The Jewish Hispanic Foundation (Fundacion HispanoJudía, or FHJ), recently awarded its first-ever Doña Gracia Award to businessman and philanthropist Stuart Weitzman in recognition of his work in educating Spaniards about their Jewish history.
Weitzman, a famed shoe designer, spent 40 years manufacturing his iconic shoes in Spain.
According to FHJ president David Hatchwell, Weitzman was amazed at the ignorance of many Spaniards about their Jewish legacy, and he understood that the only way to change that would be through education programs.
Hatchwell is a prominent Jewish leader from Latin America and lives in Madrid with his family.
The Doña Gracia Prize is an annual award given by the FHJ to people or entities for outstanding achievements that represent, defend and promote the universal values of Judaism. These values include tzedakah, opportunity, hard work and tikkun olam (repairing the earthly world), FHJ said in a press release.
Weitzman arrived in Spain not knowing Jewish history
Weitzman said he was grateful to receive the award. He arrived in Spain 46 years ago and was amazed that Spaniards knew nothing about its Jewish history, he said.
“Spain is my second home,” Weitzman said upon receiving the award. “I am not a Sephardi, but I empathize. There is a hidden story that calls me, and I want to be part of the inheritance of that legacy and work in the reeducation of the Hispanic world toward its connection with the Jewish world.”
The event was attended by about 130 people, including a delegation of board members and friends of the FHJ from Mexico, Argentina, Panama, Israel and Spain. Among them were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, president of WUPJ (World Union of Progressive Judaism) and former minister in the Argentinian government; Chella and Jacob Safra, philanthropists and friends of the FHJ; Alan Solomont, former US ambassador to Spain and Andorra; Jason Guberman, CEO of the American Sephardic Federation; Aaron Nomaz, author of the book Doña Gracia: The woman who led Jews to safety in Muslim lands; and Pablo Kleinman, president of the Hispanic Jewish Endowment (HJE), the sister foundation of the FHJ in the US.
The FHJ is a nonprofit organization that was established in 2016 in Spain with the aim of building bridges of understanding between the Hispanic and Jewish worlds. One of its main projects is the construction of the HispanoJudío Museum in Madrid.
Doña Gracia Nasi, also known as Doña Gracia, or La Señora (The Lady), was a Portuguese philanthropist and one of the wealthiest Jewish women of Renaissance Europe. She was born into a Jewish family whose members had been forcibly baptized
Gracia developed an escape network that saved hundreds of conversos from the Inquisition. She was also a leader of the Sephardi Diaspora, providing relief to needy Jews, supporting rabbinic scholars and establishing synagogues.