Five hundred and twenty-one years after 1492, Spain is well on its way toward reclaiming its
Jewish barrios (neighborhoods), which had all but
disappeared and been reduced to redeployed buildings and ancient street signs,
have begun to see serious evidence of Jewish presence thanks to a project called
the Red de Juderías, or the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters. Old synagogues
are being reclaimed and filled with displays of Jewish artifacts and
explanations of Jewish customs, and there are lectures offered at venues in
streets that were once devoid of Judaism.
It is as though the Jewish
presence had been wiped clean but is now beginning to
Spaniards take increasing pride in their Sephardi heritage,
even if many of them still do not know any Jews, or know that they personally
may come from an unbroken line of Jewish mothers that can be traced back to
In 1992, King Juan Carlos apologized for the Spanish Inquisition
and said that the expulsion of the Jews was the worst mistake Spain had ever
made, as it had deprived the country of many talented, cultured, hardworking
Yet despite the apology, many Jews have remained wary of Spain,
noticing few innovations from a country that until the mid-19th century still
demanded documents proving pureza de sangre
(“purity of blood”) for many
Nevertheless, an amendment – passed at the end of
last year – to the law granting Spanish nationality to citizens of any country
who could prove their Sephardi heritage, dispensed with a waiting period and
removed the necessity for Spanish residence. There is speculation that Spain
wants its Jews back because of its economic situation.
established diplomatic relations with Israel five years before the king’s
apology, thanks in great part to the late Camilo José Cela – winner of the Nobel
Prize for Literature, member of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, and
senator by royal appointment in the constituent assembly (1977-1978), who for
years presided over the Cultural Institute of Israel, Ibero-America, Spain and
In recent years, the pace has begun to pick up. In 2004, the
Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain introduced a Sephardi Internet radio,
radiosefarad.com, and in 2006, the Spanish Foreign Ministry opened Centro
Sefarad-Israel, which aimed to improve ties between Spain and Israel and educate
the locals about their Jewish heritage.
“To defend Israel is to defend
human rights. The enemies of Israel are the enemies of Spain.
of the Maccabees continues today,” Community of Madrid president Esperanza
Aguirre told the local Jewish community in 2011.
politician and journalist Pilar Rahola has denounced Judeophobia within her
political milieu and speaks often about the importance of the Jewish role in
world history. When the Palestinians put in their bid at the United Nations for
non-member observer status on November 29, 2012, the right-wing Popular Party
opposed the bid, despite the official Spanish position at the
Right-wing former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar founded and
heads the international organization Friends of Israel, and is known as a
speaker for Jewish causes. Another former Spanish president, socialist Felipe
Gonzalez, headed the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and its follow-up,
Madrid+15, in 2006.
Centro Sefarad-Israel’s initiative “Sefarad
Convivencia” (Sepharad Coexistence) uses culture and education to promote
respect and tolerance toward Jews and Israel among the Spanish public. It puts
out an increasing barrage of events, including film screenings, concerts,
workshops and roundtable discussions.
A recent event showcased Christian
Protestant César Vidal, a historian, writer, journalist, defender of human
rights and enemy of anti-Semitism.
Another presented an explanation of
kosher wine, featuring vintner Jose Maria Escudero and Chief Rabbi Moshe
On Wednesday, reporter Doreen Carvajal of The New York Times
and the International Herald Tribune
will give a talk on her Sephardi heritage
at Centro Sefarad-Israel, the center’s spokesman Fernando Vara de Rey told The
Carvajal grew up as a Catholic in California, aware of
some mystery surrounding her family roots. In 2003, she traveled to Andalusia
and uncovered a long story of confused identity, inquisitorial threats and
The result of this journey was her book The
Many Spanish cities, including Sevilla, Cordoba and
Toledo, today belong to the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters, which offers
tours focusing on the Jewish history of many of the locales. Virtual tours are
also available, since the network partnered with Google in December of last
However, the northern city of Zamora, on the border with Portugal,
has so far been missing from the list, even though it appears to have been an
important center of Jewish learning in the 14th and 15th centuries.
conference titled “Zamora Jewish Life: History and Re-encounters,” will take
place in early July, organized by Jesus Jambrina of Viterbo University in La
Jambrina, who created the documentary Zamora Sefardi,
believes the city may have been the greatest center of Jewish learning in Spain
as the time of the expulsion decree drew near.
Prof. Avraham Gross will be among the speakers at that event. He has researched
Talmudic scholar and kabbalist Avraham Saba, who lived in Zamora in the 15th
century and whose ketuba (marriage certificate), now housed in the Israel
National Library, was the first clue to Zamora’s important Jewish
Earlier this month, for the second year, the Erensya Summit on the
subject of Sephardi heritage took place in Turkey, with the participation of
representatives from 60 Sephardi communities – including Buenos Aires, Caracas,
Brazil, Sarajevo, Belgrade, Sofia, Salonika and several parts of Mexico, Vara de
Rey told the Post.
Mayors and municipal leaders from the Network of
Spanish Jewish Quarters were also in attendance, as were representatives of the
Jewish Museum of Amsterdam, Bar- Ilan University, the Latin- American Sephardi
Federation, Centro Sefarad-Israel and others.
The five-day program, held
in Istanbul and Smyrna, included working sessions aimed at strengthening links
between Spain and the world’s Sephardi communities.
included communication, memory and identity, tradition and culture, technology,
education and youth, said Vara de Rey.