Rediscovering the History of Jewish Barcelona – Blog
By Agata Peleszuk | 29/07/2010
The Barcelona Chabad House celebrated the opening of a new meeting point for all those who seek the Jewish character in the city. The enthusiasm for another such initiative illustrates that the Jewish revival in Barcelona is not a myth. Behind the commercial façade rests a complex historical narrative and the community's urge to bring back once flourishing Jewishness to the capital of Catalonia.
Barcelona has an endless potential for discovering the Jewish history. Recent years were marked by various initiatives devoted to the symbolical and actual awakening of the local Jewry. The fundamental change was a restoration and consecration of the Barcelona's oldest synagogue. Each year thousands of tourists come to visit monuments of the medieval Spanish Jewry. The dynamism of this process is much more recent than in case of other European countries with the Jewish heritage, like Germany, Poland or Czech Republic. The rise of Sephardic culture makes a significant mark since the Jewish discourse in Spain has started evolving gradually in recent years.
The new Chabad House in a modern and tourist-friendly setting perfectly depicts a current trend of Sephardic quests. Close from the oldest European synagogue erected in the 6th century it attracts visitors with a large offer – simply commercial one with kosher wines and entirely spiritual one with literature, Judaism classes and prayer services. The Barcelona Chabad with other Jewish communities and organizations in the city show that an incredibly complicated and arduous process of rediscovering the history can be pursued in a relatively short period of time. Thanks to a multiple efforts of the communities Barcelona regained its Jewish side.
The cultural rediscovery of Sephardic roots in the city have a major influence on the position of the community among the public opinion. Due to the restoration of historical sites and the introduction of the Jewish narrative to the tourist landscape, a small community of around 3,500 members slowly builds up its confidence and meaning. Moreover, Spain as a land of the 1492 expulsion has the unique opportunity to reach the world Jewish population by contributing to educational trips in search for one's roots. In this regard, Spanish cities of Barcelona, Toledo, Málaga or Segovia have an extraordinary chance to become a must-see European places to visit after Poland. When a visit to the latter is charged with sadness and mourning after the Holocaust victims, the image of Spanish sites, in spite of the dramatic fate of the Sephardic Jewry expelled in 15th century, is being rewritten in the collective memory as places of a rich culture, flourishing Jewish philosophy and traditions.
Every Jewish awakening brings to prominence concerns over abusing “the Jewish phenomena” for wrongful purposes. It seems that it should not be of a big concern in Spain. As pointed out by Ruth E. Gruber, who analyzed the Jewish culture awakening in Europe, the process of reintroducing a Jewish context back to non-Jewish majorities results in its internalization to general social norms (Gruber, 2002). Therefore a seemingly meaningless participation in maybe kitschy events in many cases leads people to a deeper involvement in Jewish-related activities. This component slowly settles in Barcelona and other Spanish cities that opened themselves to the Jewish sides of their heritage. Taking into account a long list of prejudices and stereotypes that still need to be addressed and elaborated in a Spanish-Jewish dialogue, including incorporation of Israel's matters to various Jewish-related discussions, it is possible that a focus on the Sephardic heritage scattered throughout the whole Spain might play the role of a positive buffer zone for modern generations.