Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand Press Spanish Government to Halt Exhumation of Bodies Currently Underway at Ancient Jewish Cemetery in Toledo, Spain

Jun 8, 2009

Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten
Gillibrand urged the U.S. State Department to act swiftly to prevent the destruction
of a historic Jewish cemetery in Spain. The situation is championed by
community and international human rights leader Rabbi David Niederman,
President of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
According to Rabbi Niederman, exhumation of bodies is currently underway at an
ancient Jewish cemetery in Toledo, Spain, in order to construct a gymnasium for
the Azaquriel School. The new location chosen to move the bodies to is not a
Jewish Cemetery and moving the buried there would be a violation of
Jewish religious tradition. Toledo was a center of Jewish life in
medieval Spain.

“It is essential that this historic Jewish cemetery in Spain
is not destroyed and that a solution forged that recognizes the
religious tradition of these long-deceased Spanish citizens,” Schumer said.
“Toledo was a center of Jewish life in medieval Spain and there is
inherent value in remembering and honoring this rich part of Spanish
history. The history that can be found in this one site is astonishing and
to move the cemetery without forging a religiously acceptable alternative
is very poor judgment. I urge the U.S. State Department to work with the
Spanish government to prevent  further action until a sensible
solution is hammered out.”

“Out of fundamental respect and integrity, we cannot stand
to let this historic cemetery be moved,” Senator Gillibrand said. “I have been
in contact with leaders of New York’s Jewish community, and they’ve all
expressed to me that moving the cemetery is an affront to the family members
today of those buried there, and to thousands of years of Jewish tradition. I’m
committed to working with Senator Schumer and the U.S. State Department to make
sure the respect of those buried there is honored.”

Toledo was a center of Jewish life in medieval Spain. In
order to respect and honor that important part of Spanish history it is vital
to work respectfully today with leaders of the Jewish community to forge a
resolution that respects the religious traditions of all parties. Upon exhuming
the bodies, the Spanish government plans to move them to Cerro de la Horca, a
site several meters from the original cemetery. However, Cerro de la Horca is
not a Jewish Cemetery and moving the buried there would be a violation of
Jewish religious stricture.

According to Rabbi Neiderman, since last contacting the
Department of State, he has learned that the actual process of exhuming 130
bodies has already begun.  Those buried at this site include prominent
Spanish Jewish historical figures, such as Rabbi Yonah Gerondi and Rabbi Asher
ben Jehiel. Schumer and Gillibrand are urging the U.S. State Department to
review this incident and to seek a remedy that satisfies the interests of all