04 May 2010

Around the world: Looking for Jews

When we traveled much more than we do now, Tracing the Tribe always looked for signs of Judaism.

Many years ago, when we lived in Iran, we visited Isfahan, from where my husband's family had migrated to Teheran in the mid-1850s. Our itinerary included the various Jewish quarters and old synagogues of Isfahan and I convinced my husband to travel 30km on a gravel road in a mini-bus to the ancient Jewish cemetery at Pir Bakran (below). Unexpectedly, we even met a very distant cousin on the mini-bus that day and were invited to share eggs cooked over a fire, tomatoes and bread.

Some years ago, I wrote about our visit to this cemetery here for the IAJGS Cemetery project. For more outstanding photos of the cemetery, view here. One of these days, I will scan in my own photos of our trip.

In Shiraz, we visited cousins by marriage, walked through the old Jewish quarter, visited synagogues and community institutions.

In Teheran, I accompanied American visitors to the old Mahalleh - the old Jewish neighborhood - when it was really most unfashionable to go there.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, we ran the gauntlet of phone calls to be approved to attend a Shabbat service at the guarded Jewish club.

In Catalunya - Barcelona, Girona (see image right), Besalu, Lleida and elsewhere - we visited the silent stones of once important Jewish communities.

Massachusetts resident Lynn Nadeau does much the same, and detailed her travels in this story in the Jewish Journal Boston North. The story covers Rome, Palermo, Belize and Argentina.

-- Split, Croatia: She found a third-floor room in Diocletian’s Palace that the only Jews in the city - six men - used as a synagogue. the nearest rabbi was 300 miles away in Zagreb.
"In Argentina (and wherever I travel), I look for the Jews. I go down streets called “the Jewish quarter,” but often the streets are empty of Jews and contemporary Jewish life. My Jewish tour of Palermo, Sicily, was paltry. Although there was lots of history, I was able to find only one Star of David and one candelabra in a Norman palace."
-- Hania, Crete: Nadeau walked through narrow alleys on Succot to pray with a handful of local Jews.

-- Syracusa, Sicily: A closed abandoned mikvah - no sign of a synagogue.
She also finds existing vibrant communities, such as in Rome, in a heavily guarded Munich shul, in a Sephardic synagogue with a sand-covered floor on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, on Barbados, and in the third largest Jewish community in the world, Buenos Aires.

She describes the museum of Temple Libertad, built in 1897, with photographs, wedding gown displays, information on Jewish gauchos, and also covers the 1970s wave of anti-Semitism and the "disappeared," as well the tragic bombings in 1992 and 1994.

Nadeau sums up her searches:
"But my searches have resulted in a deeper identification with Jews of other nationalities, in a feeling of pride because of the depth and breadth of our Jewish family throughout the world. My searches have added the excitement of a detective novel to my travels, and a deep satisfaction in finding that the spirit of Jewish studies and customs live on, despite all the global obstacles we have faced and overcome."
What have you discovered on your travels?

Read the complete story at the link above.


  1. Ittai7:45 AM

    We visited the synagogue in Split, Croatia in the summer of 2006. It's a real shul with an interesting history: http://www.lifejacketadventures.com/stories/pdfs/Split_Jews.pdf

    The volunteer docent was warm and very entertaining once we started chatting. I would encourage all who get to the incredible Dalmation coast to visit.

  2. Ittai7:46 AM

    By the way, I don't recall your writing about the Singapore and Hong Kong synagogues after your AsiaPac trip. Both also have fascinating histories and well worth visiting...

  3. Very interesting post Schelly, one to clip. Possibly some of my ancestors buried there in Pir Bakran. No chance of ever visiting now I guess..

  4. Anonymous6:12 AM

    Berlin, Rome, Prague, Paris, Cordoba, Malaga, Granada, Toledo, Warsaw, Kaluszyn, Marrakech, 2 tiny villages over the Atlas mountains, Tunis, Djerba, Kairouan. Fascinating experiences, the thrill of finding even one Jew against the emptinesses of knowing there are mostly none.