JLE Barcelona trip traces Spain’s Jewish past and present and looks to the future

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JLE Barcelona trip traces Spain’s Jewish past and present and looks to the future

Around 50 young professionals explore medieval Jewish history pre-1492 expulsion as part of educational Shabbat weekend.

JLE Barcelona Trip, 2023. Pic: JLE
JLE Barcelona Trip, 2023. Pic: JLE

A group of 50 young professionals joined the Jewish Learning Exchange’s (JLE) weekend trip to Barcelona to explore the history and culture of the city.

Organised by the educational and social centre for young Jews, based in Golders Green, the trip was led by notable historian and educator, Rabbi Aubrey Hersh, who has run over 150 tours across Europe and conducts the popular JLE podcast, “History for the Curious”.

The weekend  included touring the historic Jewish quarter of Barcelona, learning of the illustrious pre-Expulsion life of the community, the Disputation of Barcelona in 1263, and specifically how the Jews were forced to convert or die.

JLE Barcelona 2023

The Jewish quarter of the city, the “El Call,” lies within the Gothic Quarter and, during the medieval times, it was one of the most important Jewish centres in the Iberian Peninsula.

Friday night dinner and the Shabbat day meal were spent together with the local Jewish community, and led by JLE’s CEO, Rabbi Benjy Morgan. The uplifting Shabbat concluded with a unique and powerful Havdala ceremony, with the group celebrating their Judaism at the sight of the burning of Converso Torah scrolls after 1492.

Devon Horowitz, who participated on the trip and joined from South Africa, said: “My highlight was making Havdala in the very same place that Torah scrolls were brutally burned in the Middle Ages. With our Havdala flame, we instead lit up the world positively, with by-standers taking out their phones to video it. It was an inspiring testament to the survival of our people.”

On Sunday evening, the trip ended with a closing discussion on the feeling of community the participants had managed to create and its importance. This was held atop Montjuic, the “Jewish Mountain”, a scenic mountain that rises above the Barcelona skyline, deriving its name for the remains of a medieval Jewish cemetery discovered on it.

Rabbi Dov Cowan, who co-organised the weekend with Sasha Johnson, said: “It is remarkable to see people step in the footsteps of where we have come from, our rich Jewish past. At JLE, we are looking to help people walk in the path of our past, so that it can serve as a guide for our Jewish future. This dynamic Shabbat and weekend in Barcelona certainly achieved that.”

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