Category Archives: Cultural travel

Global Scavenger Hunt Turns Into Personal Odyssey Following Route of Jewish Diaspora (Part 3: Iberia-NYC)

Take a walking tour of Porto, Portugal to discover vestiges of Jewish heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I was surprised to discover during a Global Scavenger Hunt mystery tour around the world in 2019 that I was actually on an odyssey of the Jewish Diaspora.  It wasn’t my intention or my mission but it seems that everywhere we touched down (we only learn where we are next going when we are told to get to the airport), I found myself tracing a route set by trade (and permitted occupations), exile and refuge.

It started in Vietnam and then just about every place we traveled: Yangon, Myanmar, where I visited the last synagogue in that country (it’s a historic landmark and still serves a handful of congregants); in Athens, where I discovered the site of a synagogue, serving a Jewish community that had existed in Athens at least since the 3rd C BC and possibly as early as 6th C BC, near where the world’s first “parliament” would have been. In Petra, Jordan, I learned of a connection to Moses and the Exodus (the first Diaspora?). Then the ancient cities of Marrakesh and Fez in Morocco, which has only recently established full diplomatic relations with Israel, and on to Gibraltar, which made me feel I had been deposited in Brigadoon. From Gibraltar, I walked into Spain and took the bus to Seville, where my Jewish odyssey continued:

Seville, Spain

This part of my odyssey is like going to ground zero for the Jewish Diaspora, at least in the past 600 years, when Jews were forced to convert or be expelled, in the Inquisition in 1492 (many who stayed practiced in secret, as Marranos).

Las Casa de la Juderia, once the Jewish Quarter of Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At some point in my walk-about in Seville, I find myself in front of a gate with a sign on the wall that says “Juderia,” which, I later learn was the old Jewish Quarter (before Spain evicted Jews, in 1492, known as the Inquisition). It has been converted into a hotel, Las Casas de la Juderia, comprised of a vast complex of interwoven dwellings, a city within a city, a sprawling maze of 27 houses and two palaces, restored to their 15th century glory, literally in the shadow of the Cathedral and the Alcázar (https://www.lascasasdelajuderiasevilla.com/en/).

“Unmistakably Spanish, the family-run hotel is an alluring retreat hidden right in the heart of the city,” writes Trafalgar, a tour company which features this “accommodation with a story” in its Seville program.

“At Las Casas de la Juderia, you‘ll tread in the footsteps of nobility and even royalty. Over the centuries, Christopher Columbus, The Duke of Bejar and The Count of Villamanrique have all stayed here. In fact, after returning from America, Columbus’s men all resided in these houses. Perhaps most compelling of all is the network of subterranean tunnels connecting houses commissioned by former owner, the Duke of Segorbe. You can wander through these today; in fact, breakfast is taken in the captivating underground Hall of Mirrors.” (https://blog.trafalgar.com/2018/02/26/stays-stories-sevilles-las-casas-de-la-juderia/)

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn later that Jews had lived in Seville since the 6th century BCE. Though persecuted by Visigoths, Jews were protected under the Moors. Persecution began again in 1391 under Catholics – the Jewish Quarter was burned down. The Inquisition began in earnest in 1381, all Jews who did not convert (and some continue to practice secretly) were expelled by 1492. About half of the 300,000 Jewish Spaniards left, writes Fiona Flores Watson (https://www.andalucia.com/history/jews.htm), who suggests visiting the Centro de Interpretación Judería de Sevilla to learn more about the history of Jews in Seville.

It bears reminding that Columbus set out on his voyage of discovery of the “New World” in 1492, the same year as the official start of the Spanish Inquisition. Many believe that Marranos – secret Jews – were among his crew and founded the first white settlements in the New World, on Caribbean islands like Jamaica (one imagines that Jews missed the opportunity to claim the New World, but oh well.)

