How I discovered the synagogue of Coria

Originally published in Spanish “Cómo descubrá­ la sinagoga de Coria” in Tarbut Sefarad asociación cultural March 2011 wwwtarbutsefaradcom/indexphp/es/articulos0/4291comodescubrilasinagogadecoriahtml


I am a businessman with a doctorate in business ethics I teach courses in various universities and I have published academic as well as literary works However I am not an archeologist an historian or a medium The following story can be read on a realistic or a surrealistic level Some people will say “if it is not true it is a good fairy tale” others will read it with skepticism wonder or incredulity Everyone according to his own inclination:

On August 10th 1998 I wrote a letter to Jose Maria Alvarez Pereira the mayor of Coria in Spain notifying him that I intended to visit his town as it is thought that my family name originates from there I told him that my mothertongue was Ladino but that I had also studied Spanish I added that I live in Israel was born in Egypt from parents and grandparents originating from Greece and Turkey and that I had visited Spain many times on business

Ten days later the mayor of Coria wrote back “Greetings to Don Jacobo Cory Being aware of the interest that you have in our town I am pleased to invite and welcome youJose Maria Alvarez Pereira takes this opportunity to express personal respect to you”

That same day I received an email from Juan Pedro Moreno the archeologist responsible for the Service of Historic and Cultural Consultancy for Coria’s town council Moreno wrote “The motive of your visit seems to me very interesting and exciting Mr Mayor has transmitted to me your intention to visit us Coria keeps in its historic memory the name of the synagogue street and there are two possible locations We hope to see you soon in our town you will be well received” On the 24th of August 1998 I responded to Moreno saying that I would like very much to visit with him in his town and to see the possible locations of the synagogue and the Jewish quarter Who knows it might be that with my DNA I would be able to assist him in finding the exact location where my ancestors lived

On the 8th of October I visited the old synagogue of Castelo de Vide on the Portuguese side of border I noticed how that synagogue was built and the next day my wife Ruthy and I traveled to Coria where we were received by Moreno He showed us three possible sites where the synagogue could have been but I discarded the first two options (DNA intuition or luck?) When we arrived at the third site which was a private home Moreno told me that the old lady Mrs Castaniera who lived there was unwilling to open her home for anybody Suddenly Mrs Castaniera who as it turnedout looked exactly like my mother opened the door and came to greet us I introduced myself told her that I came from Israel and that my family name is Cory I said that we were trying to find out the location of the old synagogue and that we would like to visit her house She smiled and invited us in

Moreno was astonished When we entered the house I saw that it was built exactly like the synagogue of Castelo de Vide The main difference was that the porch was square and not in an arch as it had been with the synagogue of Vide When I asked why she told me that she heard from her family who had lived in the same house for centuries that the original porch was in arch but it was destroyed during the earthquake of 1755 We went down to the basement and she showed us ancient books but the oldest one was from 1500 after the Jews were expelled from Spain Mrs Castaniera told Moreno that she would allow archeological excavations of her house to discover if it was indeed Coria’s synagogue

In 1999 Mrs Castaniera’s house was sold to a private owner and as of 2011 no excavations have been made Moreno informed me that Coria’s archives show that Mrs Castaniera’s house was effectively the site of the synagogue I read on the internet that Coria’s Jewish community dates back to the twelfth century Approximately fortysix families lived in the Jewish quarter including goldsmiths and tax collectors When the Jews were expelled from Spain some of them settled in Portugal where they were later converted to Christianity Truly those are the facts

Due to Coria’s proximity to Portugal I presume that after fleeing to Portugal in 1492 Coria’s Jews (my ancestors among them) may have thought that they would one day return to Coria and they left the synagogue in the care of one of the families who remained behind It is possible that Mrs Castaniera was the descendent of this family It was common for Marranos to change their names to the names of trees castaniera the chestnut tree for example

When they fled Coria’s Jews must have taken all the books written in Hebrew because there were no books in the house dated before 1500 The Jews of Portugal were forced to convert to Christianity but many of them later fled with the assistance of Doña Gracia Mendes and others to Turkey Greece and Italy where my family lived until they emigrated to Egypt Israel France and Brazil

Mrs Castaniera who being a Marrana probably knew that her house was the synagogue decided in her old age to enable excavations and transform the house to its initial function of a synagogue Her likeness to my mother was not an optical illusion Indeed even today many Sephardic Jewish women resemble Spanish women as they have intermarried with Sephardic men for 500 years The sympathy that Mrs Castaniera showed us opening her house to a Jewish Israeli while she did not want to open it to her fellow town’s people proved probably that she knew something of her Jewish ancestry But who knows how things happen Why did I decide to visit Coria? Why did the archeologist ask me to assist him in finding the synagogue? Why did Mrs Castaniera decide to open her house to us? How did a descendant of Coria coming from Israel discover the synagogue after 500 years is it witchcraft a negligible incident a logical story? Who can really know?

Como me siguen
En fila interminable
Todos los yos que he sido!
Como se abre el ante mi
En infinita fila
Para todos los yos que voy a ser!
Y que poco que nada soy yo
Este yo de hoy
Que casi es de ayer
Que va a ser todo de mañana!

Juan Ramon Jimenez “El presente”La realidad invisible

Jacques Cory PhD lives and works in Israel wwwbusinessethicscorycomQuestions concerning his visit to Coria may be sent to coryj@zahavnetil

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