Spanish foundation teaches millions of Spaniards that they have Jewish roots

“The Museo HispanoJudío is our most important project,” Hatchwell Altaras said. “It will be a place to rediscover our origins, our values, and the desire for a future of fraternity and peace.”

  (photo credit: Fundacion HispanoJudía)
(photo credit: Fundacion HispanoJudía)

The first online Jewish museum devoted to Spanish-Jewish culture will be activated as a first step toward an actual museum in Madrid, co-founder and president of the Fundacion HispanoJudia (FHJ - the Hispanic Jewish Foundation) David Hatchwell Altaras told The Jerusalem Post.

“We’re working on a state-of-the-art Jewish Museum here in Madrid," Hatchwell Altares said in a Zoom interview from his home in the Spanish capital. "The virtual phase should be ready by summer 2023 and the physical one will be ready by summer 2024. We already have a beautiful site, with an amazing prime location of around 28,000 square feet.”

Hatchwell Altaras said that the foundation, which he co-founded in 2015, has invested €1.5 million for the online museum and that “we are going to be building an overall museum, which is going to be a €20 million project. We have already obtained a substantial amount of that – about half.”

“The Museo HispanoJudío is our most important project,” Hatchwell Altaras continued. “It will be a place to rediscover our origins, our values, and the desire for a future of fraternity and peace.”

The mission of MHJ, in his eyes “is to teach future generations that Judaism is an intrinsic element to Spanish and Hispanic identity. Judaism is not something foreign – on the contrary,” and to establish bridges of mutual understanding between the Spanish-speaking and Jewish worlds.

The online museum is expected to be “a virtual experience, something different from everything that exists today in terms of online museums,” he said. “It's an opportunity to create a transformative journey ‘from the crowd to the community,’ and to experiment with a living Judaism.”

 David in the act of presentation of the book Memories of Luis de Carvajal “El Mozo” in the Mexican embassy in Madrid. (credit: Fundacion HispanoJudía) David in the act of presentation of the book Memories of Luis de Carvajal “El Mozo” in the Mexican embassy in Madrid. (credit: Fundacion HispanoJudía)

Hatchwell Altaras explained that “visitors will be able to travel through time and thus immerse themselves in historically unique moments. The virtual museum will raise questions and provide tools for the visitor to find the answers along their personal route.”

During the tour, visitors will be given the opportunity to add content to their own “personal virtual basket," to continue enjoying the museum and its exhibitions once they get back home.

A leading Spanish businessman, philanthropist and world renowned leader of Jewish initiatives and causes, Hatchwell Altaras serves as President of Excem Grupo, a diversified international group founded by his late father, leading philanthropist, Mauricio Hatchwell Toledano. The group was established in 1971 as a Spanish trading and investment firm. Today it is focused on the technological, real estate and content areas.

Hatchwell Altaras is chairman of SIR - the Secure Income REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) based in Spain and specialized in co-living. He also chairs a REIT called SITUR, which is the number one hostel owner and operator in the Iberian Peninsula. He is an investor and a member of the International Advisory Board of OurCrowd, an Israeli equity crowdfunding platform.

The FHJ president has held several positions in the global Jewish community in recent years. He was the president of the Jewish Community of Madrid and served on the Executive Planning Committee of Taglit Birthright and on the board of Maccabi World Union. As opposed to most Jewish leaders from Spanish speaking countries, Hatchwell Altaras speaks perfect English and understands the mentality of the English-speaking and Israeli Jewish communities.

“The way that I conceive Judaism is to have, on the one hand, a very strong Jewish identity – I'm very Zionist," Hatchwell Altaras explained. "And I also believe very much in the concept of engaging with non-Jews. That's what I've done with our foundation.”

When the Spanish citizenship law was amended, thus allowing descendants of expelled Jews to obtain citizenship, Hatchwell Altaras decided to establish a foundation that would invest in initiatives and create others, promoting the story of the rich history of Sephardic Jews.

“People know that 500 years ago, there were many Jews that lived in the Iberian Peninsula. Then there was the expulsion and there was pretty much nothing afterwards – according to what the general public knows,” he claimed.

“We understand how important and impactful the Jewish presence was in these areas,” he said, “not only historically, but how it affected Spain with the Jews that remained. At the moment of the expulsion, 8% of the overall Spanish population was Jewish. And it is said by historians, like Ben-Zion Netanyahu, that the Jews initially thought that things would change eventually; that the kings might change their minds or die.

"But unfortunately, for 500 years, the lid was closed on them," the history awareness promoter said. "And those Jews initially tried to stay Jewish, but the pogroms continued. And after a couple of generations, there was definitely an attempt by those who had been Jewish to marry non-Jews. So if you take these percentages of intermarriage for over 25 generations, according to the exponential law of growth, it is impossible for anybody in Spain to say that they don't have Jewish ancestry.”

According to Hatchwell Altaras, “One in four people in Latin America has Jewish ancestry; so if there are close to 700 million people in these countries, we’re talking about close to 200 million people with Spanish-Jewish background. That's a huge number.”

He hopes that if he’s able to make millions of Spanish or Latin Americans understand that they have a Jewish connection, it can assist the battle of combating antisemitism, “because once you realize that you have Jewish ancestry, you can no longer be antisemitic. If you are antisemitic, then you're a fool – hating your own origins.”

He said that “we're also making sure that Christian societies that have Hispanic origin also understand the fundamental values that are shared between Christians and Jews, which are huge.”

The foundation that Hatchwell Altaras established has a fascinating list of figures supporting it. One of them is Stuart Weitzman, the Jewish-American shoe designer who established an empire under his name. Others include media personalities, rabbis, mayors of major cities, Israeli singer Achinoam (Noa) Nini, Russian billionaire Michael Friedman and others.

When asked what Weitzman’s connection was to Hispanic Jewry, Hatchwell Altaras smiled. “So here's the story,” he said, as if waiting to be asked. “Stewart, wonderfully, has a personal connection, because when he built his shoe empire, he manufactured in Spain. So for 40 years, he was spending a lot of time in Spain and he realized how ignorant people were about Judaism. We got connected, our paths crossed and he believes very much in our projects and therefore has been a very strong supporter. Actually, Stuart is our main benefactor.”

As a true hardcore Zionist, Hatchwell Altaras believes that “Each Jew has a mission,” and explained that “the only reason that my family and I live in Spain is because we are needed here, doing our share.” He is very well connected in Israel and the names of his three boys are Hebrew: Yavne (an Israeli city), Dayan (named for the late IDF leader and Israeli minister Moshe Dayan) and Magen ("shield" or "protector").

It would be “much more comfortable” for him to live in Jerusalem, where he has a home, he said, “but there's a sense of mission,” about living in Spain as a Jew.