“The year of discovery in 1492 was also the seminal year of the Sephardic diaspora, when Spanish Jews were required to convert to Catholicism or to leave Spain.  Much of the population moved on to Portugal or found homes on the Mediterranean littoral. Columbus’s first crew included several conversos, or Spanish-Jewish converts to Christianity, notably the interpreter, Luis Torres. Importantly, three conversos in the Spanish court were influential in securing royal approval for the controversial expedition.” http://brown.edu/Facilities/John_Carter_Brown_Library/exhibitions/judaica/pages/geography+.html

Columbus’s letter to the Court of Spain, outlining the importance of his discovery, was addressed to Santangel, the chancellor of Aragon, one of three important conversos in the royal court. Others were Gabriel Sanchez, the royal treasurer, and Juan Cabrero, the king’s chamberlain. Additionally, Jews were responsible for the technology that made the explorations possible: Abraham Zacuto developed astronomical tables, almanacs, and maps, while Levi ben Gerson is credited with the invention of the sea-quadrant or Jacob’s staff, used to guide marine courses.

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The theme of this part of my journey could well be exploration. I had not realized that the first trip to circumnavigate the world originated from Seville: in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan began his voyage from the very spot where I stand on the bank of river; crossing the San Telmo bridge, you can see the armillary sphere that commemorates mile zero of that voyage.

“Seville in the 16th century was the mercantile center of the western world, and its river was the main maritime route for Atlantic traffic for more than 200 years…Seville was known as ‘the city where the world’s heart beats’. Its maritime activity permeated commerce, population, culture, and its own urban development, making it unique,” the visitor bureau notes (www.visitasevilla.es/en/history/guadalquivir-river).

See: GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT: SEVILLE TO PORTO TO COMPLETE TOUGHEST LEG OF 23-DAY AROUND-THE-WORLD MYSTERY TOUR

Porto, Portugal

Like Spain, Jewish heritage in Portugal is complicated. Jews lived here from 5th to 15th centuries – 1000 years before being expelled. After being kicked out of Spain, many Jews went first to Portugal, but Portugal adopted Spain’s Inquisition in 1496 in order to consummate a politically-advantageous wedding. Like in Spain, many Portuguese Jews pretended to convert to Christianity but remained secret Jews.

At one end of Praça da Liberdade, Porto’s elegant Belle Époque main square, is Porto-Palacio das Cardoas Hotel, the first luxury hotel in the historic city center. It was opened in 2011 after being converted from the 18th century palace home of a wealthy Jewish merchant, Manuel Cardoso dos Santos, who bought the property from an order of monks when they were forced from the city. It was originally built as the Lóios Monastery.

Praça da Liberdade, Porto’s elegant Belle Époque main square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to the New York Jewish Travel Guide: Porto, Portugal’s second city, is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country. The city was spared the destruction of the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon. Porto remained largely intact so you can see the narrow streets and balconied houses of former Jewish quarter with street names like “Rua Monte Judeus,” “Escadinhas do Monte dos Judeus,” and Pátio das Escadinhas do Monte dos Judeus.” 

The main synagogue stood on the Escadas da Vitória, a place still locally called “Escadas da Esnoga,” meaning “stairway to the synagogue.” A plaque that marks this site.

Balconied houses, Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nearby, there is an ancient Jewish cemetery at Passeio das Virtudes.  It was there that the largest numbers of Conversos (also known as Marranos), descendants of Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition but secretly practicing Judaism, lived.

But the Jewish experience here in Porto – I am surprised to learn – is relatively modern: in the 1920s Porto became the center of a modest Jewish cultural revival led by an army captain, Arturo Carlos de Barros Bastos. A Converso, Bastos converted to Orthodox Judaism at the age of 33. He became known as the “Portuguese Dreyfus” because he was dismissed from the Army for being a Jew.

Basto established a Yeshiva in Porto, which ran for nine years educating more than 90 students. This is what brought him to the attentionof the government, especially after an estimated 10,000 families across Portugal admitted to practicing Judaism in secret. False charges were brought against the Captain and he was court-martialed, stripped of his rank and was forced to close the Yeshiva. After leaving the Army, Captain Basto established a synagogue in Porto.

As the congregation grew he moved into a new building donated by Elly Kadoorie, a wealthy Sephardic Jew. The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue was built on property bought and donated by Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Paris.  

