The traces of Jewish Madrid: a hidden legacy

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Just after the week in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, the Jewish Madrid – almost disappeared by the relentless weight of History – is located between generalized ignorance as a sort of hidden patrimony, relative to two concrete epochs. One, primitive and medieval, scene of persecutions and sustenance of legends around its configuration. Another, contemporary, concerning the refoundation of the Hebrew community in Madrid.

The absence of architectural evidence, in other faithful chroniclers in stone, makes any justification to the documentary archive. Although there are no buildings or remains of the first Jewish quarter of the capital, there are writings that locate it in what is currently the cathedral of La Almudena. Behind them, inside the walls of the Arab wall, the Jews remained even after the Christian conquest of Madrid, then Mayrit, in the year 1083 by King Alfonso VI.

The edicts of execution, multiplied after the conception of the tribunal of the Holy Inquisition in 1478, and popular transmission play a key role in the flimsy certainties about the past of the Jewish community. According to documentary sources, the work of Alejandra Abulafia, director of Destino Sefarad, as early as 1053 a Jewish neighbor sent a letter to his sister counting his sentence for the death of two coreligionists. Just a few meters away from that old Jewish quarter, climbing up what is now the Calle Mayor, in the plaza of the same name, many merchants settled, especially in the space that today welcomes the Mercado de San Miguel and in the neighborhood of Plaza de la Villa.

Precisely in the Plaza Mayor, in the lanterns located in the center, there is an engraving that passes almost unnoticed. The relief shows a judgment with a sambenito to a Jew, who was nothing more than to put a sackcloth to the inmate, often without previous judgment, to humiliate and stigmatize him. This small trace, although anecdotal, partially synthesizes how medieval times were. In fact, another of the points collected in the map attached, the Valnadú gate, is remembered for being the access point in one of the major attacks suffered in the Jewish quarter.

Persecutions and Expulsion
The main test of its location, in any case, refers to the most tragic episodes of its history in the area. Sometimes narrated in literary code, a document of 1391, when many Jews were killed in the street of the Damas, in the Jewish quarter, according to Jacobo Israel Garzón in its prologue to the work Avapés: Theater in two acts (Solly Wolodarsky. 2009). This and other passages are included in the letter, such as the request of the Villa de Madrid to the queen to execute the penalties provided for Jews who did not wear distinctive signs in the dress, in 1478, or a wall that would isolate the Jewry, two years later.

Everything ends, as a part and result, in a key date for the Jewish community throughout Spain. On July 31, 1492, the Catholic Kings signed their expulsion, condemned ever since, and well into the nineteenth century, to a cryptic presence. Persecuted and in the strictest secrecy, the author goes on that, after a century, Madrid hosted numerous Portuguese crypto-Jews, descendants of those who had left the same year of the discovery of America. At this time and in the following years, different documents prove this situation; As a car of faith – one among thousands – in 1632, where “up to forty-four prisoners, of whom four were burned in a statue and seven in person” were allegedly assembled to whip and insult a Christ and a Virgin .

Another of the pillars on this legacy has much to do with speculation, justified in the popular transmission. It may be worth noting that the Lavapiés neighborhood, supposedly known as Avapiés on the date, does not appear on the route illustrated, but the truth is that, contradiction among historians, there is no documentary basis for this. It is, therefore, a myth; Similar to the one that assures that the present church of San Lorenzo was once a synagogue. Equally, Manolo’s name is said to have its origin in the Jewish community, for it derives from Immanuel, which in Hebrew means “God be with us.”

Refoundation
There is no effective refoundation until well into the twentieth century, although in the early years the end of this parenthesis is glimpsed. In 1917 the first synagogue of Madrid, Midras Ababarnel was founded, antecedent of the constitution of the Jewish Community in the region, in 1920. It also obtains an own enclosure in the civil cemetery of La Almudena, although this growth is not definitive .

The synagogue is closed in 1938 and, after the end of the Civil War, all public activity is interrupted. Thus, the Jewish Community was not restored until 1947, and two years later a new synagogue, the Lawenda Oratory, was inaugurated. Years later, it moved to Pizarro Street to house a larger one, Betzión. The definitive takeoff and settlement, peaceful except for the attack on Christmas Eve of 1976, when a bomb exploded next to the synagogue of Balmes Street, was in the 60’s; Developed with the construction of the Jewish cemetery of Hoyo de Manzanares, in the early 90’s. Madrid also has a Jewish school, Ibn Gabirol, built in 1965.

The Jewish community, in the present
It is estimated that the Community of Madrid currently lives around 10,000 Jews, with the seat of the Jewish Community (left, its opening) as the main meeting point; Both religious and social. Its growth in the last years mainly refers to Argentina, since many Jews emigrated to Spain after the military coup of Videla in 1976, and after the recent economic crises. The Second World War also provoked the arrival of numerous Jewish refugees. In those years, Madrid was configured as an alternative scenario of spies and covert diplomacy. As you can see, the Embassy confectionery, which served as a cover to save 30,000 Jews from the Nazi deployment in the capital, to Portugal.

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