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Portuguese priest prompts protest with Jewish museum plan

(JTA) — The rabbi of Porto urged the Catholic Church of Portugal to block a local priest’s plan to open a museum commemorating Jewish presence in the city.

Rabbi Daniel Litvak made the appeal in a letter this week to the Patriarchate of Lisbon against a plan promoted by Father Agostinho Jardim Moreira to open The Center for Jewish Memory.

“It would be improper and a travesty for a Catholic priest to try to distort history and possibly benefit financially from a museum in memory of the very people whom the church expelled,” Litvak told JTA on Tuesday.

Porto, which has a Jewish community of several dozen, used to have tens of thousands of Jews before their 16th century expulsion and forced conversion into Christianity.

Moreira wants to open the museum inside a building that once belonged to Jewish owners before its confiscation, Litvak said.

“Porto has a Jewish community with Jews from 14 nations and if anyone should be running a museum, it should be that community,” he said.

But Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel — an Israeli NGO that runs a Jewish heritage center in Trancoso near Porto as part of its outreach to former Jews — offered a passionate defense of Moreira and condemned Litvak’s letter.

Moreira’s project “is a welcome and long-overdue initiative, and it has won the support of Portuguese Jewry,” Freund said, adding it would help raise awareness to that community’s endurance and revival despite persecution.

“It is disgraceful that Daniel Litvak has taken the inexcusable step of criticizing Father Moreira and this project, and I think his criticism is completely without merit,” Freund told JTA.

Moreira told the Lusa news agency that his plan was backed by the Jewish community of Lisbon, the country’s largest with a few hundred members, and of Belmonte.

Lisbon’s Jewish community declined to comment on Litvak’s letter. However, a prominent member of the community spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity.

“We believe that every initiative which relates to religious dialogue should be encouraged,” the community member said, “and that attitudes such as the ones taken by the Porto community are negative and conducive to creating anti-Semitism.”

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