Archive | October, 2018

Finding My Heritage In The Iberian Peninsular

15 Oct

Our trip to Spain and Portugal had a special purpose for besides wanting to see places I had not seen. I also wanted to see the bits and pieces left of the Sephardic Jewish imprint on Spain. I have written about my maternal grandfather and his family’s Spanish roots in an earlier blog (see below). Now I wanted to see what I could see.

I was on a mission that started in Barcelona. I had been to this lovely city before and heard the story about the Jewish cemetery destroyed and replaced with a Christian cemetery. Now the only Jewish aspect was the name of the hill: Montjuic.

However, in Barcelona you can visit the site of the Major Synagogue. A small space that you must walk down to see, this tiny space reflects the rule that no religious site would be bigger than the smallest church. So it is small. But I was glad to see that it has been found and reclaimed. There is a guide on site who gives a 10 minute presentation about it. So I am glad we went. Most places do not even have that!

Our next stop with a bit of Jewish history was surprising to me. We went to the small city of Sagunt or Sagunto near Valencia. I was not expecting what I found. First they were having a festival to celebrate their Middle Ages history, and as we entered I saw a menorah symbol on banners. The town had its Jewish quarter still designated including one of the original arches, called the Blood Arch. The tour guide did not know why. I have my own ideas. You actually walked through the Jewish Quarter in order to get up to the Roman theater.

The narrow, hilly streets are picturesque, and walking through the quarter you come to the top where a private house stands on the site of the original synagogue, with an iron Menorah window. We were also able to see the archeology site of where they think the mikveh was located.

I have since researched and learned that in ancient days this town was called Morviedro. Here the Jews were protected from massacres in 1391 and Jews from other areas took refuge there. When the 1492 decree was made, the Jewish residents arranged safe passage out for about 500 people.

Next was Malaga. We were there to see the Picasso Museum. Imagine my surprise when walking from it we found a building in the name Ben Gabriel. Actually Solomon Ben Gabriel was born in Malaga and is thought to help reintroduce Jewish Literature. This building was right across the way from the Jewish area and the sign for the Street of the Jews.

Our journey continued in Gibraltar where I knew there was a strong Jewish community. While there we saw several men and boys wearing kipot. We walked to the old Flemish Synagogue where I took a photo of the door.

In Cadiz an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the old quarters in 1750. I asked the guide about a Jewish presence, which I was sure must have existed since it was a trading route and the Moors were there. But she did not know. So of course I check for more information and found that at one time 8,000 Jewish inhabitants lived in Cadiz. They left after the 1492 decree. So when the old section was destroyed so was evidence of their once thriving community.

Before our planned tour of the Jewish areas of Lisbon, we went to Sintra for a day to see the Pena Palace and visit the lovely town. It’s winding shopping street is so like a shuk and of course is in the old Moorish area.

This was the place where I actually purchased gifts. I found a shop with cork purses and purchased one. I noticed on the card an interesting address: Beco Da Judiaria. I was actually shopping on the street of the Jews in Sintra’s Jewish section. I was meant to find it.

Part of our final day was exploring the old city of Lisbon and learning more about the Jewish experience in historic terms and now.

We saw so much. The House of the Inquisition and the plaza, Rossio Square, where heretics and crypto-Jews were tortured. Right next to it is the Church of Sao Domingos where the April 1506 massacre of Jews took place.

We walked through the Jewish section and saw where they think the synagogue once stood. We heard stories about King Manuel and his somewhat positive relationship with the Jewish residence. I knew how many of the Jews from Spain came to Portugal after the decree forcing them to flee, as my ancestors joined that exodus.

But I also enjoyed going to the synagogue built in the early 1900s and learning that there is a small Jewish presence in Spain. That about 2000 Jewish residents now live in Portugal and 300 belong to the congregation.

I learned of the Portuguese diplomat, Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches, who wrote visas and saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust as Portugal was neutral during WW2. He was punished by the Portuguese dictator Salazar for continuing to write visas even when ordered to stop. He is honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad VeShem.

I learned that Jewish living in Portugal is good at this time. Our guide at the shul told is that this Yom Kippur over 500 people attended services with members and tourists mixing together for the holiest of days.

My experience in Iberia was wonderful. I know I still must see the Spanish towns of Seville and Cordoba as well as Port o, Portugal. And our guide told us the best place to learn more about Judaism’s history here is to go to villages along the border of the two countries. I look forward to learning more.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/09/as-spain-welcomes-back-jews-expelled-in-the-1400s-i-share-my-spanish-roots/

Https://dis.bh.org.il murviedro-sagunto

Dancing on a Cruise Ship

12 Oct

After 11 years of ballroom dance lessons, my husband and I stopped taking lessons when our instructor moved. We keep saying we need to find someone else or find another dance studio closer to home. But that has not happened.

