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Always Searching For a Touch of Jewish History

7 Jul

Whenever I travel, I try to incorporate a touch of Jewish history into all my trips. It started when I had little children, and an older friend recommended that I include something of our heritage whenever we traveled. It seemed like a good idea, so I started this tradition.

Our first attempt to fulfill this commitment was seeing a production of a new opera about the Golem in the Aspen Opera House. It was a wild opera. Many people walked out. But my children LOVED it. A great success.

Great Synagogue in Buenos Aires.

Great Synagogue in Buenos Aires.

Since then we have visited Jewish sites throughout the world: Jewish museums thorugh out the United States,as well as the Jewish Museum in Vienna and my husband visited the Jewish Museum in Athens. We have seen the synagogue on St. Thomas, the Great Synagogue in Buenes Aires, the holocaust memorial and several synagogues in Montivideo, Uraguay. We have visited Jewish sites in Canada.

Holocaust memorial in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Holocaust memorial in Montevideo, Uruguay.

So my trip to Europe this summer was no different. We had to incorporate a bit of Judaism into our trip, especially with all the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. I needed to do this!

While in Rome, we used the tour company, Jewish Roma, to book tours of the Jewish Quarter and the Vatican (to get a slightly Jewish slant on this very Catholic compound. ) The tour of the Jewish Quarter, or what used to b the Ghetto, was wonderful. Walking down the streets and seeing where so many Jews had been forced to live during the Middle Ages, in fact up until the 19th century, touched me.

I loved seeing the Great Synagogue and the museum with all its religious objects. I listened to the tales of the Shoah and the life of Jews in Rome for centuries. I was shocked to see the plaque on a church that once stood just outside the gate of the ghetto that was written in Hebrew but encouraged Jews to convert. I had heard of this practice, but to actually see it, was painful. I am glad they kept it there.

The Great Synagogue in Rome, Italy

The Great Synagogue in Rome, Italy

The small community of 12,500 Jewish people in Rome support synagogues, a day school and a hospital. They are well aware of their standing in the community.  Near the synagogue is a square where over 1,000 Jews were rounded up by the Nazi’s.  This October date is memorialized.  Of the 1,000 taken, only 18 returned.

I learned that in Rome the Jews are neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazi in their religious practice. Their service comes from a time before the divide. It is a Roman service. How interesting!?  We also ate fried artichokes, a Jewish Roman delicacy.  I enjoyed walking through the Jewish Quarter, seeing the Jewish Day School, eating lunch in a kosher bristol.

Our tour guide, Sara, told us how her family was actually from Sicily but was forced to move to Rome centuries ago. So I was excited when we were in Sicily to have to tour guide point out the original synagogue, now a church of course, and the road where the Jews once lived. There is a plaque on the wall of the street indicating that it was once the home to the Jewish population of Sicily.

What was once the synagogue in Sicily, now a church.

What was once the synagogue in Sicily, now a church.

Although there were small Jewish communities in some of the other places we visited, like Corsica, it was not until Barcelona that we had our next Jewish encounter. Near the harbor is a hill that is still called Montjuic, Mountain of the Jews. It was where the Jewish cemetery once was located. But as our tour guide told us, when the Jews were expelled the cemetery was destroyed. In fact the Jews of Barcelona were cast out in the 1390s, a hundred years before they were expelled from the rest of Spain. Now this is part of the site of the Barcelona Olympics from the 1990s. So although there are no Jews there anymore, the name remains.

We walked in the Gothic area of the city where the Jewish population once lived and where the old synagogue still remains, although we did not see it.

Our other touch of Judaism was going to a Flamenco performance. I had read that many people believe the Flamenco dance was an outgrowth of the closeness of the Roma community with the Sephardic Jewish community. Our tour guide, Bettina, commented on this connection as well. She told us about how the Jews were expelled and forced to leave.  When our tour was over, I commented privately to her about my family’s distant roots in Spain.  And how our family, then known as Faya was forced to leave.  I guess, that   even though the Jews left Spain so many centuries ago, little pieces remain behind. And that brings me some peace.

I do wish I had booked a private Jewish tour of Barcelona before we went instead of relying on public tours and asking my questions. But I am glad that I have continued in my search to find a bit of Jewish heritage with every trip I take.

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