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Coming to Jerusalem by way of Barcelona, Spanish architect David Stoleru plans to educate Jews of Spanish heritage about their roots, by teaching them about the historical sites abandoned after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.
Stoleru, who began his fellowship at the Mandel Leadership Institute program in September, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that during his year in Jerusalem, he hopes to promote understanding and leadership in Jewish communities around Spain and throughout the world.
"My idea in this project is to develop a concept of using these sites that show off the Jewish heritage in Spain as well as sites throughout Europe, and teach these Jews about their roots," he said.
"The idea is to develop a structure from which Jews learn about where they came from through these historical sites."
Over the years, Stoleru has worked to preserve the ancient Jewish cemetery and structures in the old city of Toledo from around the 13th century as well as the Barcelona Montjuic, otherwise known as the Jewish Mount Barcelona, also an ancient cemetery.
His work with the Barcelona Montjuic eventually led to the government of Catalonia declaring it a national heritage site.
Through these sites and others around Spain, Stoleru hopes that he will be able to create an understanding among Spanish Jews and their brethren throughout Europe of their history in the region.
"There were no Jewish communities throughout Spain more than 500 years ago," he said. "In general, the Jews of Spain began their relationship with Judaism completely outside the strong anti-Semitism seen in Spain in the past. Most of their knowledge comes from the outside world, from people asking question and telling stories about their roots in Judaism."
An award-winning architect, Stoleru took part in the Jewish Young Leadership Seminary of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, founded the Talmudic Studies Circle in Barcelona and is a researcher and teacher of Spain's Jewish heritage.
He is also the co-founder of the Zakhor Study Center for the preservation and transmission of Jewish heritage of Spain, and of the Jewish Heritage Commission of Catalunya, both in Barcelona.
"Restorative architecture is an important educational act," Stoleru said. "The connection to the historical heritage, especially in the context of the Spanish Jews, raises moral and educational questions.
"For me, architecture is a means to create an educational and cultural dialogue," he said.
This is the 27th year of the fellowship program at The Mandel Leadership Institute, established in Jerusalem by the Mandel Foundation in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Jewish communities around the world.
Stoleru said that he was excited about the year to come during his fellowship.
"It's a very interesting issue," he said. "The idea is to transmit the idea of life through these sites and gain an understanding of where we came from."