Spain cheated me out of the memory of a rich Jewish past

Sophia Garcia Maier was excited to study in Granada. But excitement soon turned to  deep disappointment: In an article for Alma a little reminiscent of Dara Horn’s People Love Dead Jews, she felt cheated of the remembering of a glorious Jewish past. Yet the experience made her determined to affirm her identity as a Jew (with thanks: Michelle):

The synagogue of El Tránsito in Toledo

When I got approved for study abroad in Spain this spring, I was ecstatic. My mother is an urban wanderer of Sephardic ancestry whose ancestors had been Sephardic Crypto-Jews before they lost, to time, any Jewish practices, retaining nothing but the knowledge that they were Jews. I was excited to rediscover the land from which my ancestors had been forcefully expelled some five hundred years ago. Their journey had led them from Spain through Holland, the Dutch Caribbean Colony of Curaçao, Puerto Rico and, finally, to the United States. I would immerse myself in its rich Jewish history, especially that of Granada, the city in which I would be living.

To my surprise and disappointment, the places I visited acted as if Judaism had ended with the expulsion in 1492. The few recognizably “Jewish” centers I visited turned out to be tiny museums or converted into churches. My excitement to see the famous Sinagoga del Tránsito in Toledo was squashed when I was met with little more than a distant view of the one remaining decorative wall, in a lonely room that once held pews full of people.I felt then, as in other moments, forgotten, almost cheated out of the grand remembering such a grand history deserved.

It was as if the Catholic monarchs had succeeded in their goal of ridding Spain of the Jewish community and, thus, the memory of Judaism altogether. I had hoped for, but not expected, pockets of present-day Jewish community. What I had expected were monuments to a rich culture: extravagant old synagogues, or, at the very least, contemplative museums. Instead, I found plaques set out for foreign tourists.

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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