L’havdil — Stone Mountain and the U of Georgia

16th day of the Omer — gevurah sh’b’tiferet (boundaries in compassion)

Judi gave me the title of this post. L’havdil is a hard-to-translate Hebrew phrase along the lines of “Viva la difference!”

The use of this phrase marks the world of difference between all of my civil rights touring and our planned visit this morning to Stone Mountain, which is an homage to the southern Confederacy. The tableau on the mountain features the Confederate leaders, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. It is actually quite impressive as an engineering and artistic feat (it is 33 stories high, a city block wide, and 5 miles around the base of the mountain), if a bit appalling in that there is no counter-story offered there. In fact, Ku Klux Klan rallies regularly take place at the foot of it, to this day.

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain close-up

Stone Mountain close-up

We made this stop en route to the University of Georgia in Athens where we helped Judi’s youngest daughter pack up and move out her stuff for the summer and also visited with her middle daughter who is graduating from there this coming week (oldest daughter is in law school at Vanderbilt). Athens was a lovely college town and the campus is lovely. But I stopped short in my tracks when I saw this plaque noting that the university didn’t integrate until 1961 (hence the historic black colleges in Atlanta — Morehouse and Spelman). I went to progressive Oberlin College, the first school to accept both African Americans (from 1835) and women (from 1837, though its mission was to be coeducational from its founding in 1833). So, 1961?!?!

University of Georgia didn't integrate until 1961!

University of Georgia didn’t integrate until 1961! The Holmes-Hunter academic building marked by this plaque carries the names of the first two African American students to enroll.

As I prepare to leave tomorrow morning, I leave you with just two more images from my time here.

Graffiti on a wall in MLK's old neighborhood.

Graffiti on a wall in MLK’s old neighborhood. One section reads “No more hunger.” The other says, “In this country you can do anything if you try, but can I live next door to you?”

A guard at the aquarium the other day read my shirt and said, "I have a dream." "yeah? What is it?" I asked. "To own my own business," he said. What is YOUR dream?

A t-shirt I bought at the King Center on Thursday. A guard at the aquarium on Friday read my shirt and said, “I have a dream.” “Yeah, what is it?” I asked. “To own my own business,” he said. What is YOUR dream?

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all! And thanks to Judi and Stan for your gracious (and Southern) hospitality!

Fish and Human Rights

15 th day of the Omer — chesed sh’b’tiferet — loving kindness in compassion

On Friday morning after an early swim with Judy at the local JCC and breakfast at the incredibly cheap and delicious Waffle House (a Southern chain), I took MARTA (the subway) to the Center for Civil and Human Rights. I was told an average visit lasts 1-1/2 hours, but I’m not average —  it took me over 3 hours to take it all in. There was a lot to see, read, and assimilate. The most difficult experience was the re-enactment of sitting at a segregated lunch counter as a sit-in while vitriol is being hurled at me and even violence is all around — loud sounds through my headphones of baseball bats or heads being bashed and screams of abuse. It felt real and terrifying and there was a real taste of the fear, as well as of awe that all these young people in the ’60’s managed to respond nonviolently to violence.

An interesting factoid for me was learning about the role that Rabbi Jacob Rothschild of The Temple played in Atlanta’s civil rights work (where my friend Judi used to work), his friendship with Dr. King, and his vocal involvement with the school desegregation movement which led to the Temple getting bombed. (BTW, The Temple was filmed in Driving Miss Daisy –– it was where she was a member). It’s the oldest Reform congregation in Atlanta.

Another fascinating role was played by Coca Cola, which threatened to pull out of Atlanta if the business community didn’t get behind the dinner to honor Dr. King after he won the Nobel Peace Prize. The dinner sold out (1500 tickets) within two hours following that threatening announcement. Money does talk. Even today Coca Cola has played that card. When the GA governor recently considered signing the religious freedom restoration act (a law which seems to only protect the freedom of bigots to hate), it was Coca Cola and Home Depot who convinced him of the  economic and public relations debacle that would ensue, so he didn’t sign the bill. I would like to be generous and view Coke through a lens of moral integrity alone, but motivations are complicated, and economic self-interest likely played a role as well.

