By Noam Gaash
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain. Its Jewish community, officially known as La Comunidad Israelita de Barcelona (CIB), is the most ancient in the country, the first established after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. In 2018, the centenary of the community was celebrated.
The community owns the single Jewish school in Barcelona, managed by the Hatikvah Foundation, where around 300 students are learning. There are three Jewish cemeteries located outside the city, a country club for sport and social activies. The main building of the Jewish community houses the single Mikveh and the Grand Synagogue of Barcelona called “Maimonides”, the greatest Jewish philosopher, who lived during twelfth century in Girona, Catalonia
There is no official data about the number of Jews in Barcelona. Not everyone signs as a member of the community. However, every Jew can get the services of the CIB whether he or she is a member or not. It is believed that in Catalonia and in the Barcelona area, there are between 8000 to 10000 Jews. On top of that, statistics show that some 8,000 Israelis have moved to Barcelona and Catalonia in recent years.
The community is made of different Jewish flavors, members coming from Latin America, North Africa, Israel and also lately from Turkey. As an example, on the board of the Jewish community of Barcelona, there are seven members. Two or three are coming from the same origin. Only the second or the third generation is getting more stability regarding the origin.
In an interview with European Jewish Press, Raymond Forado, President of the Jewish community of Barcelona, talks about the challenges facing his community. ‘’I think that this coronavirus crisis is showing us that we are a small but strong community, that we are united and we know how to support each other. I believe that we are been educated and being thaught that if there are difficulties, we will find the way to solve them. As we say in Hebrew ‘Az Ma’. We will know how to do it and in the end I think that It will be proved that we saw also the light and the opportunity in this period of the coronavirus,’’ he says.
‘’The only suffering is those families, and those members that we know and also the citizens in our cities who died.’’
”We are a community whose local heritage belongs to every Jew who is in Barcelona. We depend on ourselves, on our participation volunteering in time, energy and funds, both to preserve the heritage of the Community, and to help those who need it.”
What is the overall situation of the Jewish community – in Barcelona and in general in Spain?
In Spain as a group, we are very committed and active communities but limited in numbers compared to communities in the UK, France or other countries in Europe.
We are aware of what happens in all the Jewish communities in Spain. For instance, we saw what happened recently in the center of Madrid with an antisemitic march by Neo-Nazis. In this regard, there are no differences between us, we are all united against any term of anti-semitism against us. Anything that is against us, will find all of us.
It’s amazing we are in Europe where it happened 70 years ago, that the most advanced and modern society in Europe decided to develop the most criminal program in order to exterminate the Jewish people and other minorities because of their way of thinking and living.
Now we are finding ourselves exactly the same here in Madrid and this is unacceptable. So we can be a medium or small community, it’s doesn’t mean that we are not united and committed. We must be strong and united in order to fight this with the support of all, Jews as well as non-Jews.
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain has started a legal action against the march….
Yes. I believe that this has been the most extreme that we ever heard in Europe in the last years. There is a debate all over Europe and also a crisis. This crisis and political debates create the foundation of more expression by extreme right and extreme left people. If you start to express yourself against the 5G technology, against the vaccines, about the master plan coming from nobody knows who for the Covid-19, at the end they always find the Jews….. We suffered such a phenomenon in Barcelona and the CIB has denounced it and started a legal action against anything that will be promoting anti-semitism. In this regard, we have the full support of the local authorities. Regarding what happened in Madrid, the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Spain has issued a tough statement on behalf of all the Jewish communities. The Jewish community of Barcelona has also prepared a text within our commission against anti-semitism, that was released. One of our special projects, that was started one month ago, is called “Stop Hate”. No single case will be left without our voice and legal complaint.
What is the level of cooperation between the communities of Madrid and Barcelona? We know that in football it’s quite difficult…. but is it different beteen the Jewish communities ?
