The cell also was planning attacks on local synagogues, as well as other public buildings in the Catalonia region. More ▸
By Ben Harris
Of all the spots on the Jewish map where I could have spent Purim, I never would have chosen Barcelona. But the itinerary worked out this way and it wound up being one of those random experiences that I’ve come to appreciate doing this job.
The evening began at the Moroccan synagogue here, where only one person got up the gumption to talk to me in extremely broken Hebrew, the only language we shared. He was moved to say hello because I was following the megillah reading on an iPhone app and he made some joke about a guy sitting two rows away and following along in a scroll dating from the time of the Inquisition. "He has the oldest one and you have the newest," he said. Or at least I think that’s what he said. We both laughed anyway.
Afterwards I hung around uncomfortably in the lobby — again, no one wanted to chit chat — until I heard some English. It was a family from Albany on vacation and I told them about a party happening around the corner. So we all traipsed up a hill to an Israeli-owned pizza/falafel joint only to find the party didn’t start for another hour. They bailed. I sipped water and waited.
Eventually some revelers showed up in full Purim regalia and I met the most random assortment of people. A Brazilian guy who told me his grandfather had sent a helicopter to fetch his father from a Rio yeshiva and bring him home to Sao Paulo. A Barcelona native with perfectly unaccented English who actually reads TWJ and proudly told me he works just two hours a day boring holes under the city for a new metro line. An Israeli girl who wouldn’t tell me anything about herself other than that she is in Barcelona "living." A fifty-something French-Italian who only dates women two decades his junior. An Argentinian Jew whose job fell through and is currently living on the streets. And of course lady Madonna (pictured), who told me she’s not even Jewish but she likes to use those yarmulkes on her knees for a sex position I won’t describe.
I was surprised by the youth and the vibrancy. After visiting more small and dying Jewish communities than any person ought to, I didn’t expect to see so many 20-somethings. But there they were.
It was doubly a shock because I’ve been musing a lot on the loss of Spanish Judaism. I say lost because while there’s a small community living here today, there’s virtually nothing remaining from the hundreds of years of Jewish history preceeding the expulsion in 1492, the so-called Golden Age of Spanish Jewry.
And not only are the Jews long gone, but the physical remnants of their history are few and far between. In Barcelona, I visited a synagogue dating from the third century (consider that for a moment) and believed to be the oldest in all of Europe. It required navigating a maze of claustrophobic alleyways that are among the most byzantine of any ancient quarter I’ve visited. I was helped along by a hotel concierge who had to draw me a map on the back of a business card. More ▸
The Israeli Embassy in Madrid likened a recent meeting in Barcelona of well-known anti-Zionists as a “lynching.” More ▸
A man dressed in military attire attacked the ancient Synagogue Mayor in Barcelona and an employee there. More ▸