Wall in Atlanta's Center for Civil and Human Rights commemorating the Freedom Riders

Wall in Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights commemorating the Freedom Riders. There was a real honoring of the men, women, and children — black and white — who had  played a part in the Civil Rights movement.Remember Emmet Till? Fannie Lou Hamer? Did you know that Rosa Parks was a serious NAACP investigator, not a mild-mannered “any woman” as she has been portrayed?

Norman Rockwell's iconic rendering

Norman Rockwell’s iconic rendering of Ruby Bridges integrating her school in New Orleans in 1960. The painting is called “The Problem We All Live With” and was published on the cover of Look, 1964. It is apparently still the most requested painting at the Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, MA. John Steinbeck wrote about Ruby in Travels with Charley: “The little girl did not look at the howling crowd. But from the side the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn… Then the girl made a curious hop and I think I know what it was. I think in her whole life she had not gone ten steps without skipping but now in the middle of her first step the weight bore her down and her little round feet took measured reluctant steps between the tall guards. Slowly they climbed the steps and entered the school.

The most visceral experience of the museum was sitting at the "lunch counter," listening (through headphones) to people screaming obscenities at me. I was to remain there with my hands on the counter, responding to violence with non-violence. I cried and prayed for the entire 90 seconds

The most visceral experience of the museum was sitting at the “lunch counter,” listening (through headphones) to people screaming obscenities at me. I was to remain there with my hands on the counter, responding to violence with non-violence. I cried and prayed for the entire 90 seconds. The sign where I placed my hands reads: “How long can you last? Put on a pair of headphones and place your hands flat on the designated areas. Experience a simulated response to your nonviolent protest and see how long you can keep calm with your hands steady on the counter. Try to keep your eyes closed.”

I'm about to sit at the lunch counter, totally unprepared for what is to come.

I’m about to sit at the lunch counter, totally unprepared for what is to come. A box of tissues was thoughtfully placed close by.

After passing through the civil rights part of the museum,  I visited the human rights floor, which helps make the connection between the US civil rights movement and other important contemporary movements both nationally and internationally, from public education and Internet freedom to ending genocide and sexual violence, to promoting the rights of women, the disabled, LGBT community,  the labor movement, immigrants, etc. I learned about a number of inspiring people, projects, and movements around the world.

We were also posed serious questions about our own ethical footprint in the world. For instance,we were encouraged to ask the companies that make our favorite chocolate to certify that the cacao is not from plantations that use child or slave labor. Will YOU research and ask? Other examples posed were about the minerals used in our electronic devices and the violence of the warlords who oversee their production and distribution (would you pay more for a cellphone if it were guaranteed “conflict-free”?); the child labor used to stitch soccer balls, preventing kids from attending school (would you contact a soccer ball manufacturer to find out how they insure that their soccer balls were not used with child labor?); shoes and clothing made abroad are also often made under unsafe and toxic working conditions — would you pay more for your clothing if you knew it protected the workers?;  the health risks for women who pick and cut flowers — thereby necessitating that we ask and pay for fair-trade flowers. All of these are actionable things that you and I can actually do to help protect  human rights. What will you take on?

Chocolate production is not child's play, but child labor under sometimes toxic conditions (pesticide use) make it

Chocolate production is not child’s play, but child labor (often slave labor) under sometimes toxic conditions (pesticide use) makes it dangerous and in humane work

The museum is located in the same complex as the Coca Cola museum and the aquarium. Within blocks were CNN headquarters which offers tours, as well as Emory University. It was already close to 3PM and it wasn’t an easy choice, but marine life won out, so I paid an exorbitant amount of money to see life-affirming miracles that made me happy, awe-struck, and feeling much better about the state of the world.

All felt so much better with the world when I entered the aquarium and encountered blue water (representing calm), and fish (representing freedom)

All felt so much better with the world when I entered the aquarium and encountered blue water (representing calm), and fish (representing freedom)

Though I couldn't film during the actually dolphin show ( though I did get soaking wet sitting in the 4th row!), this guy did come up to kiss me

Though I couldn’t film during the actually dolphin show (though I did get soaking wet sitting in the 4th row!), this guy did come up to kiss me (or kiss the glass that separated us)

Judi prepared a delicious Shabbat dinner (and surprised me with my favorite dessert –pecan pie) and invited lovely guests to join us. This morning we went to synagogue where a colleague serves as the associate rabbi. Laurence was an AJWS global justice fellow with me, and was on my trip to Guatemala last summer. It was great to visit with him to to meet his wife and kids.

