Interviewing David Garrett, a Board member of the Jewish Community of Oporto

Interviewing David Garrett, a Board member of the Jewish Community of Oporto

David, you are a member of the board of the Jewish Community of Oporto, responsible for overseeing regulatory compliance. What else would you like to highlight?

- The answer is harder than the question. Possibly the work done to honour and dignify those who came before us. The cemetery is called the “Isaac Aboab Field of Equality”, the Jewish Museum opens with a large painting of Abraham Zacuto, we have dedicated a feature film to the victims of the Inquisition, the Shoah Museum honours the relatives of Community members who were crushed by Nazism, we have been working closely with the Pressman, Knikinsky and Kadoorie families and others, and we even dedicated a film to Colonel Barros Basto.

Although the Jews living in Portugal are overwhelmingly non-religious, has the Community managed to promote Judaism?

- We are reaching our eighth consecutive and uninterrupted year with minyan on Shabbat and Yom Tov. In addition to the main Synagogue with two prayers rooms, we have another Synagogue for foreign students, as well as kosher restaurants, a market, hotel, library, online school and everything that makes it easy to be a Jew in Oporto. The Community has even built a cemetery. The last was destroyed at the end of the 15th century.

The oldest member of the Community, Samuel Yanovsky, died this March. What was the last thing he said to you?

- He asked me to ensure the Oporto Community’s help in getting Chabad-Portugal to grow more and more. “For we die and they live on with many children”, he said.

Is the Jewish Community of Oporto on good terms with Chabad?

- In the last years, the Community has carried out solidarity actions in more than ten countries, setting up schools, Synagogues and mikvaot, almost always with Chabad partners. Indeed, the Chabad-Centre of Portugal was built with support from the Community. In terms of scale, not even the Kadoories’ 1933 donation to the Oporto Synagogue can be compared to what the CIP/CJP has done for the Portuguese and world Chabad in the 21st century.

As a man and a Community leader, which was the most important moment in your Community life?

- Driving the Community delegation to sign a protocol of friendship and cooperation with Oporto Diocese. My colleagues entered the Episcopal Palace. I stayed in the car waiting for them.

Why do you never talk about yourself? Social recognition is important.

- I don't need it. I am one among billions, a miserable part of the whole. I'm not dazzled by myself or anyone else.

The former Israeli Ambassador Raphael Gamzou recalls that he was always received at the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue by Rabbi Daniel Litvak, that Isabel Lopes spoke to him about the organisation and Michael Rothwell about the Museums, and Rabbi Yoel Zekri explained the religious activities of the Community… you showed up later in the midst of other ordinary members. Why was that?

- I have never received powers to represent the Community as an institution, nor do I have any responsibilities for managing the accounts or leading the religious, cultural and gastronomic life of the Synagogue and other venues of the organisation.

The oldest ladies of the Community – Marilyn Flitterman and Luísa Finkelstein – both say that never had the Community dreamt of having the great Kadoorie Synagogue filled with Jews, museums filled with children, people coming in and out of the mikveh, and so many other activities. They all say that none of this would have been possible without you.

- I believe that my attitude may have influenced some of my colleagues. Our aim in life is to do something for the world – something good and in a short time, otherwise nothing is achieved – without wasting time on gossip, envy and vanity. This is leprosy.

The Holocaust Museum was built in two months from the initial idea to opening. How was that possible?

- We were unable to build it any faster. The entire team of workers got sick with the coronavirus.

In terms of culture, one of its most distinctive characteristics, how do you judge the actions of the CIP/CJP?

- Our activities have no parallel in Europe. Every year our Synagogue and Museums are visited by 50 thousand school students. On the more important dates we bring together 1000 or 1500 teenagers at the same time. The millenary history of the Community is set out in books as well as in the films I mentioned. One of them is the most award-winning Portuguese film ever. We have an art gallery, a male choir, a Jewish museum, a Port wine room and more.

Why did the Board of the Jewish community of Oporto appoint Sochnut as legitimate heir to all its assets, in 2021?

- In Europe never were a people so often robbed of all their goods.

As we read the Community’s correspondence over the last years, we note that a large part of the secular and religious Jewish world has been delighted and attracted by the Oporto Jewish congregation. Chief-Rabbis from over twenty countries have taken part in Community feasts. I was particularly impressed by the letters sent to you by the great Jewish magnates of the present day. How did you interpret these messages of congratulations and joy?

