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Sephardic Comunities

Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 1990

The Speech delivered by Mr. Solomon Gaón

Our Wise Men continually remind us that our obligation is to thank the Good Lord and those who show or have shown us kindness.

It is in this spirit that today I wish to praise the Creator of the whole world for giving us this moment in time when the Prince of Asturias Foundation bestows the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord on the Sephardic Communities of the world. This event demonstrates to us that five hundred years on, Spain welcomes the Jews who kept the language and customs of Spain alive, but who above all kindled a love for their bygone native country. Israel was the holy land for the Sephardic Jews, Spain was their second country. There were two poems pinned on the window of the living room cabinet in my house. One was the Hatikva - an ode to the hope that one day we would return to the holy land and bring salvation to the whole world. The Hatikva is now the national anthem of the state of Israel. The poem was translated into Ladino by the great scribe of Sarajevo, Abraham Kapon, who was a colleague of Ramón Menéndez Pidal. His translation speaks of the land of Israel, "where our forefathers descended from, where the Kings of Israel rule. That is where our Hope lies". The other poem was dedicated to Spain. Also written by Kapon, it is, in his own words, "on behalf of the Sephardim who cherished and maintained the language of Cervantes". "Here is to our beloved Spain, who we call our mother land; as long as we live, we will not renounce your dear language. Even though you banished us, like a stepmother, from your bosom, we cannot help loving you as the holiest of lands, where our forefathers left their parents buried, with the ashes of thousands of their loved ones. Glorious country, we maintain our filial love for you, and send our glorious greetings". These two poems, to be found in all the Jewish houses of my small town, condensed the two ideas that Sephardic life revolved around. The first is the hope that one day we will no longer be persecuted and that we will find salvation in Israel alongside mankind as a whole. The second is a heartfelt love for Spain. The Sephardim in fact have always loved Spain, and bear no malice towards the Spanish people and their culture, even though they were driven out. Some historians ask why the Jews that fled from Spain never forgot their bygone country and never allowed their filial love for Spain to lapse. There is but one answer: of all the diasporas that the people of Israel have lived through, only in Spain was there ever a Golden Age. Unlike other diasporas, Jews were not seen in Spain as a foreign minority but instead as an integrated and integral part of the land of Iberia. This is why they felt hurt when they were made to leave the land where they had lived for almost two thousand years. Only by bearing this fact in mind will one understand why the Sephardim held the Jewish Spanish language, Ladino, in a sanctity second only to Hebrew. The most important prayers for the Sabbath, and particularly those for the second days of Passover were recited in Ladino. Women said their daily prayers in Jewish Spanish, not in Hebrew. Many hymns were translated into Ladino and were sung to the melodies of Spanish Romanzas. Fathers and mothers baptised their sons and daughters in Jewish Spanish. Until the last great war, when many Sephardic communities were wiped out by the Nazis, Rabbi were only allowed by their communities to preach in Sephardic synagogues in Ladino, not in the language of the country they inhabited.

The Sephardim wanted to recreate the feeling of Spain in their synagogues, which is why they named them after places and provinces in their foregone fatherland. Throughout the Balkans, and in North Africa, there were synagogues called the Aragon Synagogue, the Castille Synagogue, the Córboba Synagogue and so on.

In the face of the intolerance of the past, today we seek and offer a message of tolerance and concord to all the peoples of the Earth, for all men and women of good will, as the only possible way towards mankind´s mutual understanding. In a world of unrest and conflict, this plea for the mutual tolerance that existed in bygone Spain is also relevant nowadays to modern Spain. This modern Spain, symbolised today in the person who has lent his name to the awards that are being presented, can once again become the messenger for this ideal of mankind. Spain rekindles memories in us Jews of a time when our forefathers lived in Spain and men and women professing different religions - Jewish, Christian, Muslim - made up a community that provided an example of the brotherhood and concord that mutual acceptance can lead to.

In the name of the Sephardim, once more I would like to thank Your Royal Highness and the distinguished members of this Foundation, not only for Spain´s most prestigious cultural award, but also for the hope that this award will forever open the doors of our bygone land to the communities expelled from Spain 500 years ago. As the Israeli ambassador to Spain has said, emotion wells up within us, alongside the hope that at a time when Europe is once again rife with xenophobia and anti-Semitism, Spain will forge a very different path and will reach out to all that is most precious from its past. I would like to finish this speech with the time-honoured blessing of my parents: may Spain and its King and Queen, its royal family, its leaders and its people bear fruits in abundance.

"May He who brings salvation to Kings and governance to Princes,
May He whose Kingdom is of every realm,
May He who saved his servant David from the evil sword,
May He who walks on the sea and makes paths through troubled waters,
May He who blesses, protects, saves, and succours,
May He ennoble, uplift and raise His Royal Highness Prince Philip of Asturias to the greatest heights. Amen".

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