Jewish center shuts doors in strapped Spanish city

(JTA) — Citing a lack of funding, a Jewish studies center in south-central Spain has suspended its activities just two years after it was opened.

The Casa Sefarad-Israel institution in Jaen had to temporarily close down because the municipality of Jaen, which had pledged to finance its operations, withdrew its support, according to the institution’s president, Rafael Camara.

“It is shameful to spend resources on the center in Jaen and then allow it to possibly be moved to another city,” Camara was quoted as telling the Spanish press agency Europa Press in an article published Sunday. He did not say whether there were any concrete plans to move. “The center in Jaen seems to have taken one step forward and then two steps back,” he added.

The mayor of Jaen, Jose Enrique Fernández de Moya, told the news site that the city “no longer has the resources to act as the sole funder for the center.”

Spain’s ailing economy and 25-percent unemployment rate — one of the highest rates in the entire industrialized world — have required massive cutbacks in government expenditure.

But despite the ongoing financial crisis that hit Spain in 2008, several municipalities have promoted projects celebrating the country’s ancient Jewish heritage, sometimes as part of a plan to attract Jewish tourists from the United States, Israel and Latin America.

Spain had a population of several hundred thousand Sephardic Jews before the mass expulsions and forced conversions to Christianity in the 15th century.

The Casa Sefarad-Israel center in Jaen is a local branch of the Madrid-based organization bearing the same name, which was founded in 2006 to promote research and public interest in Sephardic culture.

In an unrelated move, the Universidad International del Mar in Lorca in Eastern Spain this week announced the opening of a course that examines the Jewish presence in the city during the Middle Ages.