The Hebrew part of its name, “Mekor Haim,” means “Source of Life,” while “Kadoorie” is the surname of Hong Kong-born Jews who donated  the funds to complete the building, in honor of a deceased family member, Laura Kadoorie, who descended from Portuguese Jews. Her husband, Sir Elly Kadoorie, died in 1944 and is still the Honorary President of the Israeli Community of Oporto, the New York Jewish Travel Guide reported.

Remnant of Jewish community in Lisbon, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, built with donations from Jews from all over the world and with décor that blends Art Deco and Moroccan,  was inaugurated in 1938, at a time when synagogues were being burned in Germany. It is the largest synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in Europe.

Indeed, I learn that during World War II, Portugal gave refuge to thousands of Jews escaping Nazi persecution. Their existence has been legal in Portugal since 1912, and today there are Jewish synagogues in Lisbon, Porto, Trancoso and Belmonte (https://www.visitportugal.com/en/content/jewish-legacy).

You can take a Jewish Heritage walking tour of Porto

New York City

How fitting that our next and final stop on this 23-day, 10-country around-the-world mystery tour is New York City, where many of these displaced descendants of Iberian Jews wound up, generations later from Holland, Brazil and the Indies.

Indeed, there is some suggestion that secret Jews (Marranos) were on board Columbus’ ships, and established the first white settlement in the New World, on the island of Jamaica.

Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation established in North America, founded in 1654; the present building dates from 1897 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can still visit Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation established in North America. It was founded in 1654 (just 34 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plimoth) by 23 Jews, mostly of Spanish and Portuguese origin, who had been living in Recife, Brazil. But when Portuguese defeated the Dutch for control of Recife, bringing the Inquisition to Brazil, the Jews left. Some returned to Amsterdam where they had originated; others went to Caribbean islands including St. Thomas, Jamaica, Surinam and Curacao. The group that came to New Amsterdam arrived in 1654.

“They were not welcomed by Governor Peter Stuyvesant, who did not wish to permit Jews to settle in New Amsterdam.  However, these pioneers fought for their rights and won permission from the Dutch West India Company to remain here in 1655,” according to the synagogue’s historic notes.

The original synagogue was in the Wall Street area. As New York City continued to grow and the population moved northward, Shearith Israel opened its present building in 1897 – the congregation’s fifth building – on 70th Street and Central Park West, on a plot of land that was previously a duck farm.  

The architect was Arnold Brunner, an American-born Jewish architect. The building was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, who created the extraordinary glass windows and planned the interior design and color scheme.  (I’ve attended a Purim service there, and walk by it often, on Central Park West.)

On this last day of the Global Scavenger Hunt, still in hunt mode, I walk up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where the task is to find artifacts related to the places we have been. I find myself in an extraordinary exhibit, “The World Between Empires,” which interestingly serves almost as a summary of all the places we had gone, all the cultures we explored, while fitting in some missing archaeological pieces from places like Petra, Jordan.

“The compelling works of art in this exhibition offer a view into how people in the ancient Middle East sought to define themselves during a time of tremendous religious, creative, and political activity, revealing aspects of their lives and communities that resonate some two millennia later,” stated Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a video that accompanies the exhibit.  “Further, in focusing on an area of the world that has been deeply affected by recent conflicts and the destruction of sites, monuments, and objects, this show also engages with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.”

3rd C biblical wall paintings discovered in the Dura-Europos synagogue were exceptional because they demonstrated that early Jewish art included figural scenes. Metropolltan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition evokes a journey along ancient trade routes, beginning in the southwestern Arabian kingdoms that grew rich from the caravan trade in frankincense and myrrh harvested there and used throughout the ancient world. Camel caravans crossed the desert to the Nabataean kingdom, with its spectacular capital city of Petra, which I have just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.

Ossuaries, 4th Century BCE, Israel, on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“From here, goods traveled west to the Mediterranean and north and east through regions including Judaea and the Phoenician coast and across the Syrian desert, where the oasis city of Palmyra controlled trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world to Mesopotamia and Iran and ultimately China. In Mesopotamia, merchants transported cargoes down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf, where they joined maritime trade routes to India. These connections transcended the borders of empires, forming networks that linked cities and individuals over vast distances.