There is more than 100% cooperation. We have the same DNA and we have the same difficulties. Only some topics are not the same because we live in different societies.We don’t live in a vacuum. I think in time of coronavirus crisis, there is one lesson for all the humanity that we all need to cooperate in order to reach the best solutions ever. So, for example, we have on whatsapp a crisis management group of people from both Barcelona and Madrid. If one family suffers in this period of Covid, it is the same suffering and challenges whether in Barcelona or in Madrid. We are sharing the knowledge, the joy and the pain when it happens. I like this question very much because I can share the privilege that we are sharing everything.
Just a few days ago Catalonia went to elections in which the separatists secured the majority of the parliament seats. How do you see the independence issue in Jewish eyes?
We are a cultural and religious community and a centenary institution. No one here or abroad imposes on us the mission of our community, from any perspective. We are what we want to be democratically and the Board changes every four years. Therefore, we are a reflection of the same smells and flavors that exist in the Catalan society. We are modern, we are integrative. You know, we have the same Mediterranean sunshining as in Tel Aviv. I mean, the same way that there are different flavors and colours in Tel Aviv, we have also various colours and flavors in Barcelona. Anyone has his opinion about the political situation, anyone can defend his position and the community is inclusive. There is no doubt that the our community is more conservative, so we are more conservatives in terms of changes but I think that all the voices are heard, and we are open to hear anything.
So the community hasn’t any official position regarding the Catalan issue?
As far as everything is done in a democratic process, as far as everybody can say his word, as far as everything is respected according to the law, everything is accepted. We have all the official flags in our building. And our school is a school that is following the Catalan Ministry of Education Program which guides them. However, every kid is learning in Hebrew, English, Catalan, and Spanish. They know the reality of the society we live in as citizens of an open and modern society and as Jews, some more religious, others less religious, more or less committed to Israel.
That sounds like a very complicated identity for the kids ?
No, on the contrary, it’s not complicated at all. We are very international, it’s very open, we know what is happening locally and internationally. You can speak to them, they feel proud to be so aware of what is going on in the school and out of the school. People are getting prepared to be smart, to be able to decide about themselves because also there is a kind of democracy inside the school where you can find a very open and adaptative way of transmitting our values and education. The school is adapting itself to every single student. The same as in the community where you are able to define and express your identity and your thoughts. We are plural.
How did the coronavirus situation affected the community?
The community is like a micro-society. I believe it’s affecting us as it’s affecting Spain, Israel or Europe. In the beginning, it was something different and strange and then we organized ourselves in small groups in order to give support and to provide some kind of welfare and social services to the more needed. It has affected our economy, the incomes that we used to get as donations has been reduced dramatically, the people are not coming, the social life has been moved to the digital sphere and we have adapted ourselves to souch a situation….First, we thought that it will be Pesach, then we understood that it will be also Rosh Hashana and Kippur, now we are understanding that it is also going to be Pesach. In the bottom line, it’s a disaster. Economically, there is no life in the building and in the installations. People cannot volunteering as they often do in the community and in parallel, we are not getting the incomes that we are used to and therefore also we are suffering and struggling financially. We depend only on the Jews of Barcelona. Moreover, with the pandemic, lot of jews in our area are suffering from the economical crisis and they were able to get monthly fees from participating in community activities. The community in turn needs to adapt itself and come to support them. We have seen a 2.5 increase in social support and economic support to our members and to jews that are no members of the CIB, which is important.
On one side there is a decrease in the incomes. But what concerns us more is the fact that we are not being able to meet, which is in our traition, and have minian for those who died from coronavirus. We are suffering very much from this. There is a family, well-known and respected, in one of the southern Spain communities that have been impacted very dramatically by the Covid this month. In the same week, several members of the same family died. It has dramatically affected that family, the Jewish of southern Spain and the entire community in Spain…. What happens to one affects us all. We are very tied one to the other.
What’s your plan for the upcoming year?
