A taste of Spain’s Hanukka 2014 celebrations

Madrid’s Hanukka has become part of the city’s traditions.

The Plaza de la Villa in the center of downtown Madrid is packed in honor of the Festival of Lights, (photo credit: CENTRO SEFARAD)
The Plaza de la Villa in the center of downtown Madrid is packed in honor of the Festival of Lights,
(photo credit: CENTRO SEFARAD)
On December 18, Madrid celebrated the miracle of Hanukka for the seventh year in a public ceremony. The venue was the Plaza de la Villa, close to the Plaza Mayor where, in medieval times, judaizers were judged and condemned for stubborn adherence to their faith, despite official conversions to Catholicism.
In attendance at the lighting of the third candle, carried out by Chief Rabbi Moshe Bendahan, were a majority of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, both tourists and residents, as well as some practicing Christians. Most interesting, however, were the lapsed Catholics – whose ancestral Jewish identity is beginning to surface.
One such person was Palomo Gomez Carrasco, who identifies herself as a “non-practicing Christian who feels part of the Jewish people,” although she does not practice Judaism either. She visited Auschwitz this year and told The Jerusalem Post that she felt “anger, impotence and despair,” and spent the entire visit crying. “For me, the Jews are the best people in the world: home-loving, warm, cultured and hardworking.”
Madrid’s Ibn Gabirol-Estrella Toledano School choir performed Hanukka favorites; Polish singer Emilia Kroll sang in Ladino, Hebrew and even Yiddish; and speeches were given by David Hatchwell, president of the city’s Jewish community, Pedro Corral representing the Madrid Municipality, and Miguel de Lucas, president of Centro Sefarad. The theme running through all the discourses was the importance of Jewish tradition once more forming part of the culture of the Spanish capital.
The highlight of the evening, Gomez Carrasco told the Post, were the traditional Israeli dances, which caught on and spread among the public; and of course, the sufganiyot.
“Afterwards my daughter and I took a walk around the area, enjoying the atmosphere, which was charming.
The people in attendance, mainly Jewish, were very kind,” she said.
Gomez Carrasco noted that Madrid’s longtime Chabad representative, Rabbi Yitzhok Goldstein, was handing out candles to individuals and helping light them; Gomez Carrasco was one such recipient. She was impressed by his amiability and his agreeing to pose for a photo with her and her daughter.
“I shall never forget this holiday,” she told the Post.
“It had a very homey feel to it.”
Israeli Ambassador to Spain Alon Bar was also among the crowd, said Gomez Carrasco, recalling meeting him this past summer at a peaceful pro-Israel demonstration at the Israeli Embassy. “The ambassador is a very friendly person; very cultured and an advocate for Judeo-Christian culture.”
Gomez Carrasco was particularly impressed with the words of arts, sports and tourism delegate Corral, who in his speech, quoting Spanish diplomat and historian Salvador de Madariaga y Rojo (1886-1978), said he did not understand how there could be Spaniards who were anti-Semitic. This is because if one were to analyze the facts, it would become clear there is no Spaniard who does not have Jewish roots – and therefore to hate the Jews is to hate one’s self.
This annual event was sponsored, as has become customary, by the Madrid Municipality, Centro Sefarad- Israel and the Jewish community of Madrid.
Zamora lights a hanukkia in public for the first time in 522 years Zamora, described by Rabbi Isaac Arama (1420- 1494) as “a beautiful province, the best in the north” (rephrasing a reference to Jerusalem in Psalm 48), lit Hanukka lights in public for the first time since 1492.
Although Zamora city celebrated the first International Ladino Day, which fell on the eighth day of Hanukka on December 5, 2013, the lights were then lit only symbolically – at a dinner after nightfall, when the festival was officially over.
This year, however, with Prof. Jesus Jambrina (head of the Isaac Campanton Center and the motor behind the renewal of the area’s Jewish past) spending the Festival of Lights in the city, a hanukkia was lit publicly in the province for the first time in 522 years. Prof. Abraham Haim, president of the Council of Sephardi and Oriental Communities of Jerusalem, said the blessing, and candles were also lit by city councilmen Francisco Javier González Hernández (Business and Tourism) and Angel Luis Crespo Encinas (Equality and Sports). Some members of Crespo Encinas’s family live in Israel.
During the day of December 16, prior to the first light of Hanukka, Jambrina and Maria Antonia Muriel Sastre, a representative of Tarbut Sefardi in the city, led students and a professor from the University of Salamanca’s Zamora campus on a guided walk of the city’s new Sephardic Route, inaugurated this past July as a result of Jambrina’s efforts. This was followed three days later by another tour for some 30 locals and visitors from Madrid.
This year’s International Ladino Day was on December 24. Jambrina, Sastre and Haim decided the Hanukka city tours would also address the topic of Ladino, since it was unlikely anyone would venture out on Christmas Eve. Jambrina spoke about the importance of Ladino for the Sephardi Diaspora since the expulsion from Spain through the 20th century, noting that the famous 16th-century compilation of Aggadic texts from the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, Ein Ya’acov, was originally written in Ladino by a Jew from Zamora, R. Jacob ibn Habib.
After the public lighting on December 19, Haim explained the meaning of the Festival of Lights at the municipal Alhondiga Palace and introduced the audience to some classic Hanukka songs. His presentation was followed by a Shabbat dinner served at the Zamoran La Boheme restaurant.
All events were sponsored by the Zamora Municipality, the Council of Sephardi and Oriental Communities of Jerusalem and the Isaac Campanton Center.