Balearic Islands honors 33 Jews massacred 3 centuries ago

Most descendants of Chuetas are said to be unaware, indifferent to Jewish heritage, but about a dozen individuals have returned to Judaism.

RABBI NISAN BEN AVRAHAM 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The local government of the Balearic Islands in Spain will, for the first time, officially acknowledge the suffering of a local community, whose ancestors were Jewish, at a ceremony in Palma de Majorca on Thursday.
Balearic Island President, Francesc Antich Oliver, will attend the commemorative event held on the 320th anniversary of the killing of 33 locals who belonged to the Cheuta minority, and were executed by the Spanish Inquisition for secretly practicing Judaism in 1691.
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“We don’t know for sure if they will apologize or express regret, but just the holding of the event in of itself is of significance,” said Michael Fruend, the head of the Shavei Israel organization, who first proposed the idea to hold the ceremony last year, and will be in attendance.
The Cheuta (also spelled Xeuta), is a community of about 20,000 people living on the Mediterranean islands whose ancestors were forcibly converted from Judaism to Christianity in the 15th century.
While the group by and large ceased to practice Judaism because of the Spanish Inquisition, they continued to be discriminated against, and remained an isolated group on the island well into modern times.
Presently, most decedents of the Chuetas are said to be unaware or indifferent to their Jewish heritage, but about a dozen individuals have returned to Judaism – including Nisan Ben-Avraham, who underwent an official conversion in New York, and lives in Palma as an ordained rabbi.
Shavei Israel, which helps people claiming Jewish ancestry to convert around the world, has been active on the island for years. Freund suggested the idea to hold such an event last year.
“I visited the islands, and we met with the vice president of the Balearic Islands,” Freund said. “In [a] conversation I asked if they apologized for what they had done to the Jewish community and the Cheuta, who were subject to terrible discrimination. I asked him to consider apologizing, and including their story in the school curriculum.”
Over the past decade, a plethora of Jewish museums and heritage sites have sprung up across Spain. While some say the new-found interest in the scant remains of Spain’s Medieval Jews (who were expelled from the country in 1492) is motivated by a genuine desire to preserve their legacy, others say it is exploitative, and aimed at drawing tourists.
Fruend rejected the notion that the event set to take place in Palma on Thursday was part of such a trend.
“Palma, as you know, is already a major tourist site. It’s very popular among the Brits and Germans, and others,” he said. “It’s never too late to try and make up for the past, and try to bring about some form of reconciliation.
“The first step in such a process is acknowledgement of guilt for what happened. This is important because this is an open wound on Spanish society.”