Basically, we are using this opportunity to find the light where there is no light. We have decided in the Jewish community of Barcelona to take this opportunity that there is no so much activity to try to make a kind of Seder. So there is more free time in order to organize this and we are all of us dreaming and preparing for the day that we will be able to open the doors again. There’s Minyan, there is Shabbat, there is a lot of medical control in terms of preventing infections and so on, these are the very small activities that we do. In parallel we are trying to do as much as possible digital activities, by Zoom. But I believe that now we have reach a point that everybody is tired of Zooms. Because the people have also their home life, they cannot follow the big quantity of the Zooms sessions that we have. We are preparing ourselves to see what is going to happen and when we will be ready to open our activities again. Our board is also trying to find ways to do some kinds of campaigns to get international help abroad, including from Israel but also internally in order to continue transmitting this idea of generosity and support for the institution, the community that belongs to each and every Jew who wants to come, regardless of where they come from. Some of us are giving time and resources by volunteering. We are providing some philanthropy time in order to support the ones that now are more needed in these special and complicated times.
Do you have any initiatives toward the youth?
This is our main center of activity, all of us are working to have a strong formal education. the project managed by the Hatikva Foundation team, since its independence, is doing a great job. It is fundamental for the future leadership of Barcelona’s Judaism. In our view this is the jewel of the crown. This is clear to us and the CIB is supporting as much as it can. We ask all other local or international Jewish to consider it that way as well.
We have also a parallel very strong program in non-formal education, our Talmud Torah, our Sunday School to educate our kids in our values and traditions.
Moreover, we are having a very powerful youth movement called Yahad where jewish young people are meeting every weekend to do activities either in the building either in the street or either in the country club.
And we continue to do that now digitally because we cannot meet due to ealth regulations, but outside we can do some meetings. We have a new youth program director fully engaged, super motivated with very innovative programs; The problem is that this Corona stopped everything but didn’t stop to their activities that you are able to see on social media and also in the reports we are issuing to all the community every single week.
I can share with you some initiatives that we have done: the young people, I would say from 16 to 23, are sharing Halot to the older ones every single Friday. They’re doing deliveries to them. We are using all the layers to show our commitment and the belonging to the community. You are seeing the same happening in Madrid and in other communities in Europe. Those are the same values you are teaching.
Regarding the restricting of Jewish life in Europe with the ban on Kosher slaughter and Brit Milah in several cpuntries. What is you reaction to this ? If such would happen in Spain how would you react?
First, we as a community we signed a letter tto give support to other Jewish communities that we need to be able to live our Judaism in Europe, and if Europe is not allowing us to live our Judaism, we need to fight this and claim that is not acceptable in terms of freedom, and democracy, not only for us but also for other minorities. I really believe that this in Spain will not gain any progress so we even didn’t consider what to do if this will happen. We believe that in Barcelona, Madrid and in other cities of Spain they understand the foundation of our Judaism and our needs. That we are living and manifest our Judaism not against the law but within the law as we have been able to do in the last years and centuries. I can tell you that I have participated in some common calls with the European Union delegates of the anti-semitism Commission and our voice has been heard. I believe that we will always find the right solution in order to live our Jewishness.
What about the cooperation with other Jewish and pro-Israeli organizations?
With the new leadership management of the Jewish community, we are putting more and more focus on such cooperation. We are also cooperating with other communities, sometimes bigger ones, because they are teaching us how to better manage our organization. We are getting a lot of help from Israel, information, training programs, educational material from the Jewish Agency, from different governmental and philanthropic and educational bodies that are helping us to share other experiences that can help us. We are getting more and more help and support from abroad which is very important. We are also very oriented to Europe as were are closer to the border, we have a vision of the need of more Europe. Let’s don’t forget that unlike what many think we do not belong to any global institution, we are a local community, a centenary institution, that in order to defend our Judaism and heritage we depend only on the Jews of Barcelona.
For more information about the community: www.cib.cat