Afterwards, Judi drove me to see the Temple. That was the only touring. The rest was R&R for Shabbat. But the tourist hat goes back on again tomorrow!

 

 

MLK’s Atlanta and the Earth Goddess

13th day of the Omer —yesod sh’b’ gevurah

Yes, I’m traveling yet again. Since the beginning of 2016, I have been to California twice, to Hawaii, to Spain, and now to Atlanta. I have the travel bug! Life is short and there is so much to see and learn.

I arrived in Atlanta late last night for a long weekend with Judi, my rabbinical school roommate, and her husband Stan. I have wanted to come here for quite some time to visit the historical sites associated with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights era. Originally, I had also hoped to make it to either Birmingham or Montgomery for more of the history of the segregated South and the civil rights era, but realized, especially after the intensive touring I just did in Spain, that I would have to do Alabama another time in a separate trip.

What has been most unexpected by my first day here in Sweet Auburn (the name of the historic black neighborhood where MLK grew up and where he returned to co-pastor with his father) was how much crying I would do! It’s been an emotional roller coaster ride, both with the heart-piercing reminder of the cruelties of racism and segregation that are still rippling in our society today (read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for more on this) as well as the uplifting, but nonetheless tear-provoking inspiration, legacy, and prophetic vision of King himself.

I spent several hours visiting the different sites which comprise the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, which President Carter established in 1980 to preserve the places where Dr. King was born, lived, worked, worshipped, and is buried. (President Carter actually established dozens of new historic sites, national parks and conservation lands during his presidential term).  The MLK, Jr. National Park Service Visitor Center had wonderful displays and films. Then I took the tour of the King family home;  visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK’s father was pastor and where Dr King returned as co-pastor after a 6-year stint in Montgomery; visited the King Center which has three separate rooms, one each dedicated to the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi (who greatly influenced Dr. King’s positions on non-violence), to Coretta Scott King,  and to Rosa Parks (whose refusal to move to the back of a Montgomery bus so that a white man could sit down, ignited the successful bus boycott and a movement).

Outside the King Center, Dr. King’s speeches were playing over a loudspeaker, so as I walked down the freedom walkway along a reflecting pool to his (and Coretta’s) tombstone, I heard his voice. I was so overcome by emotion at that point, that a Park Ranger came over to me and asked me if I knew what my tears signified. “Yes,” I said, really bawling at this point, “they signify my unrequited desire to work whole-heartedly for justice and and the world is so broken, and there is so much to do!” He just listened as I babbled, pointed at my heart, and said, “Your tears signify that you understand. Now go out and tell the world.”

So I’m telling you: The world is really broken and we HAVE to work harder to heal it. For me, Martin Luther King is truly an inspiration in how one moves from despair to action. I don’t want to live with despair or cynicism in my heart — I want to live with the belief that the seemingly impossible IS possible and that mountains can be moved by virtue of our will to move them. So let’s start pushing!

In front of MLK's childhood home with Doug, the guide

In front of MLK’s childhood home on Auburn Avenue with Park Service guide, Doug. When MLK was growing up here, the Sweet Auburn neighborhood was the wealthiest black neighborhood in the world. But wealth or profession didn’t insure respect or justice in America. MLK got an early education in racism at age 6 when his best friend, a little white boy whose parents owned the candy store across the street, “unfriended” him because of the color of his skin.

The Promenade behind the Visitor Center. The flagstones on the two outer paths feature footprints of civil rights leaders

The Promenade behind the Visitor Center. The flagstones on the two outer paths feature footprints of civil rights leaders

Footsteps of Ambassador Andrew Young

Footsteps on the Promenade of Ambassador Andrew Young

Tombstones of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King

Tombstone of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King. It is placed on a little island in the middle of a long pool of water.

