Five centuries after expulsion, Madrid to open its first Jewish museum

The museum aims at covering ‘3,000 years of Jewish history and Jewish contributions to Spain and the world’

A Spanish flag flutters in the air as the capital of Spain is seen from the observatory deck of Madrid's city hall August 7, 2013.  (photo credit: REUTERS/SERGIO PEREZ)
A Spanish flag flutters in the air as the capital of Spain is seen from the observatory deck of Madrid's city hall August 7, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS/SERGIO PEREZ)
Spain was once home to the largest Jewish community in the world, with hundreds of thousands living and thriving there. The 1492 expulsion presented them with the choice to leave everything behind and flee, or to convert to Catholicism, putting an end to centuries of flourishing Jewish life.
This rich and tragic history will be presented in a Jewish museum in Madrid, which is set to open in 2022.
Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida announced on Friday that the municipality has signed an agreement with the Hispanojudía foundation to grant it the use of a building in the city center for 50 years to create a Jewish museum.
The 3,000 sq.m. building, previously occupied by social activists who were evicted in November, is known as “La Ingobernable” (The Ungovernable).
In the announcement, the video of which the mayor shared on his Twitter account, Martínez-Almeida said it is important the building be devoted to a cultural cause and that the decision was especially meaningful because “Madrid is the only great European capital that currently does not have a Jewish museum” – and also in consideration of the historical ties between the country and its Jewish history and community.
Hispanojudía was established five years ago.
As explained to The Jerusalem Post by its president, David Hatchwell Altaras, the museum aims at being much more than a classic institution devoted to Jewish history and Judaica objects.
“We deeply respect that, but our goal is to offer to those who will come to visit from all over the country the opportunity to emotionally connect with the journey of the Jews of ‘Sfarad,’” Hatchwell said, referring to the Hebrew name of Spain. “Ours is going to be a true 21st century museum. Modern, interactive, experiential and visual.”
He explained that one of the goals will be to highlight 3,000 years of Jewish contributions to Spain and the rest of the world, emphasizing the importance of shared Judeo-Christian values and roots.
Moreover, Hatchwell specified that the museum is going to be a Hispanic-Jewish museum, focusing also on the history of Jews who reached Latin America after the expulsion, and their lives in the New World.
Martínez-Almeida said Hispanojudía would be entirely responsible for funding the museum.
Hatchwell confirmed that the foundation has committed €40 million for both renovating the building and creating the content, and has already raised 40% of the €100m. endowment that it plans to assign to the museum.
In the past few decades, Jewish life in Spain has been experiencing a revival. About 45,000 Jews live in the country today, mostly in Madrid (20,000) and Barcelona (15,000), according to the European Jewish Congress.
However, according to Hatchwell, practically all of the Spanish population has Jewish roots.
“Before Jews were expelled in 1492, they represented between 8% and 10% of the Spanish population. About half decided to stay: statistically it is therefore impossible that 25 generations later anyone would not have some form of Jewish connection,” he told the Post.