garrett, member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Community of Oporto at the event honoring Jewish writer Andrew Smiler, held in Pedrógão Grande on Sunday, October 15, 2023. Several current issues in Portugal and in the world were discussed, starting with the extremely sensitive situation in the Middle East.
(PJN) How do you see the October 7 massacre in Israel?
– History repeated itself.
President Isaac Herzog said in a speech that not even the Holocaust showed scenes of such concentrated barbarity and inhumanity.
– His excellent speech spanned recent decades. But in the past there has been much worse. Suffice it to recall the massacre of 1506 in Lisbon, which lasted three days and claimed three times as many victims.
What can the Jewish community of Oporto do to help Israel?
– A number of aid plans for Israel are being implemented in real time and are being coordinated by Israelis from our organization. We've seen friends go into battle not knowing if they'll ever return. Even the non-Jewish members of our staff mourned their departure.
In these dramatic days, is it dangerous to live in Israel?
– It's dangerous to live. In the Jewish world, when we wake up in the morning, our first words show it.
How have the young people in the community kept up with the terrible developments?
– In the last week, many of them, including my children, have decided that they will become citizens of Israel. They have that right and duty. Everyone wants to help with their talents and strengths. It's heartbreaking. Some don't even know how to swim.
With so many adversarial and dangerous neighbors, I wonder if Israel will survive once again, as it did in 1948, 1967, and 1973?
– Remember the history of past centuries. For the Jewish people, the situation has never been better. The Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman empires and many others have fallen. We will survive today's executioners, just as we did yesterday and the day before yesterday.
In the unspeakable massacre perpetrated by Hamas, the names of seven sacrificed people with Portuguese nationality are already known. How would you describe them?
– Peaceful young people, all from traditional Sephardic families from communities of the former Ottoman Empire and the Mediterranean.
The Community has revealed to the press the historical family connections of these young people to Portugal. Why?
– Not to be seen as second-class Portuguese citizens. A sick group cried out for more than a year that the community of Oporto did not know what a Jew of Sephardic origin was.
How did you see the universal condemnation of the graffiti painted on the synagogue last week linking Israel with apartheid?
– I'm not aware of any politicians talking about it.
But there was no shortage of associations, embassies, individuals and Portuguese and foreign newspapers strongly condemning the incident.
– A scratch on a wall is universally understood as antissemitism. Using state and journalistic corruption to try to destroy a strong Jewish organization and because of that was not recognized as such here.
– Everything. The very vague word antissemitism must disappear from the vocabulary. The generally accepted definitions for the word antissemitism do not directly cover situations much more serious than those they state.
If you prefer, we can discuss the subject without using the word antissemitism.
– Speaking of the concrete facts, what do you want to talk about?
Last Wednesday, we saw a man grab a can of paint, walk to a house of worship and paint a political message of aggression against the Jewish state, calling it apartheid. What is this?
– Ideological blindness and hatred of the Jewish state, culture, religion, and success. Traditional anti-Judaism, anti-Israelism, and anti-Jewish success, at least.
Israel is admittedly a Jewish success story. 75 years ago the small state only had symbols such as sand, camels and enemies.
– Just as my ancestor, David, fought the Philistines with a small stone, so few groups of poorly armed Jews faced the entire Arab world within hours of Israel's founding. One miracle was followed by another. They made the desert bloom, so they wouldn't die of hunger. They built our little "Empire" from nothing. On many levels we are at the level of the United States, which has always absorbed our best talent, of Russia, which has one third of the world's territory; and of China, which accounts for one quarter of the planet's population.
Do you have any idea who may have been the perpetrator of the criminal deed in the synagogue?
– He / she knew his trade. He / she painted this kind of offense well and lightly.
You said earlier that you have not seen politicians talking about the incident at the synagogue in Oporto. Why didn't they show up? Do you think that, if it were in another synagogue, they would all come to the site, as in other countries?
– Toxic is the word that politically defines the Jewish community of Oporto after the organized and slanderous propaganda that has been made in the last three years. We'll come back to the topic in the future, with interesting revelations.
How has the Oporto Jewish community relationship been with the coordinator of the fight against anti-Semitism and the promotion of Jewish life, Pedro Bacelar Vasconcelos, appointed by the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
– Very good. Politics still has people of great intellectual and human caliber.
Vasconcelos was at the synagogue and the Jewish museum on the European Day of Jewish Culture, spoke at the inauguration of the memorial to the victims of the Inquisition and was interviewed by the i24 channel. What was his opinion of the event?
– We didn't ask. You don't have to. No community in Europe has our level of cultural work. We have already invited the coordinator to address the hundreds of teenagers who visit the Shoah museum. And we have already had him with us at the Yom Kippur services.
How would an intellectual Portuguese have appreciated the spiritual atmosphere we saw on Yom Kippur?
– We didn't ask. You don't have to. That environment shows that Judaism is a spiritual powerhouse. Even Alexander of Macedon opened his arms to the Kohen Gadol.
On the same day that the synagogue was vandalized, the leadership of the community met with the president of the Muslim community and the bishop, in an event accompanied by the president of the municipal assembly. Was the objective you had in mind to maintain and strengthen the good relations between the religious communities of Oporto?
– Yes. Terrorism is not to be confused with the Palestinians, nor are the Palestinians to be confused with all Muslims. In Oporto, the three Abrahamic communities and the municipality intend to be united towards a common future.
For an interreligious gathering of this nature, especially on a day when the synagogue was vandalized, would it not have been good to invite members of other Jewish communities?
– The event was local and urgent. There was no time to organize something of a national nature.
The Lisbon Community also has excellent relations with the Muslim, Catholic and other communities.
– Yes, from a long time. For many decades Rabbi Abraham Assor maintained close friendships with the leaders of the other denominations, doing well for the history of the Lisbon community, which fed the Jewish flame in Portugal since the nineteenth century.
Judaism, Catholicism and Islam, what unites them in Portugal?
– The three cultures have a long history in the territory, even before D. Afonso Henriques.
Last Friday, the end of the Sephardic law was discussed in the assembly of the republic. What is your perspective on this event?
– The law ended in 2022 with the requirement of proof of possession of supposed assets inherited by those whose families were robbed of everything. I will not discuss the underlying legal problem.
I'm talking about the end of the law in formal terms.
– The creation of the 2013/2015 legislation was a legitimate sovereign act of the State, as will be its end, which would really dispense with the failed police operation that was cynically called “Open Door”.
A member of parliament said that the Sephardic law should not end just because a community certified people "in exchange for large sums of money".
– The amount of the fee is ten times less than what this gentleman earns to make this sad figure.
Will he be sued?
– There are people waiting in the front row.
Yesterday we read the parsha of Bereshit. We have entered the ninth consecutive minyan (prayer quorum) year on Shabbat and Yom Tov. What can we expect from the Community's activities for this new cycle?
– In a week's time we will observe the 7th of Cheshvan. At the time of the Second Temple, this was the day when activities resumed. Obviously there will be news.