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Jewish Heritage Trip to Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar Blog


Follow along with our Jewish Heritage Trip to Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar through our daily blog!

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Day 11 - Our Last Full Day

I had met our tour guide, Betsalel Steinhart, on November 9, 2015, the anniversary of Kristalnacht, when Beth Emeth began its Poland-Israel tour. Four years later, our tour of Sephardic heritage and history ended on November 9, 2019.

On our Shabbat in Portugal, the last full day of our trip, we read Parshat Lech Lecha, the beginning of our people's 4000 year journey. Each of us has our own Jewish journey in life. For two weeks, close...Read more...

Day 10 - Coimbra and Tomar

Our first stop today was the University of Coimbra. This is the oldest university in Portugal and the fourth oldest in Europe. Originally, the site of a royal palace, the university was established in 1544. Its library was established in 1717 and first used in 1777. The Hebrew Bible of the famed Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel is housed here. As with many communities, there was a Jewish Quarter in Coimbra. We were told about the location of the...Read more...

Day 9 -  Belmonte and Troncoso (Portugal)

Our tour today began in the town of Belmonte. This place was very special. The Mount Sinai hotel, owned by a Jew, introduced us to the special ambience here. Entering the hotel, a flag of Israel and of Portugal stood side by side. With advanced notice, the hotel provides strictly kosher meals under rabbinic supervision with a full time Mashgiach on site.

Despite the inquisition in Portugal in the 16th century, the "crypto-Jews" here...Read more...

Day 8 - Castello de Vide (Portugal)

On our first full day in Portugal, we visited the town of Castello de Vide. Here stood an indigenous Jewish community from the 14th - 16th century. After the Spanish edict to expel the Jews, many Jews and conversos found their way to this community.

In the town hall, we were welcomed by the current mayor. He welcomed us with open arms and explained how Portugal today is tolerant and welcoming to a Jewish presence.

During our...Read more...

Day 7 - Badajoz, Spain and  Making our Way to Portugal

Today, Monday, November 4, we began to transition from Spain to Portugal. Still in Spain, we toured the city of Badajoz. This is near the border, where thousands of Jews escaped from Spain to Portugal and other areas in July of 1492. With the edict against the Jews in Spain, our ancestors had four choices:

1. Convert to Christianity.

2. Die as a form of Kiddush Hashem - an act of martyrdom.

3. Become a...Read more...

Day 6 - Ronda and Seville

Our Sunday was split between general awareness of Spain and Jewish historical awareness of Spain.

In the morning, we left Gibraltar for a two-hour ride in the mountains to a town called Ronda. For most of our trip, we had been spoiled by warm gorgeous weather. Now near the mountain tops, we were exposed to cool air and strong winds. Many of us grabbed for sweaters and jackets that we had on the bus.

The highlight of Ronda is...Read more...

Day 5 - Shabbat in Gibraltar

We spent Friday and Shabbat in Gibraltar. Known for its indigenous monkeys, we started our tour seeing and interacting with them.

Ultimately, our purpose in arriving here for Shabbat was to celebrate the holiest day of the week with an historic Jewish community which remains vital and vibrant. Many of the historic Jewish sites we saw in Spain were alive until the late 15th century but were now in ruins and a memory of the...Read more...

Day 4 -  Cordoba, Spain

Today, we drove from Granada to Cordoba. Perhaps the three most famous Jews who lived in Cordoba were Chasdai ibn Shaprut, Yehuda Ha'Levi, and the Rambam, an acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, commonly called Maimonides.

Yehuda HaLevi is remembered in part for his poetry, much of which has entered the liturgy. One of his most famous poems is called, "Libi B'Mizrach - My heart is in the East."

Before we entered the Jewish...Read more...

Day 3 - Granada, Spain

Our third day took us via the airport from Barcelona to Granada. For centuries, there was a vibrant Jewish life here. Some date the origins of Jews in Granada to the Second Temple period. Others date Jewish origins here to the First Temple period, though there is no supporting evidence.

For centuries under Moslem rule, medieval Jewry was relatively comfortable in Granada. When Christian rule took over in early 1492, the situation...Read more...

Day 2 - Besalu, Spain

The Jewish highlight of our second day was the morning spent in Besalu. This was a major Jewish community in the 12th-14th centuries. There, on an actual synagogue floor, now outdoors facing nature, we davened the Rosh Chodesh morning service as a group. For 45 minutes of prayer, we brought the 13th-century synagogue back to life. Our guide, Betsalel, revived a custom of sounding the shofar on this last day of Tishrei, one last...Read more...

Day 1 - Barcelona, Spain

Today our tour of Barcelona began. Twenty-eight of us visited famous areas of general and Jewish interest. In terms of Jewish awareness, we visited a small square which had Hebrew names engraved on some of the stones in the wall. Presumably, this was once a Jewish cemetery in the Middle Ages. We paused and recited Kaddish there. Around the corner, we stood where the Ramban, Nachmanides, was forced into a disputation with Christian theologians...Read more...

Tue, 19 November 2019 21 Cheshvan 5780