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Behind the Headlines Jews and Non-jews in Spain

The PLO has asked the Spanish government to accord it full diplomatic status. It has made this request ever since Israel was granted recognition by Spain early last year. Although the terrorist organization has a three-story building in the heart of Madrid, and has been operating almost as any Embassy, it has never enjoyed complete status. It appears unlikely, however, that such “compensation” will take place.

Spanish authorities, deeply concerned with Basque terrorists of their own, have also been revolted by the activities of the imported variety. Following an investigation, the Libyan Ambassador in Madrid, who was charged with having provided support to Libyan terrorists trying to operate in Spain, quietly left the country.

According to Mordechai Amichai, the capable charge d’affaires of the new Israel Embassy, relations between Jews and non-Jews in Spain are the best they’ve ever been — a direct result of current close ties between the labor governments of Israel and Spain, and the official establishment of relations.

Spanish press and TV, stated Amichai, were remarkably enthusiastic in hailing the new accord. Both El Pais and ABC, the leading dailies, reported in unprecedented detail facts about Israel and the Spanish Jewish past. National TV, the day after Israel’s recognition began its broadcast day, not with the customary “Buenos dias,” but with “Shalom Israel Sepharad” in huge letters across the screen.

A major function of the fledgling Embassy is to bring the art and culture of Israel to the attention of the Spanish public, less than one percent of whom are Jewish. But, as in other countries, what Jews lack in numbers, they more than make up for in spirit and organized activity. Out of a population of 40 million, there are 12,000 or 13,000 Jews, and more than half reside in Madrid and Barcelona.

Synagogues, community centers, and schools are well maintained. A third of the students in the Madrid schools are non-Jews. Tourism to Israel and Spain has increased to the extent that flights between Barcelona and Tel Aviv have just been inaugurated, in addition to service from Madrid.

THE JEWS OF GERONA

Fifty miles from Barcelona and deep in the heart of Catalonia is one of the medieval splendors of Spain, and of its ancient Jewish people; the delightful city of Gerona.

For 600 years, from 890 to 1492, the Jews of Gerona exerted a profound religious and cultural influence, and, indeed in the 12th and 13th centuries, with its school of the Cabala and its great master, Nachmanides it came to be known as the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. The lanes, houses, courtyards and gardens of the ancient Jewish quarter, or Call, are a vivid and fascinating reminder of the glory that once was Jewish Gerona. The mayor of this unique city, Joaquim Nadal-Farreras, has resolved to upgrade the Call and improve its current Jewish Center with its remains of a 13th century synagogue. Nadal, himself a noted historian, has pledged the financial and administrative resources of his city to make Gerona a mecca for Jews.

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