Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Closing the Circle in Mallorca

Avi Friedman

A short conversation about a Mallorcan street sign was all it took to turn ten-year-old Nicolás Aguilo’s life completely around. Not only did the young Catholic boy eventually become a Jew, but today he is the rabbi of Mallorca’s Chueta community. Mishpacha caught up with Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham where it all began, a sunny island off the coast of Spain.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

closing the circlePalma de Mallorca, Spain

It was a warm spring day in this Spanish port town when ten-year-old Nicolás Aguilo noticed a street sign that would change his life forever. The sign was for Jafuda Cresques Street, a street named after the famous medieval cartographer Yehuda Cresques, a Mallorcan Jew who was forced to convert to Christianity in 1391.

“Look, Ma, that guy was a Chueta,” Nicolás said with a smirk, using the local term for Marrano, or Jews like Cresques who were forced to convert to Christianity but maintained ties to the Jewish religion in secret.

Mrs. Aguilo’s reaction couldn’t have come as more of a shock. “Careful who you laugh at,” she said. “You’re also a Chueta.”

Forty years later, Rabbi Nissan Ben-Avraham laughs as he tells the story, but it is clear that the episode was no joke.

“I was in absolute shock,” he said on a rainy Sunday in Palma, where he now serves as rabbi. “Of course I knew the word Chueta, but in Mallorcan slang the word is no more than your standard, garden-variety put-down, like calling someone a jerk or an idiot. That’s the way the kids in school used it, but nobody really meant it in a technical sense. I certainly didn’t think it had anything to do with me.”

The revelation raised questions about every aspect of Aguilo’s identity, his place in Mallorcan society, and his role in the world. Raised in a deeply religious Catholic family and a society with a centuries-old tradition of anti-Semitism, the sudden knowledge that he actually had Jewish ties raised far deeper questions for him than simple theology. In an instant, he was swept into a whirlwind of emotional turmoil and intellectual searching that has defined the rest of his life, and carried him on a journey from Palma to the West Bank community of Shiloh, and back again.



To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"