All about Spain

I am among those who have always felt that there is generous common ground between Israel and Spain. We bookend the Mediterranean Sea and there is the Iberian country’s illustrious Jewish past.

Pablo Suarez will bring a taste of flamenco piano to the fesitval proceedings (photo credit: WALTER CARVALHO)
Pablo Suarez will bring a taste of flamenco piano to the fesitval proceedings
(photo credit: WALTER CARVALHO)
I am among those who have always felt that there is generous common ground between Israel and Spain. For starters, we bookend the Mediterranean Sea and, of course, there is the Iberian country’s illustrious Jewish past.
Some of the shared binational cultural, artistic and social baggage should come to light at Mishkenot Sha’ananim from November 27 to 29, when the All About Spain (Todo sobre España) Festival takes place there. The program is neatly described as “Three days of Music, Dance, Literature, Art, Cinema, Fashion, Food, Football and Politics in a Spanish Aroma,” which infers a broad spread of informative and entertaining slots on the agenda. The festival team has put together a varied program under the guiding hands of artistic directors Orly Abouluf and Dr. Paulina Stemmler, and content consultant Yael Kehat Cymerman.
So what, in fact, do we share with our Spanish counterparts? Food, music and a passion for soccer are in the festival mix, with Portuguese-born Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman lined up to illuminate us about some of the add-ons to what takes place during the 90 minutes or so the soccer players actually spend on the pitch. Cymerman, an award-winning writer and valued speaker, will focus on the longstanding rivalry between Spain’s soccer giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona in a slot called “Politics and Sport: Super Clásico: From the Political Arena to the Football Field.”
One of the principal protagonists in another enduring soccer head-to-head, fiery Scottish manager of Liverpool Bill Shankly, who always liked to get one over neighbors Everton, once memorably said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
That certainly applies to the Real Madrid-Barcelona duel too, with plenty of added political weight to liven up the sporting proceedings. “The whole atmosphere around their matches that goes far beyond the boundaries of just soccer and sport,” Cymerman notes. It seems that the phenomenon also goes way past the boundaries of Spain.
“In the past decade it has gone global. Just look at the Barcelona slogan – ‘Més que un club,’ which means ‘More than just a club.’ There are deep and historic significances here, including all the political battles that have occurred over the centuries.”
Naturally, that is particularly poignant right now, as the controversy around the struggle for Catalonian independence rages on. “There are those who want to split from Spain, but in fact, the Barcelona management don’t say they want that. They only say they want respect.”
That, indeed, sets the Real Madrid-Barcelona jousting apart from all the other bitter soccer contests around the world. Britain has its fair share, with the traditional enmity between north London powerhouses Arsenal and Spurs, and the same can be said for the ongoing matchups between Manchester United and Manchester City, in Glasgow between Rangers and Celtic, and the aforementioned Merseyside giants. While there have been formerly unthinkable transfers between some of the British teams in recent years, Cymerman does not believe that could happen in Spain. “You can’t possibly imagine Messi playing for Real Madrid,” he says, citing the Argentinean-born genius Barcelona talisman whom many consider to be the best player ever to kick a football.
Far from being just a matter of an in-house sibling tussle for local soccer hegemony, Cymerman says the rivalry captures the imagination, and some of the well-earned cash, of people of all ages from all cultures, religions and parts of the world. “I go to the Barcelona stadium (Camp Nou), when I can, two to three times a year. The last game I attended I sat with a bunch of Iranians, and we all cheered together whenever Barcelona did something good. They knew I was from Israel, and there was absolutely no problem. You see Muslims from all sorts of Arab countries coming to the games.”
It is not just the better-heeled who live in, or can afford to travel, to Spain who connect with the soccer craze there. “I was in northern Iraq. I covered the war with ISIS and I got to Mosul with the Peshmerga forces. I visited refugee camps of children who were ISIS slaves, and you see them with football team shirts – either Barcelona or Real Madrid. It is unbelievable. Barcelona is the biggest. They talk about a billion supporters around the world.”