“Across the entire region, diverse local political and religious identities were expressed in art. Artifacts from Judaea give a powerful sense of ancient Jewish identity during a critical period of struggle with Roman rule. Architectural sculptures from the colossal sanctuary at Baalbek and statuettes of its deities reveal the intertwined nature of Roman and ancient Middle Eastern religious practices. Funerary portraits from Palmyra represent the elite of an important hub of global trade. Wall paintings and sculptures from Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates illustrate the striking religious diversity of a settlement at the imperial frontier. And in Mesopotamia, texts from the last Babylonian cuneiform libraries show how ancient temple institutions waned and finally disappeared during this transformative period.”

Dead Sea Scroll, on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the astonishing artifacts that I come upon is the “unique” Magdala Stone, discovered in a first-century synagogue at Migdal (ancient Magdala) with imagery that refers to the Temple in Jerusalem and wall paintings from a church in Dura-Europos that are the earliest securely dated images of Jesus.

The Magdala Stone, 1st Century, Migdal, Synagogue, on the Sea of Galilee. The stone, whose exact function is uncertain, dates to a time when the temple in Jerusalem still stood. One short side features a 7-branched menorah – the earliest such image known in a synagogue – flanked by amphorae and columns. The Migdal synagogue would have been in use during the lifetime of Jesus, whom the Gospels describe as preaching in synagogues throughout Galilee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From my visits in Athens and Petra, particularly, I appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental sustainability and technology (in Petra’s Archaeology Museum, you learn how the ability to control water supply was key to the city’s development) and the links to economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture, and community. (I recall the notes from the National Archaeology Museum in Athens that made this very point.)

Happening upon this exhibit made the travel experiences we had to these extraordinary places all the more precious.

It is a humbling experience, to be sure, to go to the origins of the great civilizations, fast forward to today. How did they become great? How did they fall? Greatness is not inevitable or forever.  Empires rise and fall. Rulers use religion, art and monuments to establish their credibility and credentials to rule; successors blot out the culture and re-write history.

For additional information visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com or contact GreatEscape Adventures Inc. at 310-281-7809.

See also:

FEELING LIKE A FOREIGNER IN MY HOMETOWN: GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT ENDS IN NEW YORK CITY

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT TURNS INTO PERSONAL ODYSSEY FOLLOWING ROUTE OF JEWISH DIASPORA (PART 1: Vietnam-Athens)

GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT TURNS INTO PERSONAL ODYSSEY FOLLOWING ROUTE OF JEWISH DIASPORA (PART 2: MOROCCO-GIBRALTAR)

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt Turns Into Personal Odyssey Following Route of Jewish Diaspora (Part 2: Morocco-Gibraltar)

Marrakesh’s Jewish cemetery, Beth Mo’ed Le’kol Chai, founded in 1537, has 20,000 tombs including 60 saints © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I was surprised to discover during a Global Scavenger Hunt mystery tour around the world in 2019 that I was actually on an odyssey of the Jewish Diaspora.  It wasn’t my intention or my mission but everywhere we went (we only learn where we are next going when we are told to get to the airport), I found myself tracing a route set by trade (and permitted occupations), exile and refuge.

It started in Vietnam and then just about every place we touched down:  in Yangon, Myanmar, where I visited the last synagogue in that country (it’s a historic landmark and still serves a handful of congregants); in the ancient desert city of Petra, Jordan, I learned of a connection to Moses and the Exodus miracle (the first Diaspora?); in Athens, where I discovered a synagogue, serving a Jewish community that had existed in Athens at least since the 3rd C BC and possibly as early as 6th C BC, near where the world’s first “parliament” would have been.

Then on to Morocco, a country that has just established full diplomatic relations with Israel. The news was particularly interesting to me because Morocco has a long-standing tradition, going back centuries of welcoming Jews, harboring Jews and even today, protecting the cemeteries and the few remaining synagogues, as I discovered for myself during the Global Scavenger Hunt:

Marrakesh

Entrance to Jewish Quarter, Marrakesh, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before it gets too dark, we make our way through the souks to find the Mellah, the Jewish Quarter and the synagogue (which happens also to be one of the scavenges on our around-the-world mystery tour).