We miss dancing once a week. But I do not have the patience right now to investigate and find another place.

In the meantime we watch “Dancing With The Stars”. We critique the dances and determine if there really was any part of the true dance in these routines. Sometimes I agree with Len that the dance they danced was not at all the cha cha or fox trot it was supposed to be. But we enjoy it.

However, once or twice a year, we take a cruise and then our dancing shoes come out. Some cruise lines do have wonderful dance floors and bands. And we enjoy evenings of exercise as we practice our dances. Each evening we get better since we remember additional moves the more we dance.

However, some cruises do not cater to the ballroom dancers. On a recent cruise around Hawaii, the dance floor was MARBLE and the only one who played any dance music was a pianist. Although he was great and accommodating to the dancers. But a marble dance floor is A horrible idea. Also there were only 4-5 couples who were there dancing each day.

Even still, after a few days, the dancing couples start to recognize each other. It is a friendly bond.

Dancers On the Serenity dance floor.

Recently we were on another cruise ship, the Serenity, which has a great wooden dance floor. A true band. And even ambassadors to dance with single women.

Each evening my husband and I joined with others on the 12th floor to dance our favorites: Fox trot, rumba, cha cha, waltz, tango and swing.

We sit out the salsa and jive. But enjoy watching those who dance to the faster beats.

Over the week we started visiting with other dancers on site-seeing tours and in other lounges. Those who hang out by the dance floor began to recognize each other. And those that do not dance, seem to enjoy watching. Or getting on the dance floor just swaying to the music.

We befriended one of the ambassadors, as he went on several tours that we were on. In the evenings between sets, he talked to us. Each of the ambassadors have other careers, but are all dancers who get free cruises for dancing in the evenings. I believe Crystal Cruises is one of only two that still offers ambassadors.

We danced every day. And it was fantastic! A great way to meet people, get some exercise, practice our dance moves, and joy the cruising experience.

Jose Sala Sala and the Sanctuary of Mary Magdalena in Novelda, Spain

10 Oct

The Santuario de Santa Maria Magdalena is stunning! This modernist church built in the 1900s was designed by Jose Sala Sala, a local boy who moved to Barcelona to study architecture, and ended up learning with Gaudi. The Gaudi influence is strong in this stone and ceramic building.

Standing on a hill above Novelda and sharing the mountain with the ruins of the castle Mola , the church can be seen for miles. The winding road takes you to the parking lot, so when you first approach the church, you see the back first.

Back of the church.

No worries. It is also beautiful. Our guide, David, said as he heard the group oohing and aahing, “If you think this is lovely, wait until you see the front of the church.”

He was so correct. Each side of the church is just delightful. The stone, ceramic and brink intertwined in wonderful patterns lifting your eyes to the sky and to the torrents that grace the front.

The interior is classic and simple. No gold leaf and overdone interior here. Just simple elegance and paintings and tapestries. The church was built in stages from 1918 to 1946.

But the best is not yet complete.

Where the organ will be. A special cement base was poured to hold the weight

At the back of the church, by the entrance is a giant marble base made of Alicante red marble that will hold the marble organ that has been worked on for 26 years. Large white marble ovals represent the tears of Mary Magdalena. Each hollow pipe is made of red marble. 54 are complete. There are hundreds of pipes still to be carved. But then we know that in Spain it seems great things are worth waiting for!

But you can hear the lovely sounds that it will eventually make through a short concert of the completed pipes . We heard several minutes of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and it was astonishing. I can only image that when the full organ is completed, it’s music will not only fill the church but for miles around!

I kept thinking, what a lovely place for a wedding. When our guide told us that our bus driver and his wife were married there 12 years ago. We all congratulated him on the good choice.

The vista from the front of the church includes the town of Novelda, the vineyards and some of the marble factories that brought wealth into the area.

Bicyclists and their picture.

While we were visiting a group of bicyclist came to the top to see the church. They asked our guide to take a group photo of them in front of the church. I too needed a photo of my husband and I there. It was so beautiful.

But then even the sides of this church are so intricate. I loved every angle of it!

Gaudi is one of my favorite architects. I do not know what else Jose Sala Sala designed, but the influence of Gaudi runs strong in his work. I would love to see more. And for those traveling to Spain, go see this church!

I Do Love Gaudi! My Second Barcelona Gaudi Adventure.

8 Oct

I returned to Barcelona with one main focus — to see the Gaudi sites I missed last time and to see the new house that opened to the public less than a year ago.

Although I had see CASA Batllo in my first trip, I had not seen Casa Milo up close. Since it was just a few blocks from our hotel, we walked there our first day. It did not disappoint, even though it was not colorful! And I do like color. I loved the terraces and curving forms.

I also got to see Casa Batllo in the evening, which is another wonderful view.

