Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spanish Ambassador's visit

The Spanish Ambassador Don Alvaro Iranzo visited Netanya Academic College with his cultural attaché Mrs. Victoria Ortega on November 29, 2011 in what was an historic and significant visit. Not only was this the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel, but it represented a renewal of relations between Spain and the Jewish people in a very meaningful way.

The Ambassador was greeted by Prof. Zvi Arad, President of NAC, and Prof. David Altman, VP of NAC. Prof. Arad stated that the culture of the Jewish people was partly created in Spain. He pointed out that the establishment of the new International Institute for the Study of Secret Jews (Anusim) at NAC was a way to strengthen ties with Spain and with the Spanish Government. The recognition of the descendents of the "marranos" (anusim in Hebrew) in democratic Spain is a key to improve communications between the Jews and the Spanish. Prof. Arad pointed out that the NAC is a growing institution and now is surrounded by a new area of east Netanya that contains some 20,000 people. Prof. Altman said that he was very happy to have the Ambassador visit and mentioned how he had met former PM Moratinos in Madrid, whose son after doing some research had determined that they were descendents of marranos themselves. So this subject is very close to the heart of Spain.

In response, the Ambassador spoke at length about his dedication to the cause of improving Spanish-Israeli relations. He agreed that this was an exceptional moment and he was extremely happy to be participating in it. He stated that when he was growing up in Spain he knew nothing about Sepharad and was never taught the history of that time. Apart from learning about the expulsion of 1492, he knew nothing of Maimonides and the whole history of the relationship. Until Spain became a democracy and relations were established 25 years ago he knew nothing of the 5 centuries of oblivion of the Jewish people in Spain. Now he is aware of the Jewish past and is aware how important Sepharad is for the Jewish people.

The Jewish history and contributions to Spain should be a source of pride, how enormous wealth was created and how the short but spectacular Golden Age had elevated Spanish culture. Only after the expulsion of the Jews did Spain go into a slow, long decline that only now Spanish historians and people are beginning to acknowledge. He stated that with the combination of Israeli innovation and Spanish production and marketing great things could be accomplished. But, this would require the involvement of the civil societies in both countries and the provision of funding. Spain had taken a first step in the foundation of Casa Sepharad-Israel to assist in improving relations, but much more needs to be done. In Spain, the blank page of 5 centuries of the secret Jews must be revealed and Sephardic studies must become a major area of Spanish endeavor. In the 1920s there was interest in the presence of Ladino in Turkey and elsewhere, but that interest had been over-shadowed by other events. Spain must become a center of Anusim studies, particularly in relation to Majorca where there are ca. 20,000 "chuetas": who have remained isolated and who must be helped in discovering their roots. Together with NAC, that can become a hub for Anusim studies, Spain must be open to learn more and must benefit from advances in research on this subject, this is a historic task!

Prof. Arad described the plan to establish a new museum on land owned by the College with the cooperation of the Netanya municipality. But, a donor was needed for the building. This could be a possible collaboration with a focus on Spain. It would be an investment in having Israelis go to Spain to see for themselves the heritage of Sepharad. The Ambassador agreed that student exchanges at the secondary school level could be very helpful and in a recent meeting with the Minister Mr Gidon Saar they had discussed this possibility as part of the school curriculum. Prof. Arad mentioned that a similar project was being planned with pupils in Bethlehem and Amman, Jordan with Israel. Such a project could bring a fulfilment of the story of the Jews of Spain.

Prof. Corinaldi, Director of the Institute for Anusim Studies, suggested that Segura, a leader of the Anusim of Majorca should be invited to visit Israel. He had been here before many years ago. But, starting activities in Majorca made sense, the "chuetas" there still suffered social discrimination and are still secret Jews. The Ambassador said that things were improving fast for the better, and he knew this because his wife is from a Majorcan Anusim family. Prof. Corinaldi insisted that now was the time to take action for the salvation of the Chuetas. The Ambassador pointed out that this was a private choice, many do not want to return to Judaism and discrimination is an internal Spanish problem. It was suggested that a joint conference on the chuetas of Majorca be organized at the NAC on September 2012. It was agreed that this should not focus on religion as such.

Gloria Mound, Senior Advisor to the Institute, said she was very pleased to see the Ambassador at NAC and hoped that communication with Casa Sepharad-Israel could be improved, as they had been with Barcelona and Girona. Rabbi Moshe Pinchuk described a program he has developed for foreign diplomats to improve their understanding of Israel.

Prof. Altman summarized that collaboration between the religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as it was during the Golden age in Spain, could be realized again, but only in Spain. Perhaps the EU would be willing to fund such a project. He asked why should Jewish youth only visit the sites of the camps in Eastern Europe and have the "march of living" there, there should be a similar parallel program in Spain, that would be of mutual interest to both Israel and Spain, both from the point of view of education, understanding and tourism.

The Ambassador and his entourage then visited the Leslie (z"l) and Gloria Mound Library focusing on the history of the Secret Jews (Anusim) in the NAC library.


Post a Comment

<< Home