Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spain: Jews Wanted (a.k.a. The Inquisition & Gordon's The Last Jew)

From today’s BBC article “Sephardic Jews invited back to Spain after 500 years:”
More than 500 years ago, tens of thousands of Jews fled Spain because of persecution. Now their descendants are being invited to return. Before the infamous Spanish Inquisition of the 15th Century, some 300,000 Jews lived in Spain. It was one of the largest communities of Jews in the world. Today, there are about 40,000 or 50,000 - but that number could be about to swell dramatically. In November, Spain's justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon announced a plan to give descendants of Spain's original Jewish community - known as Sephardic Jews - a fast-track to a Spanish passport and Spanish citizenship.

What was it like to be Jewish during the Spanish Inquisition? To place yourself in the moment, read Noah Gordon’s novel The Last Jew:
In the year 1492, the Inquisition has all of Spain in its grip. After centuries of pogrom-like riots encouraged by the Church, the Jews - who have been an important part of Spanish life since the days of the Romans - are expelled from the country by royal edict...some perish even before they can escape from Spain. Yonah Toledano, the 15-year-old son of a celebrated Spanish silversmith, has seen his father and brother die during these terrible days...  Yonah begins a meandering journey, a young fugitive zigzagging across the vastness of a time and land where danger from the Inquisition is everywhere...

If the Inquisition interests you, you might also like:

  • By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan (“Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition…[b]ut he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target…”) and 
  • Incantation by Alice Hoffman (“Growing up in Spain around 1500 in the village where her family has lived for 500 years, Estrella, 16, knows that there are secrets in her home. As books are burned in the streets, and Jews from the nearby ghetto are murdered, she confronts the reality that she is a Marrano, part of a community of underground Jews…”).

*Note:  some people find the term "Jew" pejorative (as opposed to, say, "Jewish person").  I just want to make it clear that I don't use the term pejoratively and don't intend for it to be misinterpreted that way.

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