to services). They keep kashrut, except for Papa Querub who has a penchant for chorizo. Still, everything Jewish in Madrid has a Spanish twist. Friday dinner begins with local olives, wine, and gazpacho. The Querub children—in their late twenties and early thirties—live at home and will do so until marriage, a super-Castilian custom. While in many ways Isaac blends in perfectly with the colorful Madrid landscape, his support for Israel places him in a minority. Spain has historically aligned with Arab countries on political matters, and the Spanish press is notorious for Israel-bashing. Most Spaniards, separated for five centuries from contact with active Jewish culture, have never met Jews. Their ignorance can result in confusion about Jewish culture and Israeli politics, and often foments anti-Semitism.
“First the Moroccans came, then the Argentineans, and now it’s the Venezuelans and the Israelis. Spain has turned into this Jewish melting pot, and we’re continuing to diversify.” Minority status aside, modern Spain has provided a good home for Jewish culture. The death of Francisco Franco, the suppressive fascist dictator, in 1975 coincided with increased Jewish immigration. What emerged was a democratic, religiously tolerant Spain interested in redefining its past. While the country provides room for the Jewish community—supporting educational initiatives and the restoration of historic sites—at times the Spanish Jewish community does not provide enough space for its own diversity. The merging of Latin Reform Ashkenazi, Sephardic Orthodox Moroccan, and secular Israeli traditions has created a Jewish culture shock, and significant internal tensions have emerged. “It’s a blessing that we have diversity because it shows we’re sophisticated,” states Rabbi Sternschien, the founding rabbi of ATID, the first Reform Congregation of Barcelona. “However, it’s also a curse. It divides us, and in a community [this small] that can be devastating.” ATID, Hebrew for future, was formed in 1992 after a break with the CIB (Comunitat Israelita de Barcelona) the city’s original Orthodox synagogue. “They [the CIB] consider us goys,” laughed Victor Sorrenson, ATID’s youth program director, “but we’re just from a different culture. Our parents’ Judaism, from Argentina and Latin America, is pluralistic and much less observant. Many of those in the CIB are very insular. They maintain their Moroccan customs and don’t try to open themselves to the rest of the community—even worse, to the rest of the world.” What is consistent throughout the community is the effect of Barcelona on Jewish culture. Barcelona, the largest city in Catalonia, is an artistic, industrious city that maintains levels of political and economic autonomy from the Spanish nation. The CIB synagogue has various paintings that blend Catalonian and Jewish styles, including paintings of menorahs in the surrealistic style of Joan Miró. ATID congregants even have dreadlocks, play guitar and drums in their features PresenTensemagazine.org
services, and hand-roll cigarettes at post-Shabbat parties, displaying the funkiness of Barcelona youth. “We’re a bit rebellious,” says Sorrenson. “We’re doing our own thing here as a reform movement, and that is, in many ways, very Catalonian. Catalonia has its separation from Spain. I think, being a Jew in Barcelona, you can’t help but want your own form of separation. Barcelonan identity seeps into your skin.” Madrid, blessed with the excellent leadership of Jacob Israel Garzon, manages to keep things more unified than Barcelona does. Garzon organizes a community board with representatives of all the city’s denominations to help navigate tensions and promote understanding. “We try to provide the minimum Jewish experience for all levels and types,” explains Garzon. “We have a few synagogues, a Jewish school, and a kosher butcher shop. But the interpretation of how to do things ‘right’ will always vary. We just to try keep things adjustable, so that the community can move forward.” Regardless of internal divisions, Spanish Jews come together to promote renewal and growth in the new Sefarad. Working with nonJews in the Spanish community, Spanish Jews demonstrate their support for Israel, educate about Jewish and Israeli culture, and commemorate their glorious Spanish past. While Sephardic Jews connect to the land of their roots, all types of Spanish Jews are proud of their emerging culture. ATID member Maaian Zelman explains, “Even though I’m Ashkenazi, I’m proud of the [Spanish Jewish] community. It’s very young, but it’s growing. It is an exciting time to be here.” The re-growth of Spanish Judaism and the development of a neoSephardic culture exhibits how much national identity shapes Jewish expression. It demonstrates Jewish survival—and evolution. As the concert continued and the cadence grew stronger at the Plaza de Oriente, more and more people circled around and clapped their hands to the violin, clarinet, and tambourine. The conductor changed to a klezmer tune, and a woman from the group grabbed my hands, pulling me into the dizzying dance. Jewish dancing on the site of the Inquisition! It was truly thrilling. Not only did the concert celebrate Jewish history, it was also making it. Stacey Menchel received her Master’s degree in European and Mediterranean Studies from New York University. Her research examines identity and renewal in the modern Jewish communities of Spain. Her interests include Jewish multiculturalism, European/Islamic relations, and the performing arts.
Photo by Ruth Lozano issue four 2008
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