Rabbi Hershaft was accompanied by Rabbi Moshe Ben-Dahan, chief rabbi of Madrid, who certified the report. The report was approved by the rabbinical board of CPJCE before its dissemination.
Rabbi Schlesinger was overjoyed to announce that within days a date would be set whereupon all arrangements would be finalized and the remains of our ancestors restored to their rightful place of eternal rest. In addition, work was in progress to identify every Jewish cemetery in Spain and each would be registered with the Spanish government as well as with European agencies. Every Jewish cemetery identified in Spain would also be included in the United Nations list of protected heritage sites.
2011: Lucena, Spain
The old Jewish cemetery in Lucena, Spain, dating back more than a thousand years, was harmed. While laying the foundation and paving a roadway, a construction crew inadvertently excavated a portion of the cemetery. Bones were found and an alert was issued. Government officials hurriedly marked the individual graves, collected the bones from each, and had them stored in a secure warehouse. Remains of more than 150 persons were thus removed.
The CPJCE was alerted. Rabbi Abraham Ginsburg, CPJCE executive director, frantically dispatched officers to arrange proper handling. As with bureaucracies around the world, red tape threatened an immediate resolution of the problem.
The Hon. Jules (Yitzchok) Fleischer was born in Argentina and continues to maintain close relationships with former neighbors and schoolmates. On a visit to his old home he had met and befriended the Hon. Fernando Villalonga, then serving as Spanish Consul General in Argentina.
When the problem in Lucena arose, Fleischer reached out to his friend Villalonga, who was now serving as Spanish Consul General in New York. The Consul General assured Yitzchok he would quickly resolve the problem. Using his diplomatic skills and contacts, the Consul General did indeed cut through the red tape and almost immediately arranged for all the remains to be re-interred in the cemetery. CPJCE quickly arranged for its representatives to rebury the remains.
2012: Giving Honor to a Dedicated Friend
In the interim, Fernando Villalonga was appointed vice mayor of Madrid and minister of Cultural Affairs for Spain. In recognition of the significant help Villalonga had provided, those involved in the Lucena event joined together to honor the new vice mayor.
Gershon Schlesinger, chairman of UJCare, arranged for a reception at the Boro Park home of civic leader Shmuel Yonah Schlesinger, where on Monday evening, January 9, leaders of the observant community gathered to warmly embrace and praise Villalonga and wish him continued success in his important new positions.
Izzy Goldberg, Esq., president of COJO of Flatbush, chaired the event which was graced with the presence of Rabbi Sholom Eliezer Teitelbaum, Rav of the Satmar Kehilla on 15th Avenue and brother of the Satmar Rebbe, whose favor and encouragement served as a guiding light.
New York City Council Members Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. and David Greenfield presented a Certificate of Resolution enacted by the City Council in honor of the event. Rabbi Shmuel Schlesinger, son of the London rosh yeshiva, read a letter of good wishes from his father. NYPD Chaplain Yitzchok M. Heschel read a letter of congratulations from Rabbi Ginsburg of CPJCE, and Yitzchok Fleischer presented a plaque on behalf of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
This writer, in his capacity as director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, noted that Jewry’s sojourn in Spain is considered a Golden Age when Talmudic scholars there codified Jewish Law by which all observant Jews are guided to this very day. Rabbi Meir Zwiebel of the Admas Kodesh organization, who personally responded to the call from Lucena and was privileged to participate in the re-burials, articulated his heartfelt thanks for the Consul’s help.
Fernando Villalonga was emotionally moved by the sincere appreciation lavished upon him. He indicated he was privileged to learn about the Jewish community. He expressed great pride in the newly established Rambam Research Institute in Madrid and the reawakening Jewish communities in Spain. He graciously invited everyone personally to visit Spain, where Jewish history and the Jewish community are again being brought to life.
The evening was a truly meaningful event, with participants expressing true respect and admiration for the Consul General’s invaluable assistance and wishing him continued success in his developing career and in all other professional and private endeavors.