26 December 2006

Barcelona: Friction over how Jewish history is treated

A recent JTA story describes the relationship between the city and the contemporary Jewish community in Barcelona, Spain.

A major medieval Jewish community numbering some 4,000 individuals, the city was a focal point of international commerce with its bustling port. The city's Jewish population was one of many across Spain decimated by riots and mass conversions in 1391; Jewish inhabitants fled, converted or were murdered.

Centuries later, the city now wants to restore its Jewish quarter - the
Call. Interestingly, the Jewish population today is similar to what it was prior to 1391; estimates range from 4,000-5,000.

The growing community has several congregations, a Jewish school, a country club and kosher meat, an annual Jewish Film Festival. Its members include Ashkenazi immigrants from Argentina, Sephardim from various countries and returned Conversos.

Similar restorations of former Jewish quarters have been carried out in Girona and other cities. The government plan presents them as tourist attractions. In most of the cities there is no Jewish community to become involved or to object when it feels restoration of the Jewish past is being done inappropriately.

In Barcelona, however, the active Jewish community feels it is being shut out of the process.

“We very much appreciate that City Hall is finally getting involved in restoring its Jewish past,” Tobi Burdman, president of the Israelite Community of Barcelona, told JTA. “What we don’t want to see is a Jewish quarter without Jews, in the style of Gerona. Here there’s a living Jewry, one that should be listened to and consulted with, and not just called up to appear in the photo.”

Over the years, I have visited Barcelona frequently and met twice with the person formerly in charge of this project. Each time I mentioned "where is the Jewish involvement in this project?" her answer was "Why should there be?"
When I spoke of silent stones in Girona and other towns, I compared it to the vibrant Barcelona community of contemporary Judaism, where thousands of Jews live and work.
Told that it’s a sensitive issue for the community given its tragic history, Serra [the City Hall official responsible for the project] responded, “You have to understand, this is not a very major issue for the city.”
Community members say they would like to play at least some role, even something as minor as reviewing texts, brochures or museum signs. But Serra said the city has yet to receive a clear proposal for participation from the community.
Some community members insist they’ve asked repeatedly to meet with city officials to discuss drafting a proposal. But community sources have acknowledged past divisiveness and said the community is just beginning to make its voice heard in a unified fashion.

My good friend, community activitist Dominique Tomasov Blinder, has been involved in this cause since I've known her:

Dominique Tomasov, also an architect and a founding member of the Reform congregation, independently began giving a Jewish voice to guided tours of the neighborhood in the late 1990s.She tells visitors the history of Barcelona Jews while tying it in to the re-emergence of a living community.

Tomasov spoke of fruitless efforts to build some sort of partnership with the city around the renovation project.

“What upsets me most about this is that Judaism is a living culture,” she said. “It has a presence in Barcelona, and we could bring Jewish authenticity to the project.”

Various sources, including those in City Hall, said anti-Israel feeling has affected the city’s attitude on some level.

The story goes on to mention the issue of construction work on Montjuic, once the site of the city's Jewish cemetery, and from which hundreds of ancient tombstones have been recovered; and the restoration of the main medieval synagogue in the Call by Miguel Iaffa.

1 comment:

  1. I'm from Auckland,NZ. Just searching the web and found your article very interesting. My music group, The Jews Brothers Band, is coming to play at Murcia Tres Culturas Festival, Sat, May 23rd. So I am just writing to you to see if you would be interested in mentioning this to any members of the Jewish Community in Barceloona who might want to come down. Thanks.