The autonomous region of Murcia in southeast Spain recently signed a collaboration agreement with the Hispanic Jewish Foundation, aiming at showcasing the region’s longtime Sephardi legacy.
David Hatchwell , president of the Hispanic Jewish Foundation, expressed his hope at the signing ceremony last month in the old synagogue of Lorca—the only surviving synagogue from pre-Jewish expulsion Spain—that the agreement will spread the “great historical, archaeological, architectural and human legacy of Murcia” throughout Spain and the rest of the world.
Murcia, he said, stands as a “clear example of a long-standing and flourishing Jewish presence, and of centuries of Spanish-Jewish coexistence. The presence and entwining of these differing cultures have brought mutual enrichment to our society.”
As a “small but relevant” community, Hatchwell told JNS, the Jews of Lorca—a municipality in Murcia that served as the frontier town between Christian and Muslim Spain during the Medieval Period—frequently served as intermediaries between the two communities. The Jews not only survived but sometimes thrived in the area, living close to their Christian neighbors, who trusted that they would not seek to impose their religious beliefs and were “comfortable with [diverse] cultures.”
Murcia President Fernando López Miras commented at the signing: “We are deeply fortunate to have a common heritage to preserve, which today becomes one of our strengths. This agreement is more than a religious and cultural reference point, it is an invitation to dialogue, to work together, to learn from our history to know that nothing should divide us in the face of adversity.”
He continued, saying “we pride ourselves on our history, where we once lived together, and are obligated to rescue the story that was once buried and brought back to life, like this synagogue,” which was never converted into a church, unlike most synagogues throughout Spain.
‘Building bridges of understanding’
According to the signed agreement, the Autonomous Region of Murcia will promote and disseminate cultural, academic and tourism projects relating to the Sephardi legacy in the region.
“A Jewish soul still beats deep in our hearts—a hope of freedom for today, looking towards the East,” summarized Miras, paraphrasing Israel’s National Anthem “Hatikvah” (“The Hope”).
According to Hatchwell, the Hispanic Jewish Foundation has undertaken multiple projects to publicize and rescue the Hispanic Jewish legacy, including the building of the Hispanic Jewish Museum in Madrid, set to open in 2022. It aims to show Jewish legacy in Spain, furthering understanding and awareness of the history of the Jewish people and its long-standing ancestral ties and shared culture with the Spanish-speaking world.
Through exhibitions, concerts and programs that promote Jewish culture, Hatchwell expressed his hope that the collaboration will encourage visitors to “rediscover history in a new and more positive and empathetic way, to delve into the history of the Jewish and Spanish-speaking world to understand the commonality of origins and the great opportunity for more collaboration in the future.”
“Most Spaniards don’t know that Jews arrived to the Iberian Peninsula from the land of Israel in the third century BCE. When the Jews were expelled, we had been there for 1,800 years,” he said. With nearly 2,000 years of heritage in Spain, added Hatchwell, “Jewish thought is essential to Spanish identity.”
Furthermore, according to DNA research, some 20 percent of Spain has Jewish roots, as many Jews were forced to convert and marry Christians during the expulsion. Today, 25 generations later, Spain has witnessed an exponential increase of citizens with Jewish roots.
“[Spaniards] should understand their Jewish origins,” maintained Hatchwell. “While it’s a crime to be anti-Semitic anywhere, in Spain, it’s also hating yourself and your origins.”
At the same time, from a Jewish perspective, he continued, the influence of Spain is still reflected in modern Judaism.
This message, he claimed, is fit for the 21st-century value of “celebrating and knowing the identities of others as we celebrate and know about our own, all while building bridges of understanding.”