The eight-day tour of Andalusia in November 2017 was my fourth trip with Jewish Renaissance in the past six years. As in the previous three, I felt immediately at ease with the other members of the group who were friendly and whose outlook I shared.
Like all JR tours Andalusia was a combination of Jewish sites and historic places of interest. We were fortunate to be joined on our first two days in Seville by Moises Hassan, an eminent scholar of Jewish-Spanish history, who gave us a crash course. He told us about the place of the Jews, whose expulsion or murder by the Inquisition at the end of the 14th century ended Jewish presence in Spain. Today there are only 100 Jews in Seville and none at all in Cordoba, two significant pre-Inquisition Jewish communities.
During our trip we visited places large, such as Granada and Seville, and small – Lucena, Ubeda, Baeza and Lorca. The Jewish take-away was the almost total obliteration of the Jews, whose presence began in the third century. All that remains are empty abandoned synagogues with only their only walls remaining that we visited in Cordoba, Ubeda and Lorca recently accidentally discovered through construction projects. Ubeda’s Synagogue del Agua (Synagogue of the Water), probably dating to the 13th century, deserves special mention because it is the most complete and includes an underground mikveh that still has running water.
In Lucena we were taken to the largest Jewish cemetery in Spain and in Seville we saw a cemetery discovered in 1997 during the construction of a garage. Only one or two graves remain and can be seen through a small glass window in the garage wall (other bones having been moved).
The non-Jewish takeaway included historic UNESCO heritage sites, like Cordoba’s huge Mesquita Cathedral, built initially as a mosque. The rooms and wonderful gardens of the Alcazar Palace in Seville and the Alhambra overlooking the city of Granada. Originally a Moorish palace and fortress, it became the Palace of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 and of subsequent Spanish royalty.
Just a few of us chose to visit the Palacio de los Olividados, a three-storey museum in Granada that holds dreadful, original instruments of torture used during the Inquisition. A small section of the museum is dedicated to Jewish artefacts. I was greatly moved by a 15th century Sefer Torah, its Hebrew letters still discernible on the blackened parchment. Also displayed were two Torah covers, these too from the 1400s; reminders of the murdered Jews and Jewish life in Spain hundreds of years ago.
The tour included several outstanding non-sightseeing events. One was a brilliant, hour-long Flamenco performance in a tiny theatre in Seville that Moises said was the best in Andalusia. Another was a private wine tasting in Granada where we tasted three kosher wines with a sommelier instructing us in wine production and how best to savour the wines.
We became familiar with tapas, the huge variety of appetizers on Andalusia menus, and would often have two or three as a full lunch. It being southern Spain, orange trees were everywhere – think Seville oranges – and looking out the window of our coach as we travelled, we saw thousands of olive trees.
Every place we visited was extremely hilly. We seemed to be constantly walking, not only on slopes, but up and down hundreds of steps – many along narrow, cobble-stoned centuries-old streets. I could not have managed had not a helping arm appeared each time another flight of steps loomed, something that I’m happy to say is typical of the thoughtful, warm and friendly travellers on JR’s tours.