The Quest for the Preservation of Identity

Headshot of Inbar Turjeman
Inbar Turjeman
June 15, 2023
Star of David figure in black and white in the Cobblestones of Cordoba.

As the former vice president of Leadership for the Hillel Jewish Center at UT and the former president of a Jewish social group on campus, I found myself in quite an ironic position when I landed in Granada and realized I never checked the ~Jew Situation~ here.  More specifically, when I realized that there isn’t a Jewish community in Granada at all. My transition from going to Shabbat dinner every Friday night, celebrating every holiday, and speaking Hebrew on the day-to-day to not doing any of those things was swift and a bit shocking. This is how my quest for Judaism and inner identity started: from point zero. 

When you find yourself in a situation where identity doesn’t come easily, you realize that you shouldn’t take it for granted. Quite surprisingly, being in a place without a religious outlet made me appreciate my values and history more. So, with no Jewish present in the city I started loving so much, I looked to the past. 

Even though Granada does not have any Jews, it has a very rich Jewish history. 531 years ago, before the Spanish Inquisition, Granda’s Jews prospered. This history is featured everywhere. I saw it while walking around Realejo, the former Jewish quarter of the city, where the stars of David are permanently represented in the cobblestones and in street signs. I saw it in the cave museums in Sacromonte. I saw it even in the cobblestones and an old synagogue that I stumbled into at the Albacin. No matter where I walked, the city seemed to leave little reminders of where I came from and what I valued. 

Then, we took a field trip to Cordoba, a city an hour and a half outside of Granada. There, I was able to see an old Sephardi Synagogue, walk around the old Jewish Quarter, and explore Sephardic Judaism in the house of Sefarad, a quaint history museum in the city. Even though I was far away from my rabbi, family, and regular Jewish traditions, I never felt more curious to learn and go deeper into my family’s (Moroccan and Algerian Jews) roots. I never felt more driven to connect with other Jews and with my own origin. I even started seeking out the Jewish community in Malaga, an hour and a half away, and lighting Shabbat candles in my room on Fridays. 

Finding myself apart from a lively Jewish community felt a little overwhelming. At first, it seemed like no one truly understood, and I was afraid I’d lose touch with the identity that I’d been slowly building throughout college. Yet I realized that I was not alone; my ancestors and history have accompanied me and enveloped me in all directions in this city. Rather than draw me away, this adventure pushed me to be stronger in my faith and to find new ways to experience it. 

If you find yourself in the same situation that I did—where you are in a country that perhaps doesn’t match 100% with your identity from back home—I’d encourage you to explore new ways to connect to what you value. Find habits and charms in the aspects that you do have, and look for big and small ways where you can feel like yourself. Don’t be afraid to do it alone, and don’t be scared to ask your program director, Spanish professor, or even art history professor about the existence of a community that will make you feel at home. Even if you have to do so again and again. And again.  (Talking from experience).

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Headshot of Inbar Turjeman

Inbar Turjeman

Hi! I am a senior graduating from UT Austin with a Bachelor's in Economics and Sociology. After I come back from Spain and Granada, I will be moving to DC and I can't wait. In my free time, I like hiking, cooking, and dancing like nobody's watching.

Home University:
University of Texas - Austin
Austin, TX
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