The Rediscovered Jews of Xueta Island

May 25, 2022 | Bernard Starr
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In 2014, Dani Rotstein accepted a video-production gig in Majorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. While there, he stumbled across a very small but active synagogue. As Bernard Starr recounts from an interview with Rotstein, “That’s when Rotstein first heard the word ‘Xueta,’ (pronounced ‘cheweta’), which is the name given to descendants of Jews murdered during the Spanish Inquisition.” The discovery prompted Rotstein to delve into the tragic history of Majorca’s Jews and devote himself to renewing Jewish life on the island; his story is now the subject of his new documentary, Xueta Island.

Rotstein learned that in 1435, after the earlier massacre of 300 Jews, Majorca’s entire Jewish community was forced to convert to Catholicism or face public trials and execution. The Inquisitors subjected any Jew suspected of being a pretend Christian to imprisonment, torture, and even execution.

As further punishment, the family names of Jews executed during the Inquisition, from 1645 onward, were posted in a prominent church (the Santo Domingo Convent). Thus Xuetes—descendants with the same family names—would be demonized, shamed, and shunned for generations. Most were then only able to marry within the Xueta community.

After the forced conversions and executions, Judaism appeared to be gone from Majorca forever. But miraculously, as with other attempted genocides of Jews throughout history, the obituary of Judaism in Majorca proved to be premature. Ironically, the very posting of the family names of the murdered Jews became the vehicle for the revival of Judaism by modern-day descendants. A surprising number have acknowledged their connection to Judaism, and some have converted (or returned) to fully embrace Judaism.

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