Seville memorializes its once-thriving Jewish quarter

MADRID — The Spanish city of Seville is planning to commemorate its old Jewish quarter for the first time since its inhabitants were massacred and forcibly converted during the Inquisition in the Middle Ages.

The city has promised to erect plaques on the sites of three of the 23 synagogues that once served a vibrant Jewish community, according to Enrique Uriel-Valls of the Seville-based Sephardic Legacy Foundation.

Special permission was granted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris for one of the plaques to go on the wall of the French consulate on the Plaza de Santa Cruz, the former location of one of the shuls.

A fourth memorial plaque will mark the epicenter of the June 6, 1391, pogrom in which mobs fired up by anti-Semitic preachers went on a rampage through the ghetto. They plundered and burned down Jewish homes, killing Jews in the process.

Historians say many Jews converted on the spot to save their lives, while women and children were sold as slaves to Muslims.

Uriel-Valls said the plaques signify a belated, but important step to the recognition of Seville's juderia, or Jewish quarter. Cities such as Cordoba, Toledo and Caceres have done much more to restore their juderias and promote them as cultural attractions, he noted.

"The Seville juderia was one of the most important until the massacre, and nothing has been done until now," he said. "We call it the 'kehilah olvidada,'" or the forgotten community, he said.

Some 500 Jewish families lived in Seville at the peak of Spanish Jewry's golden age. A number of important Jewish figures came from here, including crown adviser Samuel Halevi, poet Judah Samuel Abbas and kabbalist Judah Ibn Verga.

Uriel-Valls made the announcement about the plaques at the end of a weeklong seminar at a Seville college on the city's Jewish past. Scholars spoke on topics such as Jewish relations with Sevillian nobility and the collapse of interfaith tolerance.

Uriel-Valls noted that widespread prejudice against Jews — which continues in Spain to this day — threatens an honest recognition of their contribution to Seville's history.

"We have to fight against anti-Semitism at every turn, in the press, in politics" — and in Seville's increasingly influential Arab community, he said.