- Naturally, these appraisals are valuable and will endure. I believe it would be hard to do more. Highly qualified people in many areas and with different vocations, who at great sacrifice to their lives and their time were dedicated to this huge and grandiose project, with great belief and commitment.

Were the Portuguese elites unhappy with the magnificence achieved by the Community in the space of a decade?

- Displeased a minority, but influential. I recommend you read the open letter President Gabriel Senderowicz published recently.

Last 11 March, one year after the Synagogue was invaded by dozens of police, the Jewish Community of Oporto celebrated “The Day of Shame” by lighting the candles on a menorah. Will this day be celebrated on an annual basis?

- Both the Board and the General Meeting have expressed that intention.

How would you describe this police operation in one word?

- Unbelievable.

This famous case, which caused ink to flow all round the world, involving a community in a country with practically no Jews suddenly splashed across the newspapers, linked to the most unexpected circumstances, has begged the question and even the statement that there was corruption.

- Yes. State and newspaper corruption.


- Soviet-style, yes. Two handfuls of individuals who temporarily form part of the greatest powers in society did everything they could to crush the most relevant Jewish organization in the country, steal its assets, destroy the reputation of its leaders, smear its works of more than a decade and expel its members and partners from the country.

In the book of the centenary, entitled “Two Millennia of the Jewish Community of Oporto, Chronology 1923-2023”, the Community officially declared the end of the lawsuit that bestowed “Operation Open Door” on society. What does this statement mean?

- The seven allegations are technically impossible. The process was born dead. Therefore, the lawsuit is over, there is no need to wait.

But lawsuits in Portugal take years and years… sometimes more than a decade.

- The State needs to improvise new allegations, as it did with Colonel Barros Basto. The previous ones were a sham that was invented by thieves, murderers and convicts whose mission in life was to create a very serious problem for the country.

The search warrants for the Synagogue, museum and leaders’ homes stated that the applicants’ certificates of Sephardic origin were issued by the construction company belonging to the Vice-President’s husband. What do you have to say about this?

- The Synagogue and the Community were abused and destroyed based on arguments of this calibre.

The authorities said that the rabbi corrupted Registry Office officials when in fact he had never entered a registry office and knew no one there. Did you ever believe, right at the beginning, that the rabbi knew people in the registry offices?

- To the very end, I never believed Portugal had become a jungle. The rabbi is an independent man, with his personal and professional life, his lawyers, his doctor, and so on. He might have met someone in a registry office and so given rise to some misunderstanding in this regard. However, this never happened. It was yet another piece of nonsense, a “tontería”, as he says in Spanish.

Why has the famous report of the IRN (Institute of Registries and Notary) not been released?

- Most probably because it says nothing about the rabbi’s alleged attempts to corrupt registry offices. I can just see him with suitcases full of gold distributing wealth to registry officers. In the Community, people joke about the fact that he has had the same 20-euro note in his pocket for years.

The corruption attributed to the rabbi alleged that it was he who corrupted registry officers. But in the news in Portugal the rabbi was treated as being corrupt, together with the Community leaders which some elites wished to destroy.

- It is the same school of the Soviet Union. It is merely a question of finding who drank from the same well in political terms.

Is it true that the authorities alleged that the rabbi did not have the technical knowledge to know who is a Sephardi originating from Sepharad?

- Not that rabbi nor other rabbinates recognised by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Those who allegedly had such knowledge were non-Jews from Brazil and Lisbon. None of these could ever have taken part in the migration process to Israel, because they completely lacked the qualifications to know who is Jewish or not.

For seven years, how did the Community operate regarding the certification of applicants’ Sephardism?

- The rabbi and the president already explain the matter.

Interview with the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Oporto, Rabbi Daniel Litvak

The Jewish community of Oporto’s criteria for Sephardic certification over a seven-year period

The authorities stated that the rabbi had forged the Sephardic certificate of a Russian Israeli billionaire, whose family has surnames like Rosa and Lion, and whose Sephardism had in fact been certified at the source. When did you hear about this specific certification case?

- Exactly 13 days after the applicant had been certified, and rightly so.

Were the people who invented this lawsuit disappointed? You were the main target...

