Jewish Majorca Exploration Blog

November 2019 – Jewish Majorca exploration.

I visited Palma de Mallorca (spelled “Majorca” in English & German) and it was fascinating to find out about Jewish history.

Unlike other countries in Europe, there are only traces of Jewish culture. You will not find synagogues or Jewish quarters. Sadly, all of this disappeared during over 400 years of Inquisition and persecution.

Therefore, you need a specialized guide to tell you the story. I was glad I connected with Dani Rotstein. Formerly from New Jersey, he moved to Mallorca for a change of pace and later met his wife from Barcelona who then also relocated to the island. After learning about the unique Jewish, Crypto-Judio, and Converso history of the island they became more and more involved in the small but Jewish community. They are the co-founders of the cultural organization Limud Mallorca promoting Jewish culture and diversity and are helping to revive Sefarad history. They are passionate about inclusivity, connections, and telling stories that are otherwise left untold. They love sharing their discoveries with others.

Dani has connections with many descendants of Conversos or Crypto Jews, who are called locally by the name “Xuetas” and they have shared their stories with him, and has thus reinvigorated his passion about Jewish history and culture.

So their project “Jewish Majorca” was created to help revive the once prominent Jewish community of the Balearic Islands through educational and interactive walk-and-talk experiences throughout the old Jewish Quarters of Palma.

We went on the quest to “Secrets of Jewish Majorca” Since there are only traces, you need to search for it.

We started in the bakery Fornet de La Soca, which by the way had amazing pastries. I ended up for the next two days going there and taking sweets and savories. It is located at the entry point to the old Jewish Quarter, which dates back to the Muslim era of Mallorca, the Call Major. The term “Call” is in Catalan and means the same thing as “Juderia” in Castellano. Whenever you visit Jewish Quarters in and around Catalan-speaking regions of Spain such as the Balearics, Valencia, and Barcelona you will see the signs “Carrer del Call” or “Street of the Jewish Quarter.”

The bakery had the famous Mallorquin pastry, the “ensaimada” which is specifically cooked with pork fat as a reaction to their centuries-old prejudice and discrimination.

The inquisition for Jews of Majorca started before the rest of Spain, in 1391. They were forced to either leave or convert. The ones who converted, had to display that they were cooking pork, and going to Catholic church. The others who did not convert, were tortured and burned at the stake.

I learned about the tragic events of 1688, when a group of Crypto-Judios tried to escape on the ship of an English captain but a storm prevented their departure. Subsequent torture and imprisonment followed for three years within the Inquisition’s Black House, now the site of the town’s Plaza Mayor, and took place until their execution in Plaza Gomila, underneath the city’s Bellver Castle. Three out of the thirty-seven victims chose to not give up their Judaism and were subsequently burned alive on May 6th 1691 in front of 30,000 spectators. In 2018, the city renamed a street after one of these martyrs – Caterina Tarongi – as well as putting a small but poignant memorial in the same Plaza Gomila location last August.

We went to the specific streets that the Xuetas were forced to live and work on up until as recently as the 1960s. Signs of this ‘secret’ community can still be found today with many of the current jewelry shops having been kept within their families for generations beforehand. Like this one “Angela”

The Inquisition, forced conversions, was the result of the emergence of the ‘Crypto-Jews’ or Xuetas who publicly professed Catholicism while privately adhering to Judaism. Synagogues were secretly built in private homes.  We saw secret passages in some pottery shop which was used for escape.

The Call Major is home to remnants of synagogues. We saw the statue of the famous 14th century Jewish cartographer Jafuda ben Cresques , who along with his father Cresques ben Abraham, were the first to complete a world atlas and to help elucidate Christopher Columbus’ travels. Many Mallorquins still believe today that Cristobal Colon was originally named Cristobal Colom and was a Converso from the town of Felanitx, Mallorca.

We saw the sites of the smaller synagogue as well as the main synagogue – now home to the Mont-Zion Church.

 

During the walk, we saw some plaques on the pavement, similar to Stolpersteins, which has inscribed in Hebrew “Itzkor Sefarad” (Remember Spain). There are names of the streets which tells you about Xuetas and their life and work (Jeweler st, Leather, etc).

There was also on the pavement memorial plaque to Jews deported during WWII by Franco.

We ended the walk at the house of a famous Jewish merchant Maimo ben Faraig which now is home to the Interpretation Center of the Palma Jewish Quarter, displaying beautiful maps and photos of Palma’s rich Xueta and Jewish history and heritage.

Overall it was fascinating way to see this beautiful city.

The difference between regular guides and Dani and his personally trained guides is that they are members of the current and active Jewish community of Palma. So it is not only that you get to talk to a current member of the Jewish community about the past and present, but if you are lucky, you can attend the current synagogue services, or visit the local and still-in-use Jewish cemetery, and even attend current cultural events that take place during the year on the island. Depending on the time of your visit you may be able to participate in events such as an Israeli Cinema Film Series and Limud Mallorca – an inter-disciplinary and educational conference that is volunteer lead with its group organizing  many events throughout the year to share and celebrate Jewish culture and learning.

I highly recommend this unique tour when you are in Majorca – either on a day trip from a cruise ship or staying on the island. You can also combine it with other highlights of Majorca.

To find out more info or to reserve your tour please contact us info@sophiastravel.com