One of my brasher the acquaintances -- Jerry, originally from the Bronx, who comforted me during one of my crying jags

One of my bashert acquaintances was with Jerry, originally from the Bronx, who comforted me during one of my crying jags on the Freedom Walk

Judi picked me up at the end of the day and we had a quick bite at Krog Street Market, an upscale food market where we debriefed our respective days (hers included officiating at a funeral, and besides what you read here, mine included speculation about whether Dr King would be for Hillary or for Bernie if he were alive today. BTW, none of the park rangers would/could engage me on this question).

We then went for the evening to the botanical gardens where Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures were featured throughout the landscape. Though exquisite works of art which were (mostly) tastefully placed to enhance the experience of nature, what really stole my heart was the “mosaiculture,” a 20-foot tall, humungous living sculpture called the Earth Goddess. She is changed seasonally with different plants (I bought a postcard of her in reds) and trimmed weekly. She weighs more than 29 tons and is created from more than 18,000 individual plants. I fell in love!

Me and Judi with both Chihuly and the Earth Goddess in mosaiculture

Me and Judi with both Dale Chihuly glass and the Earth Goddess behind us

The Earth Goddess. Note the water flowing from her hand

The Earth Goddess. Note the water flowing from her hand

Dale Chihuly glass amongst the plants.

Dale Chihuly black-and-white glass amongst the plants

Tomorrow I will visit Atlanta’s Civil and Human Rights Museum. And then it’s Shabbos!

Seville and Passover

On Friday we arrived in Cadiz, and took a tour bus to Seville, about 1-1/2 hours away. Three operas are associated with this lovely city: Carmen, Don Giovanni, and the Barber of Seville. Though ours was not a tour specializing in Jewish sights as our Barcelona one had been, the walking tour focused a good deal on la Juderia, the Jewish quarter of Seville, focusing on the relationship between the three cultures of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It was pointed out that the Juderia was very close to the palace because the Jews (pre-Inquisition) were protected by the crown due to their relative wealth, education, and know-how. The guide, Lola, is herself the descendant of Conversos, noting that her last name — Romero — means “rosemary,” and that the converted Jews discarded their distinguishable Jewish surnames and often replaced them with words for fruits and herbs like Romero, Nanjara (“orange”), Manzana (“apple”), etc. Anyone with nature words as a last name is likely a descendant of Conversos, she said (I have some research to do to verify that!)

This symbol that says "Sefardi" in Hebrew is an indication of Jewish sights throughout Spain.

This symbol that says “Sefard” in Hebrew is an indication of Jewish sites throughout Spain. The black space also artistically incorporates the Hebrew word “yizkor” (an imperative meaning “Remember!”).

The large Spanish plaza in Seville, built for the World Expo in 1929, has a magnificent tiled display representing each province of Spain and is the most visited landmark in Seville. While there, I was in the midst of choosing from some beautiful hand-painted fans when the young female merchant hurriedly packed up her wares and ran away — along with scores of other merchants. We saw the police enter the square and realized that there must be regular round-ups of these illegal peddlars. Many of the merchants actually left their stuff behind on the ground rather than be caught with it! It was a sad sight. Julie remarked that these might be Romas (the proper name for gypsies).

Spanish Plaza in Seville --One of my the provinces represented by a map on the ground and a tiled representation of its history.

Spanish Plaza in Seville — one of the provinces represented by a map on the ground and a tiled representation of its history on the wall behind.

Spanish Plaza

More of the expansive Spanish Plaza

On our tour we also passed the plazas of many other countries that were built for that Expo, as well — the U.S., Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, etc., each unique in its own right. The Plaza of the Americas was actually built by Spain to honor Columbus’s “founding” of the New World. He is quite the hero here in Spain, notably for bringing things like tobacco, coffee, and chocolate back to the Old World.

Of course, we also visited the famed Alcazar, a Moorish palace built for the Spanish King. Again, the three cultures of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were featured in the design and architecture (all done by the best Muslim architects and artists of the time), with Jewish stars, Hebrew words, verses from the Koran in Arabic, and Christian iconography, all featured. The beautiful gardens themselves cover 18 acres!

I'm a sucker for shots of beautiful doorways. This is an original wood doer at Alcazar.

