Cantors Mission to Spain Days 6 and 7
Sunday morning we traveled to Toledo. Our resources (our guide and guidebooks) gave varying opinions as to the origin of the phrase, “Holy Toledo.” Either it was a term originated by the Sephardic Jews, or a reference to the many churches housed in Toledo. Either way, the city of Toledo is a gorgeous vestige in time.
It was fascinating to visit two synagogues created centuries apart, only a block away from each other (sound familiar?). I am always taken by the acoustics of these synagogues. Architectural gems, these synagogues have amazing sound, as shown by my video of Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi on Facebook. We’ll also see a common theme of writing out certain key prayers on the walls. Our guides will paint a balanced picture of religious life in Medieval Spain- often the local religious communities did in fact work hand in hand. In fact, the idea that Arab artisans wrote the Hebrew lettering in one synagogue is but one of many synergies between communities and their worship spaces. Over time, we’ll see a number of worship spaces change hands, converting into mosques and churches without changing up every aspect of the space. As an example, the first synagogue visited was named Santa Maria la Blanca Monumento Nacional. Antigua Sinagoga deal Siglo XII.
Walking around the area, there are a number of Jewish shops and for the first time (other than our Maccabi Restaurant), we see a visible “kosher” sign in a few places. Toledo is a welcomed change from the bustling cities of Barcelona and Madrid, but the small windy streets do create some crazy driving scenes. We exit the Jewish quarter to find a world of Mazapan (the world’s largest monastery made out of marzipan, as well as the largest Don Quijote. We also see souvenir shops being housed in 400 year old buildings.
With regard to the height of Jewish Toledo, It’s interesting to note that the Jewish community was later aided by those scholars who fled during the reign of the Berber dynasties.
One final note from Toledo: often you’ll find musicians playing for money at many of the major tourist stops. Today’s story involves a guitarist playing a familiar refrain. I immediately connect the melody to a niggun we had used on Friday night in Madrid. I learned that the melody we sang Friday night derived from a pop song, so whether you are bringing in Shabbat or playing outside a Cathedral, music can be transported anywhere you have an ear ready to listen.
Sunday evening Teatro Goya (next to a golf school and go-cart track on the other side of town) played host to a grand concert of “World Jewish Music.” As part of the chorus, we sang everything from Avinu Malkeinu to Hallelujah to a salute to Israel. The eclectic concert showcased familiar faces as well as newcomers to the Cantors Assembly. We also received greetings from the Israeli Ambassador to Spain! You can catch my catalog of some of my favorite facial expressions from the concert on Facebook.
Córdoba and Granada
Monday morning came bright and early as we took the high speed rail south towards Córdoba, home of Moses Maimonides. After seeing a statue of the great Rambam, we headed to the Casa Sefarad to hear how the local guide incorporates Sephardic music into teaching visitors about the Jewish tradition (video on FB). We toured the former mosque turned church (a common theme will be brewing). You get the sense from seeing Córdoba (and later Granada) that this is a different culture- the architecture, the story lines (we are now in Andalucia FYI). Muslims Jews and Christians coexist. And Córdoba was a juggernaut – when cities like Madrid had populations numbering in the fifteen to twenty thousand range, Córdoba was pushing a half million. To show the Jewish impact, our guide, who identifies as Christian, showed us how her parents surnames both had Jewish origins!
Our 3 hour bus ride (with a detour for snacks at a rest stop with the worst possible location for a kids play area) brought us to Granada (we learned that the name means pomegranate), the last stand of Muslim rule before it fell to the Christians. We learned the significant date of December 30, 1066, when an angry mob stormed the palace in Granada and murdered Joseph Ibn Nagrela, the vizier to the Berber King, not to be confused with a similar sounding king. The massacre that followed wiped out the Jewish population, either by death or by getting the rest to leave.
We’ll explore a little more of Granada in the AM, but we did receive a late evening VIP tour of the Alhambra (meaning “the red one”) Palace (very different than Jacksonville’s Alhambra theatre), home of the Spanish monarchy for over a hundred years. It was interesting seeing Isabel and Ferdinand’s living quarters, having converted over (pun intended) the original use of the palace. You can still make out the Arabic on the walls. This is an interesting parallel to the Hebrew prayers we have found in the same level of synagogue walls throughout our trip.
Musical note #2: As we walked through Córdoba, we were treated by a guitarist (pictured below) who played Bei Mir Bistu Shein. Small world!