I was walking up this narrow, winding street one bright April afternoon. There was nothing unusual about that. I must have walked this road at least a hundred times. Then suddenly I heard what sounded like a sob and a heart-broken cry. I looked up but all I could see was a tiny red window. No one else was in sight – and yet I felt that someone was very close.
I reached out and touched the limestone wall, etched deeply by rain that had long since dried up and caressed by winds that have blown themselves out, and I felt a connection to another time. An echo from the past whispered it tale. In the deepening silence I closed my eyes and let the walls pour out their story – a story of prejudice and misguided zeal, of families forced to abandoned their homes and livelihoods, of hasty conversions to avoid persecution and death.
I continued to touch the wall gently with the tips of my fingers, feeling the sad vibes of this family that has long since moved on and wondering … wondering who these ghosts were, what made them so sad … then a sign above the door brought the past hurtling back and I remembered …
The Jewish Silk Market
The above narrative is, of course, just something I made up but the event I am hinting at took place. The first Jews had settled in the Maltese islands at least 3500 years ago. Archeological proof from many areas of the island confirm that there was a fairly large Jewish community living here. Most of these Jews were shopkeepers, merchants or import-export agents. This mostly peaceful co-existence with the native population changed suddenly in 1492 when the Inquisition gave all Jews three months to leave the island or else convert to Christianity and forfeit 45% of their possessions. This was certainly not one of the most glorious moments of our chequered history. In the centuries that followed mutual distrust grew between the two nations. These hard feelings may have been laid to rest when, during WW2, Malta was the only European country that did not require Jews fleeing Nazism to have a visa. Consequently thousands of Jews were able to escape to freedom. For more information about Malta and the Jews, go here.