Could Spain’s Berlin Wall Be Crumbling, Too?

In the pueblo of Palafolls (Catalonia), a plaza dedicated to "The Country of Sepharad" is commemorated with a wall of poured concrete. Photo taken by Janet Amateau

In the pueblo of Palafolls (Catalonia), a plaza dedicated to “The Country of Sepharad” is commemorated with a wall of poured concrete. Photo taken by Janet Amateau

A Spanish news item caught my eye recently about a medieval conference in Zamora Province, and today the Jerusalem Post has reported on it in English, which you can read here. It’s a very exciting story!

What it boils down to is that some Jewish scholars challenged Spain on the way textbook history is taught here. (They’re a little less than forthcoming or accurate.) Cervantes was the focal point of discussion. The evidence so powerfully pointed toward his being of Jewish ancestry that no one could deny this long promoted theory any longer. Hooray!

In my own research and casual encounters, I’ve been no stranger to Spain’s refusal to engage in an honest, open dialogue regarding its Jewish history and identity, and the significant contributions of Jewish Spaniards to its rich cultural fabric. The manifestations of whitewash and denial alternate between pathetic, laughable or just plain disgraceful, making it nearly impossible for me to take the country, its pundits or its academics seriously on pretty much any subject, including its celebrated gastronomy.

There’s a city here I’ve wanted to challenge for some time on their official gastronomic history, just as they’ve now done with Cervantes in Zamora. My research, which figured in the investigation for my book, is long concluded and equally compelling, but I haven’t had the funds to make the trip. Which is a shame, because my findings rip the official story to shreds, and I’m not afraid to rattle a few cages – especially when the captive inside is a covered-up truth about my ancestors.

I may not know when I’ll be able to make that trip, but I am delighted to know that some other voices that challenge the status quo are at last being heard – and heeded – by those who need to hear them most: the Spanish. Mashallah!

I felt optimistic reading the JPost article, and I found myself envisioning this 500 year old conspiracy of silence breaking down at last, like the Berlin Wall.  That came down because it no longer served any useful purpose. It grew outdated as a concept. My friend Ori was living in Berlin when the wall was torn down from both sides, first slowly, brick by brick, and then in the ensuing days with a sudden surge of joyful exuberance, when they realized nothing bad was going to happen. The East Berliners peered through the gaping holes with eyes wide and jaws dropping, astonished to see the very modern world on the other side. Many of them – scores? hundreds? thousands? – without any hesitation, stepped over the rubble, walked on through, and never looked back.

If I live to see the equivalent day in Spain, everything else I’ve endured will have been worth it.

Pineda 0983

In an abandoned farmhouse in Pineda de Mar, Catalonia. Photo ©Janet Amateau (Click on the photo for more scenes of Pineda, Sepharad, and Spain in general.)



Filed under History

8 responses to “Could Spain’s Berlin Wall Be Crumbling, Too?

  1. Each year in August, here in Frigiliana we have the Festival of Three Cultures when the Christian, Jewish and Muslim heritage of Al-Andalus is recognised and celebrated.

    • Janet

      I suspect geography is a factor Ian. At a medieval fair last year in the pueblo I used to live in, the one Moorish food stall – which in true form had enough food to feed an army – was avoided like the plague, doubtless because it was manned by real Moroccans as opposed to Spaniards in blackface. I was the only person who went anywhere near them, and probably their only customer all day. It was disgraceful.

  2. Janet you are so courageous. I admire your you and your struggle and I look forward to your book.

  3. Yehuda Franco

    Janet, it seems that the country folk is afraid to look inwards into their past. I was in Spain many years ago and as long as I did not reveal my Jewish identity everything was nice and dandy. I was amazed to hear so much anti-Semitic remarks and when friends and relatives visited later they went through the same experiences. I hope the stupidity stops soon and that most Spaniards educate themselves without reservations. Thank you and keep the good work. kol ha-kabod!
    Yehuda Franco

    • Janet

      Yehuda, it’s a complex problem. For one thing, you don’t erase a 600-year-old attitude overnight, or even in a decade. It takes a very long time, persistence, courage, and some compassion. There are many Spaniards who are well aware of their Jewish roots. Some are neutral about it. Some have embraced it enough to convert back to Judaism. Others are studying to do so. And others will deny it until the cows come home. Thanks for your support 🙂

  4. Mark L

    You know my story. I grew up Catholic but was taught “family customs” that were relics of Judaism, particularly in my grandparents’ home- challah bread for holidays- “Portuguese Sweet Bread” to them. They ALWAYS waited between meat and milk, ALWAYS smashed a glass at weddings, tied red thread around the wrists of newborns… and now with your page I am starting to realize the culinary legacy too! Many of my grandmother’s traditional sweets are fritters or fried dough in some kind of honey or sweet syrup. And there’s a wine cookie she used to make that sounds pretty identical to your biscochos! Someday I will come home to Judaism, and have been trying to. The funny thing about that is, when I told my grandmothers I wanted to become a Jew, they were very supportive and not in the least bit surprised by my decision. In fact they told me to have my parents come to them if my parents gave me any flack about it. They said, “If your parents bother you we’ll tell them who we REALLY are”, or something to that effect. Ha!

    • Janet

      Mark! How nice to hear from you – it’s been ages. Smashed glasses? Red threads? Wow. I always so appreciate the details you share here about your family heritage. I hope others are reading your comments. The excitement and sheer amazement you must feel with each of your discoveries is no different from my own. But if the clues to your crypto heritage are in the details that are in plain sight, so much of the information I’m after is stored in what is not said. In my own work, the key to discovery has been in learning to read between the lines, and in finding missing links between seemingly unrelated topics. On a personal note, over the winter, quite incidentally I stumbled across something that gave me the answer to the origin of one of my family surnames. It’s an unusual name, and the common wisdom about its supposed meaning is not only not wise, it’s ridiculous. It was an exciting find and in time I’ll write about it.

      Back to you – In re biscochos, if it’s your Italian grandmother you refer to, then yes, it’s essentially the same cookie. You may know them as taralli, and they’re made either with red or white wine. They have a fascinating, multicultural history spanning thousands of years. And you’ve just given me a good idea for a post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s