Monday, May 3, 2010

Jewish History of Catalonia: Forcano and Planas

What happens when you cross two under-studied traditions? What happens when experts in Catalan medieval history and in Hebrew philology collaborate on a groundbreaking publication like A History of Jewish Catalonia? When assumptions about medieval Jewish Iberia are shaken up by the legacy of a Jewish population that speaks Catalan and not Ladino?

To judge by the reaction of the audience at the presentation of the book at the Center for Jewish History in NY—on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.—, the combination is rousing, eliciting an outpouring of curiosity, questions, and intellectual excitement.

Authors Sílvia Planas and Manuel Forcano spent about 20 minutes each explaining the organization of their sections of the book (published simultaneously in Catalan, English, and Spanish by the Ajuntament de Girona--the Girona City Government--and Editorial Àmbit). Sílvia Planas, expert in medieval history, and Director of the Nahmanides Institute for Jewish Studies and the Museum of Jewish History, both in Girona, dealt with Ço que hem perdut—“What has been lost”—and Manuel Forcano, Ph.D. in Semitic Philology and Vice-President of the National Council on the Arts of Catalonia, dealt with Ço que li és romast—“What remains.”

The point of view of this first comprehensive history of the medieval Jewish tradition is that “Our past is not ours alone. The geographical space that our culture has occupied over the centuries has been home to diverse peoples with different cultural and religious identities, including, at least during the Middle Ages, the Muslim and the Jewish communities.” The book looks at the daily lives of Jewish women and men, evoking their names, their feasts, their good, and their rituals. It also looks at their role as, cultural transmitters, translators from the Arabic, original thinkers and intellectual go betweens whose works “are the fruit of their lofty speculation and their genius for welding together the very best of Arabo-Muslim culture from Al-Andalus and the culture of the Christian kingdoms in the north of the Iberian Peninsula.”

According to Planas and Forcano, the Jews of Catalonia constructed a “soaring intellectual edifice…in spite of the difficulties of a daily life weighed down with religious persecution and social degradation.” The two eloquent authors conveyed this very well, awakening tremendous enthusiasm in the audience.

New Yorkers will have one more opportunity to hear Manuel Forcano speak: On Tuesday, May 4th, he will address the topic "Traces of Esther: The Jewish Presence in Contemporary Catalan Culture." Don't miss it: there are sure to be fascinating discoveries.

6:30 p.m., May 4th, King Juan Carlos Center

53 Washington Square South

For more information, call 212 998 8255