I was in Barcelona a few weeks ago—for a conference on Jewish identity and future in Europe. I didn’t, alas, have much time to explore the city—Jewishly touristic or otherwise.
I wish I had had with me the evocative article on Jewish Barcelona by Hilary Larson that was just published in New York Jewish Week. The article details some of the fascinating sites of Jewish history that still can be seen in the city and would have been helpful as I walked about the Old Town in the blazing heat.
Spain’s second-largest city has less tangible Jewish heritage than many smaller towns on the Caminos de Sefarad, the Sephardic historical route being promoted by Spanish tourism authorities. But while little remains in the way of structures, the mystical atmosphere of these damp Gothic alleys – just a stone’s throw from the famous Ramblas — reveals a piece of Barcelona well worth discovering.
Larson describes an exhibit about the medieval banker-turned-rabbi Salomon Ben Adret now on at the City History Museum-Interpretation Center of the Call.
The exhibition is small but engaging, with Middle Age ritual objects — Hebrew-engraved rings, Sabbath dishware — alongside Ben Adret’s texts and modern explanations of his scholarship. The rabbi consistently came down on the side of tradition and divine authority, affirming an Orthodoxy that defined Barcelona Judaism until its demise.
The museum’s permanent exhibit is a helpful overview of the history, scale and geography of Barcelona’s Jewish community, providing much-needed context to an otherwise elusive entity. Under the glass floor, excavated walls of the home of a 14th-century Jewish merchant are illuminated for viewing. Several Hebrew tombstones are also on display from Montjuic, Barcelona’s scenic green mountain (literally, “Hill of the Jews”) and the medieval site of its Jewish cemetery.
On thing I did get to do was to visit Montjuic—and see the site of the medieval Jewish cemetery. I was taken there by David Stoleru, who was a founder of the Zachor Study Group whose activities have in part focused on defining the boundaries of the cemetery and getting it recognized as a historic monument site.
At the moment, the site looks like an overgrown piece of waste land, but there are plans—hopes—to turn it into a parklike area.