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As night fell recently over the Spanish city of Toledo, Hanukkah candles lit up empty streets outside the medieval El Transito synagogue.

Folk songs in Ladino — a blend of Spanish and Hebrew — wafted across the garden of the synagogue, which is now the Sephardic Museum.

Sefarad means Spain in Hebrew, and the term refers to Jews of Spanish descent.

But not a single employee of Toledo’s Sephardic Museum is actually Jewish.

Spanish Jews today number in the low tens of thousands — a fraction of the Jewish population in France, Germany or the United Kingdom. But Toledo’s cobblestone streets were once home to one of Europe’s largest and most vibrant Jewish communities.

“A 13th-century poem describes Toledo’s Jewish life — with eight to 10 synagogues, and a Jewish library,” says historian and museum director Santiago Palomera. “Tax records show this was the most important Jewish enclave — like New York and Silicon Valley combined, in terms of contributions to medieval Spain’s culture and economy.”

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Photo credit: Oliver Strewe/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image