The Cervantes Institute and the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki signed an agreement on Tuesday allowing the institute to establish a branch in the Greek city, as part of the institute's efforts to promote and recognize the Sephardic community’s Spanish roots and revitalize the community’s historical use of Judeo-Spanish or Ladino.
In attendance at the special signing ceremony was President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and WJC Vice President David Saltiel, Cervantes Institute Athens Director Cristina Conde de Beroldinge, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha González Laya, Spanish Ambassador to Greece Enrique Viguera, and Ambassador of Greece to Spain Ioannis Tzovas-Mourouzis, among others.
While only around 1,200 Jews live in Thessaloniki today, the Sephardic community had been a plurality among a notably diverse population in Thessaloniki, living alongside Christians and Muslims for centuries. However, during the Holocaust, Axis forces deported about 46,000 Jews to death camps, where nearly all were murdered.
In his remarks, Saltiel pleaded with the Jewish community in Greece to remember their roots in Spain, saying, “We can’t let this be forgotten; if it’s forgotten, it will die. But if we carry on speaking, it will live on.”
“The community here was built by Jews from Spain– places such as Toledo, Granada and Seville. It was a community that spoke, ate and sang Spanish. After the Holocaust, only 1,500 Jews were left, but we’ve always kept that idea of our Spanish past in our hearts and we want to keep our traditions alive,” he added.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Jewish community will provide the institute with a premise for their new branch, while the institute will organize various Sephardic cultural and educational activities. The initiative is aimed towards children and young adults in the Sephardic community, but it will be open to people of all ages and faiths.
"I think one of the last Sephardic Jews who was expelled said, ‘we were Spaniards, we are Spaniards, and we will be Spaniards,’ and I think the same can be applied to the language: at one time we spoke Spanish, today we speak Spanish, and in the future we will speak Spanish,” said Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya. Laya added, “this is the investment we are making today, a sign of our commitment to something that unites people."
The signing ceremony concluded with a symbolic song in Judeo-Spanish, “La rosa enflorece” (The Rose Bloomed), sang by renowned Greek soprano singer Mariangela Chatzistamatiou.