The next day we had hired a private tour guide to take us on a Gaudi tour. High on my list: Park Quell and the new Casa Vincens, a house that was privately owned until just a few years ago and opened as a museum in November 2017.

Added to our agenda was Gaudi’s dragon gate at the entrance to what was once the Quell estate, then became the King’s palace and is now a convention center.

This gate is Amazing!! The dragon can move but cannot fly away!

As for Park Quell, the park was donated to the city of Barcelona when Mr. Quell died around 1919.

The gardens, paths, bridges, and buildings are wonderful to explore. The outdoor theater, market and the two houses call out to be explored. The three bigger houses on the property were big designed by him. But the two at the main entrance are probably his design.

I also loved the iron fencing, with its swans and lily pads in my opinion, which is repeated at the Casa Vicens. Gaudi’s designs were fantastic, original and amazing.

Finally Casa Vicens with its spectacular ceilings and moorish smoking room was the end to my Gaudi adventure. I especially loved the walls in the bedrooms and the little balcony off the living room. And my sojourn in the torrent on the rooftop made me feel like the queen of Gaudi!

My love of Gaudi grows with each additional site I explore.

https://zicharonot.com/2015/07/06/my-architectural-love-affair-with-hundertwasser-and-gaudi/

Grandma’s Crystal Debacle

1 Oct

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Recently I had a women’s event at my home and I decided it would be nice to use some of my nicer, crystal pieces to serve the desserts. So early in the day, I went to my breakfront to remove the items I wanted in order to rinse them off and plan my settings.

I have to admit, whenever I open the door to my glass-shelfed cabinet, I feel a sense of dread.  Will something fall and break?  Will the shelf break?  Will all my crystal pieces — Waterford, Mikasa, Lenox — and other family heirlooms fall to the ground in a giant glass, crystal and ceramic mess?

Sounds a bit bizarre and as if I am over reacting, I know I do.  But I have a strong evidence that this type of disaster can happen in an instant.  It happened in my family.

Many years ago, when I was young and married, but not yet a mother, I received an extremely stressed out phone call from my mother.  It seems my paternal Grandma had decided to clean all her crystal and china in her curio cabinet.  I know that cabinet well.   It had glass doors and shelves, so you could more easily see all lovely pieces. Many piled one on top of the other.

Grandma was in her 80s, I cannot tell you her exact age.  Grandma lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with my grandfather in Co-Op City in the Bronx. I cannot remember if my Grandpa was still alive.  And I don’t know why she decided to clean on her own, without any help, I don’t know. Except I will say she was an extremely independent person. I assume a holiday was coming, so she wanted everything to shine!

No matter the reason, the crux of the story is that after she had cleaned all her pieces and put everything away, the very top glass shelf fell!  It must not have been put back in properly.   Does not matter.  What does matter is as it fell, everything under it was destroyed in an instant.  It was probably one of the most agonizing moments, which she watched in horror. She could do nothing but watch.

Grandma was hysterical.  These family heirlooms that she had purchased over the years, and a few that were her mother’s (my great-grandparents always lived with my grandparents) were destroyed.  They could not be fixed. They were just shards of glass. Grandma was distraught.

I believe my aunt, went over as soon as Grandma called.  But there was nothing to do but to clean up the mess as carefully as possible.

Eventually everyone knew about the great disaster.  When my mom found out, she called me and told me to call Grandma.  That Grandma needed emotional support now!  It was at a time when long distance phone calls cost money.  But Mom told me it had to be now. As soon as we hung up!

I did as ordered. But I did not mind.  I spoke to my Grandma weekly anyway.  I called Grandma.  I acted as if I knew nothing.  That I was just calling to say hello.  Usually we would speak for about 15 or 20 minutes, as I told about what was going on. And she told me about her week and gave me wonderful advice.

That tactic did not last long. As soon as Grandma heard my voice she started to cry.   I heard the entire horrible story.  She had planned to pass her crystal on to her grandchildren. Now there was NOTHING LEFT! NOTHING!  (Grandma’s emphasis.).
“Grandma,” I said.  “We don’t need anything.  It is not like someone died.  You are fine.  It is fine.  We have you.”  I thought that would help.  But it did not.  The crystal items all had memories attached to them.  Each piece had a story that needed to be told.  And memory of loved one to never forget.  But now with the destruction of her crystal was the loss of these memories. These pieces that when held brought back the essence of a person.

I just cried with Grandma. There was really nothing else to do.

Years later, when Grandma died, my parents selected a set of six glass plates for me to have from Grandma.  I have them on the bottom shelf of my breakfront.  I do worry about Where they are placed.  In fact, I worry that my children will have no idea what memories these crystal and ceramic and glass pieces have intertwined in their existence.

I have decided to tell the story of my breakfront and all its many heirlooms.  Then,  even if a crystal debacle occurs in my home, at least the memories attached to the items will not disappear. Their memory, tied up with the memories of loved ones will continue.