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Savannah Sojourn Is for History Lovers

19 Apr

For our 38th anniversary we went to Savannah, Georgia.  I have been wanting to visit Savannah for our entire married life because my first job out of graduate school was for a local Girl Scout Council.  And all Girl Scouts know that the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was from Savannah.

It exceeded my expectations.  I want to go back!

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Juliette Gordon Low house.

On our first day,  I did go to the Juliette Low Gordon house.  I saw the rooms she walked in.  I saw ceramics and paintings she had created.  I walked in the garden with my husband.  Yes, I did buy something at the gift shop.  I had to.   Later we went to the Andrew Low house, where she spent her adulthood and passed away.  Unfortunately, we were too late to get on a tour.  But we did walk over the first Girl Scout headquarters, which is just beyond the gardens.  While there, a purchase of Girl Scout cookies was made.

But Savannah is not only for Girl Scout fans.  There was so much else to see.  So many lovely old homes from the early 1800s. Due to a group of women who started saving these homes in the 1960s, Savannah was saved from being a faceless and bland city to one that kept its local charm and ambiance.

I loved those restored homes.  We went on an architecture walking tour of the historic area, seeing many houses from the outside.  The next day, we visited three homes that were designed by William Jay in the 1820s: Owens-Thomas House, a home museum;  the Telfair Academy Art Museum which was once the home of Mary Telfair; and Scarborough House, built for the owner of the Savannah steamship.  This home is now the setting for the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. This museum is packed with wonderful models of sailing ships.  But the history of the building is also unique, it was once a school during segregation.

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Inside the Owens-Thomas house.  There is actually a bridge on the second floor connecting the two sides.

At each home I learned a bit more about William Jay, the architect, and even more about the economic slump of the 1820s that led to most of the original homeowners losing all their money and their homes, soon after they moved in.  These homes passed to other families and some fell into disrepair. Thank goodness for the Historical Society and the ladies that saved them!

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We walked the paths in Colonial Park Cemetery, reading the markers that told of the famous and infamous people who were buried there.  The saddest were the number of children who perished.  So many died in the epidemics of Yellow Fever that swept through Savannah several times.

I loved walking through the historic district and visiting every one of the 22 squares that still exists.  Yes, we went to every single one.  Each square has its own personality, some with a statue and a historic marker telling about that area.  I loved it.  I took photos of almost every marker.

We also meandered along the river and walked in and out of candy stores and gift shops.   The many diverse restaurants served the most delicious foods. My favorite was Elizabeth’s on 37th Street.  We ate in two different restaurants each day, some fancy, others just fun. Some we enjoyed were: the Funky Brunch Café;  Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern, near the river; The Lady and Sons Restaurant, surprising delicious; and Lulu’s Chocolate Bar.  I was surprised that I did not gain an ounce. But then we did walk 4 to 6 miles most days.

We also learned how Prohibition impacted Savannah!  It seems that lots of booze smuggling and speakeasy joints were part of the riverfront during the 1920s. A visit to the American Prohibition Museum is a must.  And yes get a drink at the end in the speakeasy.  You do not have to have an alcoholic drink…but my husband loved his.  I went for an original lemon soda mixed from scratch!

 

I found the history of the city is intriguing.  But for me, the Jewish history was amazing. Who knew that just a few months after the first settlers arrived, a group of 42 Jewish settlers arrived in 1733 bringing a Torah and starting a Jewish community in Savannah that survives today! This group of Sephardic Jews had been forced to leave Spain and settled in England just a decade or so earlier.  They then traveled to the unknown on their search for religious freedom.  WOW!

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Built in the late 1870s, this building has always been a synagogue: Mikve Israel.

We went to visit the current synagogue building in the historic district:  Temple Mikve Israel.  Built in the late 1870s, the building is still used as by a congregation.  It contains a small museum and you can visit the chapel area.  But when we were there it was undergoing renovations, so we could not enter.

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The Torah brought to Savannah in 1733, written on parchment made from deer hide.

We got to see one of the oldest Torah’s in the USA. The one that was brought here from England in the 1700s.  It is written on deer skin.  For me this was a thrill to see that a strong Jewish community still exists and has been a part of the Savannah community for 285 years.

I did not see all that I wanted to see in Savannah.   I loved staying in the Marshall House, with its evening wine and cheese, speakers and musicians, and wonderful staff.  But next time I want to stay in a bed and breakfast.  I have the spot picked out.   I could spend another five days in Savannah eating, walking and visiting museums.  I love learning about history and walking through Savannah is a living history lesson!

 

A Touch of Jewish Philanthropy In Lincoln, Massachusetts 

30 Oct

The entrance to the museum. The house is on the hill.

I always enjoy going to Boston, as I can immerse myself in our nation’s history. And I love history.  I also enjoy going because I get to visit with my college roommate. She is my official Boston tour guide.  With this visit she decided it was time to get out of Boston and see some of the surrounding sites. It was a beautiful fall day. I am always ready for a new Museum.

Her choice was the de Cordova art museum and sculpture garden in Lincoln. With my interest in Jewish genealogy, I was very familiar with the name De Cordova or Cordova as a Sephardic Jewish name.  But searching for the name of Julian De Cordova online, there was no mention of any Jewish roots.   Just that he was a the son of a Jamaican merchant with Spanish roots.  So to me it was obvious that this was a family which left Spain due to the expulsion of the Jews and ended up in Jamaica.  I love the white wash of history.

In any case I was excited to see this museum, walk through the sculpture garden and visit with my friend.  We decided to go inside first and see the exhibits.  The main topic was screens and  the different interpretations of a screen:  television screens, screens that separate rooms,  screens that keep people out. It was interesting.   But as we wandered the through the museum, we passed a little display on a wall that discussed the history of Julian de Cordova.

Part of the house.

Julian was the son of a Jewish family of merchants in Jamaica who was able on his own merit to become a successful business man in Lincoln,   He and his wife, who was from the local Dana family,  I assume not Jewish,  traveled the world and purchased art wherever they went.  He loved going to Spain because of his family’s Spanish roots. While there,  He also fell in love with castles and so remodeled his summer home in Lincoln to look like a castle.

He also set up that when he died, this summer home, its land and his art would be donated to the city of Lincoln as a museum.  When he died in 1945, the de Cordova Museum was established.

One of my favorite pieces.

So although most do not know that this lovely estate and museum was once the abode of a Jamaican, Sephardic Jewish man, to me it added a bit of joy as I walked the grounds, enjoyed the art and the lovely setting.  It made me appreciate how immigrant Jewish families have added to our country and the arts.

My friend and I spent two hours walking through the museum,  most of our time was spent walking around the sculptures, along the paths that led to the pond and lovely gardens.   Afterwards we spent time in Concord and the Minute Man National Park.  But this little jewel of a museum is well worth the visit.

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.