I’m a sucker for shots of beautiful doorways. This is an original wooden door at Alcazar. Everything was exquisitely and colorfully tiled or carved

Alcazar decorations showing both Islamic and Christian imagery

Alcazar wall decorations showing both Islamic and Christian medieval imagery

Thanks to the advice of my colleague Rabbi Shira Milgrom, I knew to visit one particular Seville spot off the beaten track during our free time. Julie and I found space #9 in an underground parking garage just outside the Juderia. Apparently the garage was built on top of the community’s Jewish cemetery. Behind that parking space is a glass window display of one of the cemetery’s sarcophagi. May he/she rest in peace. And may the daily parkers in Space #9 (and elsewhere in that garage) know that they park on holy ground.

You can see the reflection of the car in the glass that encloses the sarcophagus

You can see the reflection of the car in the glass that encloses the sarcophagus

When we returned to the ship it was time to ready myself for the Passover seder. This year is THE year of freedom for me — no Passover cleaning or cooking responsibilities. What a welcome reprieve! We had about 75 seder guests. Most of them were Israelis who had packed their own haggadot and matza (including Mordecai who handed over his handmade shmurah matza for the occasion), not expecting a seder onboard. They were all duly impressed (as I was) by the extraordinary efforts of Holland America to provide such an elaborate (and kosher) seder meal for us. They even had a complete Seder plate for each and every table (over 20!) We had a blast, and I received such heart-felt thanks from everyone who came!

Seder table - note the Mediterranean Sea just outside the window. I was glad to be in a boat and not crossing the Sea by foot, as the Israelites did!

Seder table – note the Mediterranean Sea just outside the window. I was glad to be in a boat and not crossing the Sea by foot, as the Israelites did!

Since Saturday was a day at sea on our return to Barcelona without a port stop, it was truly a day of relaxation. I davenned, walked for an hour around the deck for Holland America’s “On Deck for a Cure” cancer fundraiser, had a massage, swam ( I swam every day this week and was the only one in the pool each time until today), and then in the evening convened an alternative Passover experience (seder “lite”). Julie and I then went to see a late movie (the 4th one I went to this week!)

Julie paid for an exclusive behind-the scenes tour of the inner workings of the cruise ship. All week long, she was asking questions about “how do they this or that?” so she finally had a venue to get all her questions answered! There are 110 chefs onboard, for instance, and our drinking water is desalinated sea water! The captain does far more than navigate — he oversees all departments from guest services to personnel, and she also learned that crew works a certain number of months on before getting a certain number of months off. There is an amazing string quintet onboard who plays on the ship’s Lincoln Center Stage, and Julie (herself a professional musician and founder of an amazing nonprofit called Shelter Music Boston), also was sure to get the scoop on how they got this gig.

Our cabin steward, Joni, creates a different "towel" animal each night. After Seder, we came back and were surprised by the monkey hanging from our ceiling!

Our cabin steward, Joni, creates a different “towel” animal for our room each night. After Seder, we came back and were surprised by this cutie-pie monkey hanging from our ceiling!

I asked if she needed an officiant, but the bride assured me that the Captain was to perform the ceremony.

I asked if she needed an officiant, but the bride assured me that the Captain was to perform the ceremony. Later Julie told me that the Captain is actually not allowed to do weddings (something she learned on her ship tour). I hope the bride and groom know that!

It is late Saturday night, the second day of Passover, and the first day of the counting of the Omer. It is both the day and the week of chesed, loving-kindness.  As Julie and I head back to the U.S. tomorrow, may we carry these great memories with love in our hearts. I am so grateful for this opportunity to have travelled to Spain, learned so much, been of service to others, and been in the good company of such an old, dear friend.

Shavua tov and Chag Pesach sameiach.

Gibraltar

The Barbary ape and me in Gibraltar

The Barbary ape and me in Gibraltar

Yyone of the 4 synagogues in Gibraltar (all Orthodox and in use). Lots of kosher markets, too. Who would've thunk?

One of the 4 synagogues in Gibraltar (all Orthodox and in use). Lots of kosher markets, too. Who would’ve thunk?

Monkeys sold in the street

Monkeys sold in the street

Rock of Gibraltar

Rock of Gibraltar

The Rif mountains of Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar

The Rif mountains of Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar

Cartagena and Cordoba

Street performer (head inside red shirt), Cartagena

Street performer (head inside red shirt), Cartagena

Ship view from castle, Cartagena. It's humongous!

