THE first service in more than 500 years at a Spanish synagogue will take place next month.
A Simchat Torah service will be held in the Lorca Synagogue, which is located in Murcia, on Tuesday, October 2.
It is the brainchild of Alan Harris, a Jewish Londoner who emigrated to Spain with his wife, Jackie, 10 years ago.
The service will be the first there since the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.
“There was an earthquake in Lorca six or seven years ago which led to the discovery of the remains of this synagogue,” Alan explained.
“The authorities in Murcia have been excavating it. It must be the size of two tennis courts, altogether.
“We will be holding a service for around 70 people and I am sure it will be emotional.”
He has also found the names of some Jewish people who lived in Lorca prior to the Inquisition — and kaddish will be said for them.
“It is the only shul in Spain that has not been used as a museum or desecrated since the Inquisition,” the 67-year-old said.
The Parador de Lorca hotel has been built on the site, but the remains of the shul have been incorporated in the hotel’s architecture.
But the hotel has opened a shul on its seventh floor, along with a small Jewish cultural centre offering an overview of Jewish history in Spain and a description of the synagogue and other findings recovered in the ruin.
Alan, who lives in the village of El Pinar de Campoverde, which is situated in the region of Alicante, set up Jewish services nearby, which attract 25-30 people when they are held on the last Friday of each month.
He also runs a website called the Southern Costa Blanca Jewish Community.
“We have two Sifrei Torah, which have been donated and which the community appreciate and are proud of,” Alan explained.
“For advice on subjects I am not sure about, I call on United Synagogue rabbonim whom I know I can trust.
“We hold services in premises belonging to a member of The Church of Latter Day Saints, but he is pro-Israel.”
The community is holding a Kol Nidrei service on Tuesday (7.30pm).
“I call us a transit community, as people who live here two to three months at a time will sometimes join us, too.
“It has become a communal thing now, as well.”
While Spain has a long and complicated history with its Jews, there has been a renaissance in Spanish Jewish culture over the last decade, perpetuated by non-Jewish Spaniards.
“I have never encountered any antisemitism here,” Alan said.
“Every Chanucah, we hold a candle-lighting on the beach and the local councillor, who isn’t Jewish, comes along to light the menorah.
“It’s publicised in the local newspapers and there are no problems, at all.
“The police come along and we give them doughnuts and a glass of wine.
“Apparently, it has been worked out that one in five Spaniards are descendants of Jews and, when you walk around, many of them look Jewish.”
As well as his communal activities in southern Spain, Alan has led an interesting life.
A former London black cab driver, his daughter, Shelley Anne, died from Tay Sachs in 1982.
It led to Alan and Jackie forming the Tay Sachs and Allied Diseases Association, which promoted awareness for screening for Tay Sachs disease within the Jewish community.
They also raised funds for research and assistance for the families of Tay Sachs children.
He was involved with various other projects, including working with World Jewish Relief to deliver medicines to Moses Rosen, the-then Chief Rabbi of Romania, and his community.
The former communist state was on the verge of a revolution with the downfall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
“Medicines were donated to our local shuls and pharmaceutical companies donated, too,” Alan said. “We also took Yiddish-language books over for the children in the shuls and cheders.”
A few years later, during the Bosnian War, Alan helped deliver lorry loads of medicine into the country and helped evacuate Bosnia’s Jews, firstly to Croatia and then to Israel.
“Some of those we evacuated had first names such as Muhamed because their Jewish mothers had married Bosnian Muslim men, but, of course, they were Jewish,” Alan said.