In Separatist Catalonia, Jewish Heritage Towns Quit Spain's Network of Historic Jewish Quarters

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Demonstrators wave Catalan flags during a protest rally in Barcelona , Spain, in this September 11, 2012 file photo. Credit: AP

The ongoing tussle between the northeast Spanish region of Catalonia and the rest of Spain over the region's bid for independence has taken on a Jewish dimension with the withdrawal of five Catalonian cities with historic Jewish quarters from the national Spanish network of such towns.

As of Wednesday, the five towns still appear on the website of the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters, but, as reported by the New York Times on Tuesday, the five announced their withdrawal last month from the network of 24 Spanish cities that had been collectively promoting their Jewish heritage.

Mayor Marta Madrenas of Girona, one of the Catalonian cities, told the Times the move was being taken out of dissatisfaction with how the Spanish network was functioning. "We think we can do better in terms of showcasing our Jewish patrimony,” the mayor said. “We want to do it in a more serious manner, with more cultural and scientific rigor,” saying that the focus should be broadened beyond tourism.

But the director of the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters, Marta Puig Quixal, told the Times: “We believe we have a project that unifies cities and we don’t understand and share the reasons for leaving.” And she added: "This breakup is another example of how Catalan institutions are looking to go their own way.”

In addition to Girona, the Catalonian cities that have left the network are Besalú, Castelló d’Empúries, Tortosa and the regional capital, Barcelona. For her part, Mayor Madrenas noted that Seville, the southern Spanish city, had also left the network, which was established in 1995.

Spain's centuries of Jewish life were cut short with the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and the expulsion of Spanish Jewry throughout the Mediterrean basin.

"In recent years," the Times noted, "archaeologists have found more evidence of Spain’s once-thriving Jewish community, largely as a result of discoveries made during urban construction projects. Last year, the Spanish Parliament approved a long-awaited law to give Spanish citizenship to thousands of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled in 1492."

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