Catalonia may very well be Israel. The bond between the two old nations is profound. Observant Jews are indeed acquainted of the Nachmanides and the Rashba (Shlomo ben Aderet), and the author of the Sefer Hachinuch, Hasdai Crescas and many others, but they are unaware that the beloved sages were from a place called Catalonia.
The sage Haari Hakadosh (Isaac Luria) said that the nation of Israel of his time was organized under four banners – Sefarad (Middle East and North Africa), Ashkenaz (Central and Eastern Europe), Catalonia and Italy.
Many Catalans are descendants of Jews who, forcibly or otherwise, converted to Christianity: The footprint of Israel can be easily found in plenty of Catalan sayings, customs, manners, songs, behaviors and ways of living and thinking. Just like Israel had Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who revived the Hebrew language, we have our Pompeu Fabra and a similar endless struggle for our national language.
Israel’s main national feature is its Jewish character, and for Catalonia it is its beautiful language, perhaps the most poetic language of medieval and recent centuries.
There are 14 million people living in areas where Catalan is spoken, but only between seven and eight within the small region that today is still called Catalonia, surrounded by a sea of powerful nations speaking languages known by hundreds of millions.
Even our pains, our pangs, our contradictions and our enemies are the same: denial of our nationhood, denial of our humanity, denial of our history, a denial of the persecution based on language and culture. And in both cases this denial has been in the form of unprovoked, unjust hatred, involving the same abuse and exactly the same vilification.
As the scholar Harold Bloom said in 2006: “Catalonia, like Israel or the Jewish Diaspora, has not accepted defeat by fraud and violence.” In 1935, Josep Carner, the greatest Catalan poet, stated that “monotheism, the origin of the principality of the conscience, liberator of the scientific spirit, efficient cause of human fraternity, is the salient and victorious answer given by Israel to persecution.”
We Catalans hold a silent love and a deep longing for a living Israel, our kindred spirit. My late father, a poor baker, bought a bottle of champagne on one Shabbat in June 1967. At our table, he silently uncorked it. Then, he looked at the glass, and with a meek, whispering voice, he finally said, “Israel.”