Canadian couple wedding in their former major synagogue

You can find more information in the following article published by Canadian Jewish News from Toronto (Canada) on September 18, 2003 (21 Elul, 5763)

Newlyweds Carole Alalouf
and Jonathan Wasserman
on the streets of Barcelona.
Montreal couple have first wedding in six centuries in Barcelona shul

By Janice Arnold
Staff Reporter

A Montreal couple made history last month when they became the first in more than 600 years to be married in Barcelona’s oldest synagogue.

The wedding of Carole Alalouf and Jonathan Wasserman took place at the Sinagoga Mayor de Barcelona Aug. 10, just days after the 612th anniversary of a bloody, anti-Semitic riot in 1391, when the synagogue was seized by Catalonian King Juan II and never since used for Jewish worship. The call, or Jewish quarter, was destroyed and the few surviving Jews were forced to convert to Christianity.

The Sinagoga mayor de Barcelona is believed to date back to Roman times, though the first documented evidence of the synagogue is from 1267, when the king authorized raising the height of the building.

The “Major Synagogue” consists of just two rooms six feet below street level. The cellar-like sanctuary is 20 by 40 feet, the walls are of bare stone, and the low ceiling is arched.

The couple was able to have only 20 guests.

Alalouf fell in love with the little synagogue while on a five-week holiday in Spain a year ago. She arrived in Barcelona, the historic capital of Catalonia, near the end of her trip on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

“I’m not particularly religious, and wasn’t planning any celebration of the holiday, hadn’t even thought of looking into the city’s Jewish history”, said Alalouf, 32, a vice-president of Zoom media, an advertising company. “But I met an Angertine Jewish man, and I happened to mention to him I was a Sephardi Jew and he told me there was a medieval synagogue in the old Jewish quarter”.

Finding the synagogue was not easy, she said.

“I was walking in circles and when I found it, didn’t look like a synagogue –just an old building with bars on the windows. When I looked in, I couldn’t believe what I saw; it looked like a cave. But I could see this iron menorah. It was so beautiful in its own way, I burst into tears. That’s how much it affected me”, she said.

Alalouf, who had met Wasserman a week before she left for Spain, described her journey to him via e-mail and video-conferencing. Upon her return, their relationships became more serious and they got engaged last February.

“It seemed clear to me that we would go back to Spain together. Carole talked about it with such passion”, said Wasserman, who had not been to Spain before and first laid eyes on the synagogue three days before and first laid eyes on the synagogue three days before the wedding. “At first I thought it was implausible to hold the wedding there, but she was so enthusiastic it took my fear away”.

The setting fit their wish for a simple, intimate ceremony, said Wasserman, 34, the chief operating officer of Oceanwide Inc., a company that provides Internet services to the shipping insurance industry.

Wasserman’s mother Linda and stepfather John Michelin were surprisingly supportive, he said, adding that “they thought it would be a great opportunity for them to vocation in Spain”.

Since 1997, the Call Association of Barcelona, an association of concerned citizens and historians, both Jewish and non-Jewish, has been working to recover and renovate the synagogue, whose original building has been obscured by construction around and above it over the centuries.

Since 1391, the synagogue has been used only as a living and working space. The d’ Arguens, its last Jewish inhabitants before the Inquisition, are believed to have been conversors who were in the dyeing business. Their vast are on display in the synagogue.

The association, headed by Mario Zareceansky, is working to ensure the synagogue is preserved as a historic site commemorating Barcelona’s Jewish history.

Is director Miguel Iaffa said he synagogue had “succumbed under the wave of intolerance that extinguished –almost- all of Jewish life in the Iberian Peninsula.

“Today, 612 years later, things have changed. There is again a synagogue, once again in Jewish hands and this is once more a consecrated space for the spiritual, personal and communal life of Barcelona Jews. Today, it is rescued and restored after a long silence”.

The association encourages the holding of simchahs on the premises. Though a bar mitzvah and an engagement ceremony have been held there in the past few years, no wedding took place before Alalouf and Wasserman’s.

Alalouf said she had goosebumps during the ceremony, as she thought about its historic significance. “It was everything I could possibly have dreamed of. I went with very high expectations and was not disappointed. We were all extremely moved by the experience.”

There was a special resonance for her parents, Eva and Isaac Alalouf, who were born in Egypt. Their families had come from Turkey and are believed to have descended from the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.

Isaac Alalouf, who used to speak Ladino with his grandmother, was moved when two songs were sung in the Spanish-Jewish dialect.

Though Wasserman’s family roots are in eastern Europe, he said he was “really taken” with the idea that the couple was writing another chapter –a happy one- in the synagogue’s long history.

The couple exchanged vows under a chupah that consisted of a tallit supported by bamboo rods. Rabbi Ariel Edery, spiritual leader of Barcelona’s largest synagogue, which has about 200 families, performed the ceremony.

The greyness of the synagogue’s walls was brightened by a red colour scheme –roses, kippot, the dresses of the bride’s mother and maid of honour- and candles burned on the small window sill.

By coincidence, a group of Israeli tourist were gathered outside the building. When the couple emerged, there was singing and dancing on the streets of the old city, Alalouf said. She and her new husband then walked through the streets to the apartment where they were staying.