2018-07-04 / Voice at the Shore

Galler gives “tour” of Jewish life in Spain and Morocco to 100 armchair travelers

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Galler showed this picture of the Jewish Quarter in Cordoba during her talk. Galler showed this picture of the Jewish Quarter in Cordoba during her talk. Nearly 100 people got a taste of Jewish life in Spain and Morocco at the Margate JCC’s “Jewish Journeys” program on June 13. After a traditional Moroccan meal, attendees heard a talk by Judi Galler, who recently co-chaired the local Jewish Federation trip to Spain and Morocco. Galler spoke about what she had learned about Jewish history and culture there with program attendees.

Many of Spain’s Jews claim to be related to King David, Galler noted, adding that Spain saw a big influx of Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple, including Jewish slaves who escaped from their Roman masters. As Galler pointed out, Spain was just “a little leap” to the west of Israel.

From early on, “Jews were very involved in the social and economic life of Spain,” said Galler. Before Christianity took hold there, Jews and Muslims lived harmoniously, and even intermarried. But as Christianity became more entrenched, things got worse for the Jews: They couldn’t hold public office; they couldn’t pray in public even at funerals, and in many cities they were eventually forced into ghettos called “Judaria,” where they suffered persecution and pogroms, most famously during the riots of 1391, she said.

Vast numbers of Jews converted, and ultimately those that did not suffered cruelly during the Spanish Inquisition in 1471, with those remaining ultimately forced to leave Spain during the Expulsions in 1492.

The Jewish Federation mission traveled to sites of Jewish interest throughout Spain. In Toledo, they visited a particularly beautiful synagogue, called the Synagogue of El Transito. Famous for its rich stucco decoration, the synagogue was converted to a church after the Expulsion. It is now a national monument that houses a museum of Toledo’s (and Spain’s) rich Jewish past.

The rich cultural contributions of Jewish artisans and scholars is evident even today in Toledo, despite the Christian efforts to eradicate them, said Kirk Wisemayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties, who staffed the Spain and Morocco mission.

One city in particular of Jewish interest visited by the group was Lucena, Spain, which at one time had been “an exclusively Jewish city, which was kind of amazing.” Also amazing was the city’s restored Jewish cemetery, found after a dog walker noticed that his dog had found a human bone. The dog walker’s finding led to the discovery of 400 Jewish graves. Galler was also surprised to learn that when authorities analyzed the remains, they concluded that “the Jews were much taller than the people they lived around, they ate better, and were in better physical shape!”

In Morocco, Jewish life started out much like it had in Spain prior to its entrenchment in Christianity, said Galler. In fact, many Spanish Jews went to Morocco after the Expulsion, she said. Notably, the newly displaced Spanish Jews and the long-established Moroccan Jews did not get along. “They didn’t share cemeteries, and they couldn’t marry each other,” she said.

Moroccan Jews largely thrived for centuries, said Galler. “Morocco was the most tolerant Arab country in the world. Nazis killed none of the Jews of Morocco. The king said if the Jews wore stars then his family would wear them too. As a result of this attitude, no Jews were killed,” she noted.

This attitude changed with the creation of the State of Israel, which resulted in “more hostility towards the Jews, especially when Morocco joined the Arab League,” said Galler.

Although most Jews have now left Morocco, Casablanca continues to have a vibrant Jewish community, with 18 kosher butchers (many of which are patronized by Muslims, noted Galler), six day schools, and 28 synagogues.

The country also gets 40,000 Jewish tourists annually, including many Israelis, said Galler, so the bazaars sell “a lot of Jewish stuff.”

Galler and others who took part in the Jewish Federation trip to Spain and Morocco had glowing things to say about it. Galler described it as a “fabulous trip, with fabulous people. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot.” A fellow traveler attending the Jewish Journeys dinner said the Spain and Morocco Mission was the best trip she had ever taken.

In celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday, the local Jewish Federation’s next mission will be to Israel October 17-25, 2018. Those who register before July 31 will receive a $500 discount on the cost of the trip. For more information, please call 609-822-4404.

The next JCC Jewish Journeys program will be held on Wednesday, July 11, at 6 p.m. That program will offer a musical “tour” of Eastern Europe, showcasing Klezmer music, with plenty of Freilehs, Bulgars and Horas performed by Latvian concert violinist Dr. David Podles. Traditional Ashkenazi fare—including chicken schnitzel and cabbage borscht—will be served. The event costs $25 for JCC members and $30 for guests. For more information or to make a reservation, contact Josh Cutler, JCC program director, at 609-822-1167, extension 138, or email jcutler@jccatlantic.org. 

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