As always when we travel I try and get as much Jewish history/culture as I can. My children can tell you stories of being dragged to the far corners of Florence and Venice to find ‘the’ synagogue or spending hours on a Jewish tour of Rome. So Spain was no exception. We did a Jewish tour of Seville and one in Toledo. Here are a few observations.
Although I thought I had some understanding of the Spanish Inquisitions and Jewish lie in Spain I think I severely underestimated how completely it wiped out all Jewish lie in Spain, even to this day. First of all it lasted 300 years. This is even more incredible when you remember that the US is less than 240 years old. Prior to the Inquisition Jews made up between 7% and 15% of the populations of Seville and Toledo. Compare that to the US where Jews make up less than 2% of the population nation wide, approximately 8% in New York and less than 3% in Pennsylvania.
Today there are only 10,000 Jews in all of Spain, 5000 of which live in Madrid. There are no Jews in Toledo. In Seville we were told there are only 16 Jewish families though I was later told that was a high estimate. There is no synagogue in Seville. Almost all traces of Jewish life have been obliterated. All Jewish cemeteries were knocked down and the stones reused for building. As you tour the cities you can see Jewish inscriptions on stone blocks in the palaces, churches and homes. Although most of this occurred in the 1300 and 1400s we saw a 3-year-old underground parking garage in Seville that had been an ancient Jewish cemetery. Except for one small tomb enclosed in glass there was no effort to preserve or move the site. Finding the one saved tomb is difficult as it is blocked by someone’s reserved park
We liked Toldeo a great deal but perhaps the most fascinating part was our tour guide. He was born and raised in from Istanbul in a Jewish but non-observant family and only became religious when he moved to Madrid. With only 5000 Jews in Madrid it is difficult to meet a person to marry. So he travelled to Jerusalem to study at the yeshiva and meet with the matchmaker recommended by the great rebbe. The matchmaker matched him with a girl from Brazil, also from a non-religious family, who had moved to Israel to become religious. They met for about a week, and became engaged. He was flying to Israel after our tour for 10 days to help plan their June 21 wedding. After the wedding she will return with him to live in Madrid. It was like seeing one of the multiple novels we read about the Hasidim come to life!