A Gathering of the Shaltiel Clan in Salonika, by Michael HALEVY

The magic word that overcame age and language barriers, was cousin the members of the Saltiel family (also know as : Sealtiel, Shaltiel, Seatliël, Scietliel, Chartiel, Saltelli etc…) had taken it upon themselves to set forth on the long, long journey from their various homes in 16 different countries, to be in Salonika for the second gathering of their family (which apparently had been traced back to no less a person than King David himself).

Quite surprising considering the fact that is not that long ago that each and every Sealtel believed himself (or herself) to be only bearer of this name in the whole world. But since Miles Saltiel (London), Moshe Shaltiel Gracian (Chicago), Vibeke Olsen Sealtiël (Amsterdam) and Maurice Saltiel (Villiers-sur- Marne) began their search for the descendants of King David, the size of the family has been steadly growing. Thus, in the past few years more than a thousand male and female cousins have been discovered in twenty-six countries and the numbers is still rising ! Those people who are in the unfortunate position of not knowing to which branch of the family they actually belong, are taken care of by the families own genealogical tracing service and kept informed by the families own magazines " Shealtiel Gazette " and " Le Trait-d'Union ".

Blood is thicker than water, especially the blood of David. An Israeli producer is at the moment working on a three-hour film for the BBC and Israeli television about this remarkable family that not only refers to itself as loco, but is proud of it. And Moshe Shaltiel Gracian from Chicago has been diligently pestering numerous researchers for years to comb the Spanish archives in search of the family's members and their deeds in all corners of the earth : " With some success ", he was proud to announce. And so it was that he succeeded in finding not only the Sealtiel family in the Spanish town of Gerona, but also the date of 12th October 1061 as being the first reference to a Sealtiel on Spanish soil.

With so much history involved, it is therefore not surprising that the Sealtiels invited well-known experts from Israël to attend the family gathering in Salonika to give it a fitting sense of occasion. Iris Fishof, curator of Jewish Studies at the Israel Museum, spoke about the art history of the magnificient fourteenth century illuminated manuscript, the Shealtiel Haggadah (Brother Haggada), now in the British Museum, Shlomo Shaltiel, historian of Jewish Life of the late medieval Eastern Mediterranean, devoted himself to Kakyah Shealtiel, an important member of the family in Istanbul, who led the Jewish community, shortly after the Jews were expelled from Spain. Diana Sommer, Director of the Dorot Genealogy Centre of Tel Aviv, gave an accout of Jewish genealogical practice, and Michael Halévy, who is currently engaged in a research project of the Portuguese Community of Hamburg, spoke on the Sealtiel family of Hamburg., spoke on the Sealtiel family of Hamburg.

There were, of course, good reasons for holding the family gathering in Salonika, for it was here that members of the Sealtiel family gathering in Salonbika, for it was here that a lot of members of the Sealtiel family had made their homes even before the Jews had been expelled from Spain. In 1580, the family grounded their own communal synagogue, the Katalan Hadash, wich was derisively called " Figo Loco "  (Wild Fig), a name that is still used today. After the devastating fire in 1917 in wich nearly all the city's synagogues were destroyed, the Sealtiel joined the Sinagoga Mayor and played a major role i n the reprinting of the prayer book in accordance with the Catalan rite. Later, many Sealtiels left the city and emigrated to France, Canada, Argentina, Mexico and the USA. Those who stayed, became victims of the German policy of extermination a few decades later. The names of sixty-three members of the Sealtiel family in Greece are listed in Yad Vashem.

In the course of the centuries, many Shaltielss turned their backs on the faith of their forefathers and became Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, or Jehovah'witnesses. However, just as their Potuguese-Spanish blood was more important to the first Marranos in Northern Europe than their religion, so it is that the Shaltiels welcome anybody who regards himself or, of course, herself as a cousin – a member of the Shaltiel family.

In a moving ceremony, the family, together with the small Jewish community of Salonika, gathered to commemorate those members of the family who had been murdered in the last war : one hundred and twenty from Holland, sixty-three from Greece, fifty-four from France, six from Italy and five from Germany. The commemoration took place in the new Jewish cemetery, with more than half a million graves, had been desecrated and destroyed by the Germans, and many of the memorial slabs had been used by the Greeks to build their houses and even churches.

There is going to be a further reunion - in Barcelona in three years, and in Israel in six years, all being well. Those in Salonika certainly expressed enough interest. It was particulary obvious that the large number of young people present enjoyed being a member of such a large family - they were proud.

And this was the case for much longer than just a few days.

 

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