Juniors Experience Spanish, Sephardic History and Culture

BT juniors spent a week in Spain visiting famous landmarks, exploring the Spanish foundations of Jewish life, and practicing their Spanish skills, led by teachers Señorita Lisa Warren, Señora Karen Kaufman and Senor Phil Jacobs. Follow their travels through this daily travelogue!

Photos by Jordyn R. '20
The eleventh grade Spanish class recently returned from a whirlwind trip around Spain while testing their Spanish skills, visiting famous landmarks, meeting their Spanish peers and exploring Jewish life. Trip chaperones Señorita Warren, Señora Kaufman and Señor Jacobs offer this recap of their experiences:

We visited the city's famous Plaza de Toros, then took in the soccer stadium, home of world soccer power Real Madrid. Our tour literally took us onto the field and into the clubhouse and pressrooms of this storied franchise, wrapping up with a wonderful tour of the world famous Museo Nacional del Prada.

According to Eli G. ’20, this was the coolest part of the trip. “It was super cool to walk on the field and see the stadium,” he said. Samantha Z. ’20 concurred.

What an amazing day steeped in Jewish history and the beauty of this country.

After a wonderful breakfast in Madrid, Señorita Warren led us to the awe-inspiring city of Toledo, pronounced Tolehdo (not Toleedo). We took in breathtaking sites, experienced the rich centuries-old synagogues, enjoyed some free time shopping and then headed south.

Samantha was pleased to put her Spanish speaking skills to work while shopping. “When I went to buy clothing, I was able to communicate with the sellers in Spanish and buy what I needed,” she said. “It felt very rewarding knowing I could communicate with people in another language.”

There in Ubeda, we toured the Sinagogo del Agua, a survivor of pre-Inquisition days, previously hidden and only recently discovered. We saw windmills and castles, but mostly we got a clear picture of the Sephardic heritage and why it has survived in splendor.

“Our tour guides explained to us that only about 12,000 Jews live in Spain today, compared to the hundreds of thousands that resided there before the Inquisition,” Naomi B. commented. “While reasons for the small population are obvious, I was surprised to learn that the Spanish government is actively trying to increase the Sephardic community by granting citizenship to Jews with Spanish ancestry.”

“Unlike Baltimore, in Spain, there are very few Jews, so it is hard to find kosher food, go to synagogue, and be openly Jewish,” observed Eli.

We set out for Ronda this morning. It is home of the world's first bull ring, but their bull ring is quite different from the one we saw in Madrid. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles were aficionados of the bull fight (“aficionados” is another Spanish word that we borrowed!).

We braved the cold, windy weather to view the beautiful gorge, the Roman bridge, and the surrounding landscape. We also braved Mr. Jacobs’ rendition of the song, "Help me Rhonda."

Then we headed back to Málaga for some free time to explore the city. We knew we were planning to eat dinner with the teens of Málaga, but we had no idea that we were about to experience an evening of games, songs, dances, and fun in Hebrew, English, and Spanish. We discovered that we are more alike than we are different, although the American students did find it difficult to eat the fries with forks, while the Spanish students could not believe that we actually prefer to use our fingers. We can all be very proud of how natural it was for our students to rise when the rabbi was introduced. He spoke to us about the importance of not breaking the chain of Judaism by marrying out of the faith.

For many of the students, interacting with their Jewish peers from Malaga was the highlight of the entire trip. “Not only was it a fun opportunity to practice the language, but we were able to communicate with people our age, who had similar interests and issues going on in their lives. Although they live on another continent, there were so many commonalities between our two groups that made for a very fun evening,” Naomi B. ’20 said.

Eli G. ’20 added, “They were all very welcoming and fun. It was really cool to see the Jewish life there first hand.” Samantha Z. ’20 said spending time with Jewish kids from Spain was her favorite part of the trip, as they “got to know one another and bonded as a group.”

On the way back to the hotel, phones buzzed with Snapchats, instant messages, and photos from newly-made friends. To quote Mr. Jacobs, "It was an electrifying evening."

Today was a whirlwind! Our tour of Málaga, one of the most southern (and most beautiful) cities in Spain, began with a bus ride up a mountain, so that we could see the entire city, along with its ports and clear water. We had a lovely view of the bull ring, coming down off the mountain, and we continued to explore the city, learning about the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian history of the area, and seeing stunning landmarks. The students started to understand why Señorita Warren loves Málaga so much!

After the tour, we returned to the bus and traveled about two hours to Sevilla. Upon arrival in this city, we were able to walk through the Plaza de América and to the Plaza España, where we saw beautiful architecture dedicated to each of the provinces of Spain. We took a walking tour of the city that included a visit to the Casa de Pilatos which includes a beautiful garden and represents some of the Jewish history in the city. We ended our day in Córdoba.

Upon waking this morning, we had a hearty breakfast so that we could embark upon our walking tour of the beautiful town of Cordoba. For more than three hours, we learned about thousands of years of Jewish history of the city, including the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. We explored the gardens of the Mezquita (one of the most impressive mosques anywhere) and visited the statue of Maimonides. In the afternoon, we took the AVE, a high-speed train, to Madrid to enjoy a joyful and peaceful Sephardic Shabbat.

We traveled to so many beautiful and historic sites in Spain for six days and on Shabbat. Friday night, we welcomed the Malkat Shabbat (Shabbos Queen) at the Comunidad Judea de Madrid, an Orthodox shul that gave our students a real taste of this city's Jewish life. We had a wonderful Shabbat dinner and on Shabbat morning in sunny Madrid, we took a walking tour of the nearby sites. We enjoyed lunch and Seudat Shlishit at a nearby restaurant, a kosher eatery that opened just for us, as special arrangements were made before Shabbat. Shabbat concluded with Havdallah in the hotel.

The evening ended with an amazing Flamenco show. We almost did not need the bus to get back to the lobby, said Mr. Jacobs, because we were dancing and stomping, imitating the professional dancers. It was quite a day.

At Havdallah, we talked about taking part of Shabbat home with us, and also taking the experiences of this entire week to share with all of you and the teachers and classmates at Beth Tfiloh. According to every response, it was the trip of a lifetime. So much of the foundation of Jewish identity is connected to Spain, and our kids were truly fortunate to see and learn about it first-hand.
BETH TFILOH Dahan Community School
Roz & Marvin H. Weiner Family Campus | 3300 Old Court Road, Baltimore, MD 21208 | 410-486-1905 | mail@bethtfiloh.com