The history of the Jews of Spain is a remarkable story that begins in the remote past and continues today. For more than a thousand years, Sepharad (the Hebrew word for Spain) was home to a large Jewish community noted for its richness and virtuosity. Summarily expelled in 1492 and forced into exile, their tragedy of expulsion marked the end of one critical phase of their history and the beginning of another. Indeed, in defiance of all logic and expectation, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain became an occasion for renewed creativity. Nor have five hundred years of wandering extinguished the identity of the Sephardic Jews, or diminished the proud memory of the dazzling civilization, which they created on Spanish soil. This book is intended to serve as an introduction and scholarly guide to that history.
Before the brutal expulsion of 300,000 Jews from Spain in 1492, Sephardic Jews thrived on the Iberian peninsula for more than a millennium, as Gerber relates in this stirring and riveting saga, a remarkable story of creative adaptation, minority achievement and survival. During the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, Sephardim excelled in medicine, science, philosophy, music and literature. Columbus, evasive about his origins, kept close company with Jews, and several Jewish converts sailed with him. Gerber, director of the City University of New York's Graduate Center's Institute for Sephardic Studies, charts the haunted lives of ``New Christians,'' secret Jews who were persecuted by the Inquisition, from Mexico to Peru, and surveys Sephardic communities that flourished openly from Romania, Syria and Turkey to the U.S. and Barbados. She examines the tensions between impoverished Ashkenazim (Jews of middle and northern Europe) and aristocratic Sephardim throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Betrayals and horrors of WW II and the Holocaust reinforced Sephardic Jews' resolve to leave the Muslim world, and Gerber incisively looks at today's Sephardic communities in Israel, France, the U.S. and Spain.