“The Holy Jewish Community of Barcelona has been praying in this direction for over a thousand years.”
We are visiting our daughter who is spending a semester studying in Barcelona. This morning our guide took us around the medieval part of the city and into the Jewish quarter to see Sinagoga Major de Barcelona, the Ancient Synagogue of Barcelona. It is considered one of the oldest synagogues in Europe. Jewish history in Barcelona is one of dignity and disaster. It is the story of a flourishing community that numbered around 15 percent of the total population during the Middle Ages; many worked as doctors, scientists, scholars and merchants. Even so, the king ordered that the size of synagogues be no larger than the smallest Christian church. In 1391, popular large-scale pogroms left thousands of Jews either dead or coerced into Christianity and the Jewish population was decimated.
The plaque shown above is displayed prominently on the eastern wall of the synagogue, facing Jerusalem. After the expulsion of the Jews, the building was used for many purposes and its original use was forgotten. But as testimony to the indelible spirit of the Jewish people, the synagogue was restored and re-opened to the public in 2002. In 2003, two Canadians became the first couple to be married at the Sinagoga Major in more than 600 years and a New York attorney donated a 500-year-old Torah scroll to the synagogue in 2006.
The Sages prophesied that even after the Ancient Temple’s destruction, the Divine Presence would never leave the Western Wall, and that the Wall will never be destroyed. Just as the Wall is endowed with everlasting sanctity, as the Talmud says: “And I will make your sanctuaries desolate” (Leviticus 26:31) – so too do sanctuaries around the world retain their sanctity even when they are desolate…for it is part of our legacy to rebuild and thrive. The Barcelona Jewish community was the first post-exile Jewish community to reappear in Spain. Given the history of this minority group in Barcelona, indeed in the Iberian peninsula, there is something majestic about the rebirth of Jewish life here. Shabbat Shalom from Barcelona!