MADRID — The typical menu at Xerta, a Barcelona restaurant awarded a coveted Michelin star, reads like haute cuisine treyf banquet: non-kosher dishes such as lobster, squid and oysters.
Still, the restaurant has become a hot spot for Barcelona’s small number of kosher Jews. That’s because with little notice, Xerta will prepare food according to Jewish dietary laws in a separate kitchen, under the supervision of a local Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi.
The restaurant has pursued kosher certification, making Xerta the only Michelin-starred kosher restaurant in the world, largely to attract Barcelona’s growing number of Jewish visitors.
With a busy summer travel season underway, Xerta is far from alone in relying on Jewish visitors, and it’s not the only institution making changes to woo them.
Barcelona is rolling out a red carpet for Jewish and Israeli visitors, launching two campaigns – “Shalom Barcelona” and “Barcelona Connects Israel” – to make the city a destination for Jews interested in exploring their heritage.
To design its campaigns, Barcelona City Council sent a delegation to Tel Aviv in March for Israel’s largest tourism fair. There they met Talma Travel, Israel’s largest travel agency, and the Issta Active group, which has more than 60 offices throughout Israel, to promote what they call a new Sephardic market, a portfolio of tourist offers highlighting the Spanish Jewish culture of yesterday and today.
The tourist campaigns come at a time of rethinking the painful history of Jewish Spain, a story that community leaders say has too often been told about Jews rather than by them.
“In Spain, Jewish heritage has long been marketed as a tourist product devoid of historical and academic rigor,” said Moises Hassan-Amselem, lecturer at Pablo de Olavide University and Jewish tour guide, a longtime critic of the “inheritance”. attempts in Spain. “Jewish communities have not even been approached to be part of these projects.”
This approach appears to be changing, with both greater Jewish involvement in shaping historic destinations for tourists and greater prominence given to the contemporary Jewish experience in Spain.
In a striking example, visitors who stop at Casa Adret, Barcelona’s oldest house, will do so on a street newly renamed in honor of Salomó ben Adret, a 14th-century Talmudic scholar from Barcelona. Until 2018, the street was named for the assault that killed hundreds of local Jews and forced the conversion of thousands more, including Astrich Adret, the Jewish businessman who was forced to sell the property in 1391. The 2018 name change was the result of a long campaign by the local Jewish community to turn the house into a Jewish cultural center, with the aim of giving back to Jews living in Spain authority on Spanish Jewish history.
“What historical heritage seeks today is citizen participation; local communities to own and participate in conservation and restoration projects,” said Victor Sorenssen, director of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage, who was one of the leaders of the Casa Adret initiative.
Members of Barcelona’s Jewish community, estimated at around 20,000, are optimistic about the prospects for the city’s new tourism efforts to boost Jewish life, culture and food for locals.
“As long as they are done with respect, all these cultural projects aimed at engaging and raising awareness of Jewish life in Barcelona are a positive thing,” said Jacob Daniel Benzaquen, cultural director of the Israelite Community of Barcelona. “It is essential to do this work because, in general, the relevance that Judaism had and has in Barcelona and Catalonia is largely unknown, not only to the population of the city but also to the community.”
Marcel Odina, director of Mozaika, a Jewish cultural center housed at Casa Adret, says the community is thriving with new projects and experiences for visitors and locals every year. He cited Sefer Barcelona, the Jewish literature festival, and Toldot, a food fair that draws on various Jewish culinary traditions, as examples.
“We observe many tourists, foreign and local, who are amazed by the Jewish dynamism of young people active in the community, working on projects and having a flourishing cultural life in Barcelona. This is also true among non-Jewish Barcelonans, who believe that Judaism and Jews are a medieval phenomenon; an ancestral tribe that once existed,” he said.
Xerta’s kosher dining experience is perhaps the most prominent example of contemporary Jewish life to be introduced to the tourist crowds coming to Spain for the first time this summer.
The restaurant, which achieved its kosher certification during the pandemic, joins the three kosher-certified restaurants in Barcelona as well as a handful of caterers and Chabad centers serving kosher meals. Unlike these restaurants, which serve traditional Jewish and Israeli cuisine, Xerta offers a menu that reflects the local cuisine of the Ebro.
The restaurant has served its specialties — which include dishes like artichoke cream with marinated fish — at local Jewish events for the past two years. Now its operators — and city officials — hope tourists there will also see Barcelona as a thriving Jewish destination.