Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spain: Toledo's ancient cemetery in danger

Barcelona friends Dominique Tomasov Blinder and David Stoleru head the Zakhor Center, whose complete name is the Center of Studies Zakhor for the Protection and Transmission of Jewish Heritage.

Tracing the Tribe has previously written about Zakhor's establishment here.

Last week, in a phone conversation with David, he told me about the excavation of the ancient Toledo Jewish cemetery in Toldeo and that he would be visiting the city soon. the following is information sent out by Zakhor. I am waiting for an update based on Zakhor's trip to Toledo.

Late in September we learned of the expansion of a school in Toledo, which caused the excavation of the ancient Jewish cemetery prior construction. This school, built in the 1980s, already destroyed a great part of that cemetery, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

Center of Studies ZAKHOR visited the site to meet with the archaeologist in charge and with the Director of Landmarks of the region of Castille-La Mancha, to explain the importance of this issue in Judaism and discuss the options of protection. Our intention is to find a solution for the site with respect for its meaning and to avoid irreversible damage.

This week, Atra Kadishah (Israel) traveled to Madrid together with a delegation of American rabbis, whose agenda included meetings with:

- the American Embassy, to express that this matter involves American Jewish heritage abroad, and conveying the deepest concern among American Jewry,

- the Department of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice, and

- the Ambassador for Relations with the Jewish Communities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In Barcelona, the Montjuic Jewish cemetery was designated a landmark as it was a place with clear sacred character, an element evocative of the historic Jewish memory and the fact that Judaism is a living culture with its own criteria about funerary rituals and cemeteries.

Toledo is the city where the three cultures flourished in the Middle Ages reaching at times exemplary levels of convivencia, where the famous School of Translators produced great pieces which contributed to the intellectual development of the world, a city where very important Rabbis from Catalonia and from Germany chose to live.

Today, besides two synagogues (of 10 that existed in medieval times) that are today museums, the ancient cemetery is the only other landmark remaining of the Jewish community which once lived there. This community certainly deserves respect for their tradition and beliefs.

This cemetery transcends the city of Toledo, as the descendants of Jews from Toledo now live around the world. Urban growth during the last century has destroyed most of it. Today there is a small portion, with some 85 tombs (including children and babies) that is vulnerable to construction and will disappear forever if nothing is done to prevent it.

Zakhor believes that there is another approach to handle ancient Jewish cemeteries, with respect to the tradition and with appropriate research to find more about them, so that future generations can enjoy a common heritage, can understand its meaning and can integrate it in their identity.

As soon as additional information is available, this blog will report it.

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