- I wish them a very cordial Shalom Aleichem.

The authorities also alleged that the rabbi had forged the Sephardic origin of a French Israeli, who had in fact been certified by the Lisbon Community. Did they apologize for this scandalous mistake?

- Nobody apologizes in Portugal. Life goes on as before. Fortunately, they did not rush to invade the Synagogue in Lisbon. The orders were clear: Oporto.

Was the aim to smear and delegitimize the leaders of the Jewish Community of Oporto?

- As much as possible. In leaps and bounds. Portugal was turned into the barrack newspaper, with a bunch of indecent people pulling the cart, while journalists and police made notes. A joke.

What do you have to say about a search being made for suitcases of cash at the home of the Community’s Vice-President, the granddaughter of the “Portuguese Dreyfus”?

- It was hard work. Isabel owns 40 suitcases.

Why were not she and her husband made defendants?

- You cannot make defendants based on anonymous denunciations.

You were...

- It was a completely illegal step, a gift for mediocre politicians who were waiting anxiously for fellow journalists to immediately promote a party with the "second defendant". I once spent two years for a Prosecutor to be constituted as a defendant. When that happened, the District Attorney asked me to pardon her. I replied, "Of course. But if it were the other way around, she wouldn't forgive me."

Did they have a hard time searching your house?

- Not at all. I welcomed them in. I already had the documents in the hall for them to take. Maybe they were looking for Sephardim fleeing through the windows and only saw books everywhere.

Have you had any contact with these people before?

- They didn't know who I was, where I worked, where I lived. They visited a law office I haven't been to in twenty years. They've been lost in my building. The only thing they knew was that I was the “hunting piece”.

What did you think of the prosecutors’ intentions on the day they visited you?

- Polite and well meaning. We are talking about people with excellent and unblemished careers in the service of the nation. Someone placed them in that situation, having to drive 700 km on a round trip from Lisbon. The lawsuit will never make anybody proud, it is a problem created by some and passed on to others who in the end are the martyrs, or “Christs” as they are called in Portuguese.

What about the police?

- The ones in Oporto were exemplary, as were the Lisbon police, albeit with a weight on their conscience. Nothing rang true with the anonymous denunciations. However, they were obeying orders and could hardly turn away and say, “This is a freak of nature”.

In political processes, everything serves to destroy, held together by spit. I know you wished to hand over 12 years of communications to the police. Why did you do that?

- To show a useful life made of work and family. My life is studying and working. I was very inattentive to what was going on in society. At the time, I did not imagine that the political regime had reached this point of moral degradation.

Eliezer Beigel, a member of the Community, died last year. Did you speak with him about “Operation Open Door”?

- No. Isabel says that “luckily, Mr. Beigel died a few days before the invasion of the Synagogue, otherwise the pain would have been unbearable”. And that’s true. A few weeks earlier, he was teaching me how to make bread in a bread-maker and said that he feared the system would cut off his head.

What did you say to that?

- “The system cannot handle independent men.”

How to you consider the imputations addressed to you by so many in the shadow of “anonymous” denunciations?

- I’ve heard them mentioned. I don’t keep up with the news.

Do you own a Jaguar today?

- 20 years ago, I had an Audi A8, 10 years ago, a BMW 735... I haven’t evolved. Neither have the contents of my libraries.

Married under Jewish law by one of the great wise men of Israel and with Jewish children, how do you feel on being called a Christian?

- Forced conversions to Christianity occurred in 1497.

Colonel Barros Basto was called a “pantheist” by the newspaper “A Voz”.

- It's a coincidence. Please don't compare me to the Colonel. He was the President of the association, I am a modest Board member.

After more than a decade of work for the Oporto Jewish Community, along with their co-religionists, Barros Basto and David Garrett were the subject of slanderous anonymous denunciations that falsely accused them of fashionable crimes at that time (1934-1936, 2020-2022).

- Mediocre people exist in all ages.

In both cases, slanderous anonymous denunciations were based on mediocrities, murderous jealousies and false accusations of violent behavior and embezzlement of donations that foreigner Jews sent to Oporto for Community projects.

- It couldn't have been "high people" behind such base accusations. They will end up in the dustbin of history.

