Hello WJC friends,
Sherry and I just returned from a two week vacation in Andalusia Spain, famous not only for its beautiful white cities and sherry wine but also for being steeped in Jewish history. Many of you may recall that southern Spain was one of the places where Jews were welcome after the destruction of the second temple two thousand years ago. In each of the cities we visited, there was inevitably a Jewish quarter where our Sephardic brethren could live, worship and conduct business. For several hundred years, we were tolerated by the Moslems (subject to a special tax of course), but in some cases the Jewish quarter was directly connected with back doors into the palace so we could be summoned to assist in tax collection and banking.
Sherry and I ended our journey in the ancient city of Cordoba, which has one of the few remaining synagogues and is also the birthplace of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, or Rambam for short). He was a philosopher and community leader, and also wrote important books of the Talmud converting oral law into written form including the “Mishne Torah”, “Thirteen Articles of Faith” and “Guide for the Perplexed.”
We look forward to celebrating Purim together in just a few days. The story with the joyous ending in the Megillat Esther (Book of Esther) is quite different from the history in Spain. As the Catholic church took gradual control of the area, Jews were no longer welcome and were compelled to leave or convert. Rambam’s family was forced to leave for Morocco, then to Palestine and eventually, Egypt.
Despite the beautiful palaces, amazing topography and the enormous cathedrals, the visit to Andalusia was, at times, distressing. We all learned about pogroms (violent riots against Jews) in Germany and Russia, and we commemorate these on Kristallnacht, but there were many in this part of the world as well. Businesses and homes were destroyed. Our people were displaced or killed. Families were separated. Assimilation was not enough – even people who offered to convert eventually suffered the same fate. Almost all our cultural contributions were eliminated, in many cases without a shred of lingering remorse.
This reminded me just how grateful we need to be for our freedoms in America, and ability to worship and be respected as a people. It was also a glaring reminder of just how fragile and fleeting in the eras of history that this feeling of safety has been for us. For me, the antidote to our heart-wrenching history is of course to dedicate time for community and activism towards Jewish causes. We not only teach our children the Purim and Passover stories, but they also learn to emulate what we do. Our actions of today matter both in the present, and to help shape some sort of insurance for the future.
Looking forward to celebrating Purim with all of you this week – and to see you at our first Purimspiel in three years. Don’t miss it! Thanks also to David Goldstein and our Executive VP Yale Zoland for covering for me while I was out.