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October 26, 2002

Hate Drives Jews Back to Spain

A small peek at a small Jewish community but one mirroring the rise in world-wide anti-semitism. But to Spain?
Growing anti-Semitism and poor economic prospects are threatening to extinguish two Jewish communities on the North African coast.

After the expulsion from Spain in 1492, a small number of Jews escaped across the Strait of Gibraltar to two fortress cities that Spanish kings were establishing as beachheads in North Africa. Despite the Inquisition on the Iberian mainland, the Jewish inhabitants of Ceuta and Melilla were largely left alone for the next five centuries. They were joined by other Sephardic Jews over the centuries.

Their descendants now are leaving the enclaves, which are surrounded by Moroccan territory, and returning to Spain.

"In 10 years, perhaps there will be no one here," said Mesod Bengio, a Jewish perfume merchant in Ceuta.

Ceuta and slightly smaller Melilla are unlike any other part of Spain, where no Jews lived — at least not openly — until religious freedom was reinstated in the 19th century. Jews in Ceuta and Melilla, which measure about 8 and 5 square miles, respectively, have lived cheek by jowl, but largely in peace, with Christians, Muslims and a small minority of Hindus.