Portuguese State agents and enlisted journalists took advantage of such slanderous anonymous denunciations to try to destroy the good name of their targets, the harmony they maintained in the Jewish Community of Oporto and their roles as guarantors of the legality of the organization and as the main drivers of all its departments. Those denunciations resulted in criminal proceedings (in 1936 and 2022) intended to drag the targets to court for years, to destroy their lives and to bring down a Jewish community that was highly prosperous in terms of religious and cultural life.

- I recognize the pattern is always the same. The result will be different.

Barros Basto and David Garrett were born on December 18, in the Hebrew month of Tevet. Barros Basto was outgoing and indiscreet. David Garrett was introverted and discreet. Their fate was similar.

- I was born on the 10th of Tevet, the Colonel on the 4th of the same month. They spat me, yes. But they won't decide my fate.

Is it true that a lawyer and notary was pestered because of her surname?

- Unbelievably, yes. In addition, some robbers broke into her home to try to link her to the Community. The poor woman hardly knew what a Sephardic Jew was.

How did the thieves discover her name?

- When they robbed the office of a lawyer who worked for members of the Community, and from whom they stole the server. The notary certified Arab translations in the office of that other lawyer, and the thieves mixed this up with “CIP/CJP certifications”.

Does the police started pursuing this idiotic theory?

- This went on for months. Maybe it is still ongoing, because no one has apologized to those ladies yet.

The President of SIRESP was also robbed. They stole two computers.

- A wilful team did everything to “produce material” to send – anonymously, we think – to the police, which in turn acted under political pressure to achieve something, however minor. They actually asked the museologist if by any chance he “knew of any illegality”.

In November 2022, a young Frenchman, together with his wife, was the target of what is believed to have been an assassination attempt the day after he asked Parliament for the State never again to attack the Jewish Community of Oporto using anonymous denunciations of convicts and robbers.

- He is a Cohen of Djerba. He is not a "son of Israel" like you and me, nor a Levite, nor a simple Cohen. The great Synagogue of Djerba was built with objects from Solomon's Temple.

Who ordered such serious crimes? International movements of a political nature linked to nations that hate Israel? Small "Portuguese" who took advantage of a political wave of half a dozen people to "collaborate" by offering information and destroying everything that would jeopardize the thesis they put together? A mix of all this?

- I prefer not to answer your question.

How is it that the Portuguese authorities continue faithfully to protect anonymous denunciations which for months were actually shared among politicians, journalists, influencers and the criminals responsible for them?

- The answer lies in the question.

When the police operation was carried out in the limelight, the Jewish Museum of Oporto promised to exhibit the first volumes of the lawsuit containing the famous anonymous denunciations. Does the Board intend to see this through?

- All this junk will be placed on the walls. That is an unbreakable promise.

Will the authors of the anonymous denunciations and all those who admired and promoted them with unworthy purposes be remembered?

- Including names and photographs. In May, the Board commissioned a room dedicated to modern antisemitism, which was inaugurated last June and has had thousands of visitors. The new data will be a perfect fit there.

Don’t you think it odd that there should be total silence on the part of the media with regard to the Oporto Jewish life, culture and education and to the actions by your organisation in the last six or seven months?, such as the inauguration of the modern antisemitism room, the complaint to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, the demand for an international investigation into the partnership between the State and criminals, the official declaration of the closure of “Operation Open Door”, the celebration of “The Day of Shame”, the video launched on that day with the title “Soviet-style Antisemitism in Portugal” and others. 

- The silence is explainable. To stand up some elites, it is important not to depend on them, not to receive subsidies from the State, not to be afraid and much more. We are in these conditions.

What do you think about the total apathy of politicians from all walks of life in the face of the slanderous campaign that aimed to bring down the Community? No one even asked for restraint.

- The answer is the same as the previous question.

How will the Community defend itself after the “Palestinian cause” that opened the hostilities, the savagery of the press, and the police operation, as well as the constant traffic of information, denunciations and conspiracy theories?

- As it has done up to now. As needs be. The values we protect with our actions are much higher than those the State aims to defend. We will prove that anywhere.

Did the Community also receive anonymous denunciations?

- Those are being handled elsewhere.

Would you use them?

- If they are consistent with other data, then, yes. We are not going to act in the style of the “Open Door” operation. One cannot destroy the good name of persons and institutions before making investigations and asking questions.

Will there be an international investigation, as the Community requested?

- Of course. One day we will talk about it.