When we chatted, a friendly game between Argentina and Uruguay was still scheduled to take place at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, although the security situation in the South may scupper that plan and prevent local soccer fans from catching Messi in action.
CYMERMAN’S TALK will be followed by an interview with H.E. Miguel Ángel Moratinos. Moratinos is well versed in regional matters here and has done several stints here as a former Spanish minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, the EU’s special representative for the Middle East peace process and ambassador of Spain in Israel. He is currently serving as the high representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. The event, which will take place in English, will be opened by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.
Cymerman says that Moratinos should be able to enlighten his audience about some of little known nuances of the political machinations in these here parts. “When he was the Spanish Ambassador here he brought the Palestinian leadership to his home. That was Faisal al-Husseini, who was talked of as Arafat’s successor, and Hanan Ashrawi. He brought them to sit down with Benjamin Netanyahu, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Madrid [Peace] Conference which they all attended. I was at that dinner with them. Today it sounds like science fiction that you could have such a gathering.”
Cymerman, who speaks five languages, including Spanish, sees the Spain-Israel festival pairing as a natural fit. “I see parallels between us in the culture, the passion. When I go to Europe I feel more at home when I meet Spanish people. We share this warmth and joie de vivre.” Of course, there is the Jewish connection too, which ties in nicely with Cymerman’s own roots.
“I am half-Ashkenazi but I am half samach-tet,” he notes, using the initials for Sephardi tahor – pure Sephardi – which references Jews who can trace their lineage back to those exiled from Spain in the wake of the Inquisition.
“My family, on my mother’s side, originates from Tétouan in Morocco. I just learned that the language they used there includes elements of the Hebrew spoken by Spanish Jews 1,200 years ago. There is a bond between Jews and Spain.” He gets that from the Spanish streets, too. “When I am in Spain, sometimes someone will come up to me – they recognize me from TV – and whisper to me that they have Jewish roots,” Cymerman chuckles. “They tell you that, in 2019, as if they are disclosing some state secret.”
Apparently, this is not just the stuff of romantic fantasy. There are scientifically proven facts on the ground. “It’s the same in Portugal, where I was born, Cymerman continues. “They did research work that shows that 30% of the Portuguese population has identical DNA to that of Middle Eastern Jews. It’s 21% in Spain. There is a strong bond between Spain and Israel because the Jews were there.”
Those genetic and cultural ties will be underscored at the festival by various musical, theatrical, literary and culinary slots. Internationally renowned Ladino singer Yasmin Levy will perform in the Colores program along with Spanish flamenco pianist Pablo Suarez, while the Lullabies and Blood Wedding item will salute the work of iconic Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. Poet and translator Tal Nitzan provides a glimpse of García Lorca’s world, accompanied by readings of excerpts from I Wish You Were a Woman, a play based on Lorca’s Blood Wedding and adapted for a female cast.
On the plastic artistic side, there will be a gallery talk with Spanish Artist Jorge Gil and curators Ram Ozeri, Vera Pilpoul, based on the I Am in the East: Jerusalem – Spain exhibition currently on display at the Dwek Gallery, at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art.
It is hard to imagine a Spanish-Israeli confluence without some flamenco dance – and food – and both are consummately covered in the festival. Adva Yermiyahu will unveil her Espacio Potencial dance work, and there will be a master class on how to prepare tapas from the Spanish and Mediterranean cuisines.
And if you are a fan of Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar’s work – and there are plenty in Israel – Film and Fashion: Pedro Almodovar – High Heels and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at the Jerusalem Cinematheque should be a draw. Fashion critic, designer and cultural entrepreneur Shachar Atwan will deliver a lecture about style, femininity and passion in Almodovar’s movies, followed by a screening of the Spanish director’s 2006 work Volver.
For tickets and more information: go to or call *9609.