For the Jews of Mallorca, their first “public” sukkah is a triumph over the Spanish Inquisition
(JTA) – Before the Spanish Inquisition, the island of Mallorca had a large Jewish community. Every fall the island is dotted with leaf-roofed huts for Jews to erect on the feast of Sukkot.
But that all changed under the Inquisition’s campaign of persecution that began in 1488 (four years before it began on the Spanish mainland) and was not officially abolished until centuries later in 1834.
This year, however, the island’s small Jewish community in the capital Palma is determined to reintroduce its Sukkot tradition with a public statement.
Ahead of this week’s holiday, the Jewish community and the Municipality of Palma erected what organizers are calling the island’s first “public” sukkah since the Inquisition, located in the city’s former Jewish quarter.
“This is one of the first for the Jews of Mallorca, and it is particularly significant because it restores something from the past of this community,” said Dani Rotstein, founder of Limud Mallorca and secretary of the Jewish community of the Balearic Islands. A tourism and video production A professional from New Jersey, he has led efforts to promote Mallorca’s Jewish community since moving there in 2014.
To be fair, Palma has seen its share of the sukkah since the Inquisition. The town and island, which is a popular holiday destination off the eastern coast of Spain, has for decades had a small but active Jewish community of around 100 members, as well as several Jewish expatriates. They celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the community by British expatriates in 1971. Palma also has a synagogue, a small Jewish museum and a resident rabbi.
But this year’s Sukkot holiday week, which begins Monday night, will mark the first time that a Sukkah will be built on public land with funding from the local municipality. It was erected at the Ca’n Oms mansion, seat of the city’s culture department and other municipal bodies. Jews and non-Jews alike will enjoy Limmud Mallorca’s cultural programming, including sukkah lectures and tours of the area, for two weeks.
The public sukkah is part of a European-wide initiative European Days of Jewish Culture, a series of events celebrating Jewish heritage in dozens of cities across Europe each year in September and October.
This development is the latest in a series of steps by Rotstein and others to commemorate the presence of Jews in Mallorca before the Inquisition, who have come to be known as chuetas, the local name of anusim – or those who were forcibly converted to Christianity during the Inquisition. .
On Rosh Hashanah, local Jews organized a festive service and a musical concert to celebrate the Jewish New Year, with the cooperation of a local Catalan cultural center, in its garden located in the old Jewish quarter.
It was symbolic for the participants due to a painful chapter in the history of the Jewish community in Mallorca. In 1677, local crypto-Jews, who risked their lives practicing their faith while pretending to be Christians, held a secret Yom Kippur service in a garden outside the city walls.
Local Jews say that when Spanish leaders learned of the service’s existence, they salted the soil in the garden to make sure nothing could grow there again, and redoubled their efforts to stamp out Jewish celebrations of the island.
In recent years, the authorities have made efforts to recognize and redress these atrocities.
In 2018, local authorities unveiled a commemorative plaque in Plaza de Palma where 37 crypto-Jews were publicly burned in what was once known locally as “the bonfire of the Jews.
In 2015, the city helped build a small Jewish museum in what was once the Jewish Quarter. The neighborhood, with its sandstone facades and quiet cobblestone streets, was once a thriving and strongly Jewish shopping and business district, with numerous tanneries, shoe shops, and butchers. Today few or no Jews live there, and most visitors are tourists.
Also in 2015, the parliaments of Spain and Portugal pass laws that give descendants of Sephardic Jews the right to citizenship. Millions of dollars of public funds are invested in the preservation and development of Jewish heritage sites in these countries.
Many Chueta families continued to practice Judaism in secret. Even those who did not maintain their Jewish practice at the time were treated with suspicion and excluded in many ways from the rest of society.
Some Jewish traditions have remained in Chueta families, such as lighting candles on Shabbat, covering mirrors during mourning, and spring cleanings associated with Passover. But over time, the island’s Jewish population declined.
But, ironically, the exclusion of the chuetas by society proved to be the key to the revival of Judaism in Mallorca, historians say: because they were not allowed to marry freely with the Christian population, the chuetas got married to each other. This helped preserve a distinct chueta identity until the 1970s, when the dictatorship of Fransisco Franco finally collapsed, opening up Spanish society to the rest of Europe.
When this happened, there were thousands of people in Mallorca who identified themselves as chuetas, a minority that today numbers around 20,000.
In recent years, the chuetas who returned to Judaism and converts took the reins of the community. In 2018, two chuetas were elected to the four-person executive council of the community. And in June, the community received, for the first time since the Inquisition, a rabbi born in Palma to a Chueta family, Nissan Ben Avraham.
This process, along with the public events of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, “is a victory,” said Iska Valls, a chueta repatriated to Judaism and the wife of Toni Pinya, one of the members of the board of trustees of Judaism. the chueta of the Jewish community. .
“It’s a victory [over] the Inquisition and proof that we are like a phoenix, rising from its ashes, ”she said.