Ship view from castle, Cartagena. It’s humongous!

Roman theatre, Cartagena

Roman theatre, Cartagena

The Mezquita, Cordoba. Amazing!

The Mezquita, Cordoba. Amazing!

Me and My friend Maimonides in Córdoba

Me and My friend Maimonides in Córdoba

Display on the Inquisition in the Sephardic museum, Cordoba. I wonder if the KKK fashioned their garb on this get-up.

Display on the Inquisition in the Sephardic museum, Cordoba. I wonder if the KKK fashioned their garb on this get-up.

The bridge walk in Córdoba between the town and the tower (view from tower)

The bridge walk in Córdoba between the town and the tower (view from tower)

Cartagena has been an important strategic location throughout history — for the Romans, then under Muslim rule, and more recently during the Spanish Civil War.

This Roman theatre is considered one the finest examples in the world. We also toured its museum of Roman antiquities, a castle, the Shelter Museum of the Spanish Civil War, and walked the lovely walking promenade of shops (including an Apple Store where I got free Wifi and could post yesterday’s blog), and saw street performers like this guy (gal?) above.

It was a day of lost-and-found. We were both just so exhausted from all we’ve been doing, and I’d only gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before. Julie thought she lost her credit card and bank card and went running back to the ship to see if she’d possibly left it in our room-safe. If not, she was going to have to call her husband in the US to cancel the credit card. Shortly thereafter, I found the cards under the seat where we were seated at a cafe and went running after her. Later in the day I went to the front desk of the ship, having misplaced my neck pillow (just purchased in Hawaii) when checking onboard on Sunday. And they had it!

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to work out the details of the Seder with the activities director and dining staff. They actually are preparing everything: gefilte fish, charoset, chicken soup, potato kugel, Empire kosher chicken, matza, macaroons! I’ve always been impressed by Holland America in this regard on all my previous trips — having served twice for Rosh Hashanah and once for Chanukah). They have had all of the necessary ritual objects : prayer books, yarmulkes, kosher wine, electric candlesticks and chanukiah and have prepared traditional foods (challah for Shabbat and a round one with raisins plus apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, latkes for Chanukah, and that amazing Chinese buffet — plus movie — for the Jewish guests on Christmas Day!) And now a full Seder!

Yesterday our boat docked in Malaga. It was pouring! We took a taxi from the boat to the train station and took a train to Córdoba. Fortunately it wasn’t pouring once we got there (though “the rain in Spain lies mainly on the plain” was thereby disproven). However, later on while eating in a Sephardic restaurant (where I experienced some of the most exquisite flavors of my life, including a gazpacho of orange, ginger, rose tea, and dried flowers), it actually hailed!

We toured La Mezquita, both a mosque and church, — whoa, beautiful! — the Juderia (Jewish quarter) — including an old synagogue (from 1315, recently restored) and a Sephardic Jewish museum, in addition to visiting a museum in a tower that featured the relationship of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Learned lots, and loved all the Maimonides history. He was born in Córdoba. (When in Morocco 2 years ago, I had seen his home in Fez, where he lived after Spain.)

Today we are in Gibraltar, but I’ll have to post about that tomorrow from Seville. Lots if Internet troubles, I’m afraid. Ciao!

 

Jewish Barcelona, the Eurodam, and Valencia

Sunday morning, Laura, Julie and I met Dina, our Israeli guide, who took us on a private tour of the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, with a focus on the Jewish history there.

We met Dina in this square where the municipal buildings are. The progressive female mayor has this sign over the entrance of her headquarters.

We met Dina in this square where the municipal buildings are. The progressive female mayor has this sign (“Refugees Welcome”)  over the entrance of her headquarters. Brava!

At one point of the tour, I just broke down in tears, as the overwhelming history  of Anti-Semitism overwhelmed me. Fully 1/4 of this whole area of narrow, winding streets was originally the Jewish quarter (called the Calle, as opposed to La Juderia, as it is called elsewhere in Spain) and there were 5 synagogues there.

