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.

No Misunderstandings
Rabbi Moshe Grylak Hashem revealed the secret of a balanced life
What Was the Court’s Rush?
Yonoson Rosenblum The Democratic Party’s descent into madness
Survey? Oy Vey
Eytan Kobre How could YAFFED promote such a farce?
Filling the Void
Rabbi Henoch Plotnik Jewish leaders don’t need to be declared or coronated
Top 5 Ways We Remember Our Rebbeim (and we love them for it!)
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin An ode to these pivotal people in my life
Hanging On in Newark
Rabbi Nosson Scherman Rabbi Nosson Scherman remembers the shul of his youth
A Fine Kettle of Fish
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman The “minor” chasadim are often the most meaningful
The Next Hill
Jacob L. Freedman The look on Malachi’s face nearly broke my heart
Tradition and Modern Meet in One Long Dance
Riki Goldstein Fusing tradition and modernity comes naturally to him
A Playlist for Shabbos
Riki Goldstein What does Moshy Kraus sing at the Shabbos table?
With Flying Colors
Riki Goldstein My 15 seconds of fame on the Carnegie Hall stage
Full Faith
Faigy Peritzman With emunah, everyone’s obligation is the same
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Silence isn’t always golden
The Only One
With Rav Moshe Wolfson, written by Baila Vorhand Within every Jew is the flame of instinctive emunah