From the outside, the building on Calle de Balmes that houses both the Beth Yaacov Synagogue and the cultural centre associated with the “Comunidad Judía de Madrid (CJM),” the Jewish Community of Madrid, doesn’t look like much. While this grey, concrete structure resembles a car park rather than a synagogue, do not be deceived by its dour 1960s exterior; the Beth Yaacov Synagogue and the CJM are the cornerstones of Jewish life and culture in Madrid and beyond.
Built in 1968, the Beth Yaacov Synagogue was constructed after the declaration of “The Passage of Religious Freedom” in 1967, and until then the practice of Judaism was driven underground into informal house synagogues, since General Franco declared Catholicism as the official state religion.
Nowadays, in the heart of the residential neighborhood of Chamberí, tucked in behind the sleepy streets laced with trees, fountains and white washed catholic churches, the Beth Yaacov Synagogue and the CJM work together in organizing religious, educational, social, cultural activities and events catering to the modern day Jewish community, guided by Halacha principles. Inside the synagogue, the grey exterior is forgotten by an explosi-on of color from the stained glass window panels that line the right-hand side of the main sanctuary, where daily religious services are conducted in accordance with Sephardic traditions and Orthodox principles. The Beth Yaacov Synagogue offers Sabbath services with readings of the weekly Torah portion, as well as welcoming both its members and visitors to partake in a Sabbath dinner. Although the services in the Beth Yaacov Synagogue are conducted according to the Sephardic Orthodox rite, they also offer Ashkenazi religious services during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
On the grounds of the Beth Yaacov Synagogue and the CJM, there are also various facilities for study and prayer. The CJM houses a mikva, which is open to both members and visitors by prior appointment, with all the facilities necessary to fulfill Halachic requirements. On the grounds of the synagogue you’ll find the Dr. Abraham S. Yahuda Library, housing over 5000 bibliographic and multimedia titles covering various areas of Judaism; the library is open to public interest and collaborates with the Department of Culture in organizing events associated with Jewish thought.
While Madrid as a city lacks the historical traces of Jewish culture prior to the expulsion by the Catholic monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, since the early 20th Century, Jews have been returning to Spain, and now especially that the Spanish government is actively repatriating Sephardic Jews, the culture in Madrid is flourishing after centuries of exile. Even for Jews coming to Madrid whether as tourists, as students or even those relocating for the long term, the CJM and the Beth Yaacov Synagogue open their doors with a welcoming committee for those new to the city, offering both assistance and information about Jewish life in Madrid on a personal level.
The Beth Yaacov Synagogue is more than just a house of prayer and study; it is also the central hub of Jewish life in Madrid, offering a space for cultural activities, rabbinate and kosher authorities, a youth department, a Jewish burial society and a complete source of facilities such as the mikva, the library and a social and recreational space.