Torah scroll from medieval times in the old synagogue we visited, which was excavated and restored by an Argentinian Jew.

16th C. Torah scroll in the old synagogue we visited. The synagogue was excavated and restored by an Argentinian Jew.

However, Jews probably settled in Barcelona as earlier as Roman times in the 9th century! We also saw where the great Disputation of Barcelona between the great medieval Jewish commentator Nachmanides and his  Dominican accusers took place in 1263. It was a debate to prove whether Jesus was the true Messiah or not. Though you can guess who won, Nachmanides did not lose his life. Rather, King James of Aragon was so impressed by Nachmanides that he gave him money (300 gold coins!), said that he had never heard an “unjust cause so nobly defended,” and sent him packing. Nachmanides made his way to Jerusalem and founded a synagogue there. However, on the Shabbat just after the debate, King James visited the great synagogue in Barcelona (the one we visited), something unprecedented. What would have happened had the king actually intervened to say that Nachmanides HAD won the debate, as it seems he may have believed?

Three other famous Jews from Barcelona were Abraham bar Chiya – 11th C. astronomer and astrologer, some of whose scientific Hebrew words are still in use today; the Rashba – whose responsa can be found in the medieval Jewish code the Shulchan Arukh; and Hasdai Crescas, a medieval Jewish philosopher.

Hebrew inscription

Hebrew inscription on a city wall. Apparently the Jewish cemetery was desecrated and these stones were used (“recycled” if you want to be generous). We saw several such stones with Hebrew inscriptions.

Jews were originally expelled from Barcelona in 1391. 70% of the Jews converted to Christianity, 300 were burned to death, and the rest escaped. The Catalon Synagogue in Rome, still in use today, was founded by some of these escaped Jews (Barcelona is in Catalonia, speaks Catalan as its official language, and has tried time and again to get its independence from Spain.) Those Jews who were left in 1492 at the time of the Inquisition were forced converts called Anusim (Marrano is a pejorative term). Dina also gave us some fascinating lore about Christopher Columbus and why there is speculation that he was Jewish (or more likely a forced convert) trying to escape the Inquisition, whose purpose it was to root out the “false” new Christians.

Inquisition Headquarters. For those who could t read, the symbols of torture depicted on the overhead plaque made it clear.

Inquisition Headquarters. For those who couldn’t read, the symbols of torture depicted on the overhead plaque made it clear.

Fourteen different haggadot were produced in Barcelona. 13 of the 14 recently were recently exhibited in Barcelona, and Dina thought the exhibit was now on tour. I hope it comes to New York! For those who read Geraldine Brooks’ novel “People of the Book,” you will get some history of the famous Sarajevo Haggadah.

Here is another sign in symbols. If I told you it was the Lawyers' Guild headquarters, do you know what the birds and the turtle represent?

Here is another sign in symbols. If I told you it was on the entrance to the Lawyers’ Guild headquarters, can you guess what the birds and the turtle represent?

Bullet holes from the Spanish Civil War

Bullet holes in Barcelona from the Spanish Civil War

After our wonderful tour, Julie and I picked up our luggage from Laura’s honeymoon palace and headed directly to the port, where we boarded the Eurodam ship of the Holland America line. This is my 4th cruise with them (2 previous trips to Alaska and one to Australia/New Zealand). We are 2 of the over 2900 passengers (a number which includes 850 service crew!)

Yesterday we debarked in Valencia and took it somewhat easy on the touring front (though Julie still has us logged in at over 12 miles, after we danced the night away until the wee hours. I am determined not to be one of the cruise statistics about gaining at least a pound a day on a cruise!

Women's lace and embroidery circles in public space, Valencia

I love my market photos! Central Market, Valencia

I love my market photos! Central Market, Valencia

I love the doors and graffiti in Valencia!

Great doors and graffiti in Valencia!

Julie and me in our gala garb for dinner, after which we danced and danced. I bought the dress for 6 euros (8 dollars)

Julie and me in our gala garb for dinner, after which we danced and danced. I bought the dress for 6 euros (8 dollars) in Valencia’s Central Market

Today we are in Cartegena, with amazing Roman ruins and a fascinating Spanish Civil War Museum. I will post pictures tomorrow.