We weave through the maze of alleys – asking people who point us in a direction (just as we are supposed to do under the Global Scavenger Hunt rules) – a kindly fellow leaves his stall to lead us down narrow alleyway to Laazama Synagogue, which is still a functioning synagogue but also serves as the city’s Jewish Museum.

The Laazama Synagogue, founded in the 16th century, in the Jewish Quarter of Marrakesh, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After Jews were expelled from Spain by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in 1492, Rabbi Yitzhag Daloya came to Marrakesh, notes describe. He became president of the court and head of the “deportee” community in Marrakesh and founded the “Tzlat Laazama,” Synagogue of Deportees”, shortly after his arrival.

But the Moroccan Jewish community is much older than the Spanish Inquisition, actually dating back to King Solomon and the Roman period. Marrakesh was founded in 1062 by Joseph Ibn Tasifin, ruler of the Halmorabidim, who allowed Jewish settlement in the city. The Jewish community was “renewed” in 1269, headed by Rabbi Yahuda Jian, originally from southern Spain. The Atlas Jews remained the majority of the community even after the Jews from Spain and Portugal settled in Marrakesh.

The situation changed in the 16th century when Marrakesh became a major center for Marranos (secret Jews) who wished to practice Judaism openly. Spanish and Portuguese Marrakesh Jews lived in their own neighborhoods until all local Jews, some 35,000, were collected by order of the King, in 1557, and resettled in the Mellah (a walled community). In the 19th century, the population increased in the Mellah after refugees from the Atlas Mountains arrived, becoming the largest Jewish community in Morocco. At one time, there were 40 synagogues here.

The Laazama Synagogue, founded in the 16th century, in the Jewish Quarter of Marrakesh, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The synagogue is beautifully decorated with tile, a courtyard ringed with study rooms, a music room, living quarters. There is a video about history of Jewish community in Marrakesh. The photos on the walls are interesting – the faces of the Moroccan Jews are indistinguishable from the Arab Moroccans.

Moroccan Jews have largely left the country – the Moroccan Jewish Diaspora counts more than 1 million members in four corners of the world, “a diaspora that continues to cultivate ties to their homeland, Morocco.” (Morocco’s diplomatic and trade alliance with Israel should help.) Indeed, we come upon a woman with her sister-in-law and mother who left Marrakesh first for Casablanca and now lives in Paris; her brother is still a member of the synagogue’s leadership – she shows us his chair. Her grandfather is buried in the nearby Jewish cemetery.

From the synagogue, we walk to the Jewish cemetery, Beth Mo’ed Le’kol Chai, which should have been closed, but the guard lets us in.

Marrakesh’s Jewish cemetery, Beth Mo’ed Le’kol Chai, founded in 1537, has 20,000 tombs including 60 saints © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Founded in 1537, the cemetery spans 52 hectares and is the largest Jewish burial site in Morocco, with some 20,000 tombs including tombs of 60 “saints” and devotees who taught Torah to the communities of Marrakesh and throughout Morocco.

The arrangement of the graves is “unique” to the city of Marrakesh. There is a children’s section, where 7000 children who died of Typhus are buried; a separate men’s section and a woman’s section while around the perimeter are graves of the pious, the judges and scholars of the city who are believed to provide protection for all those buried.

See:  UNRAVELING MARRAKESH’S OLD CITY MAZE BEFORE TACKLING THE GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT 4-COUNTRY CHALLENGE

Fez

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cautioned that the Fez is a complete maze that requires a local guide, we set out with Hamid, theoretically licensed by the local tourist office. At our first stop, at the golden doors to the palace, he relates how Jews made refugees when expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492 were invited by the sultan to settle in Fez in order to develop the city, and settle the nomadic Berbers. The sultan gave them land adjacent to the palace and promised protection. To show appreciation, the Jewish community created ornate brass doors for the palace with the Star of David surrounded by the Islamic star.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He takes us to Fez el-Jdid (the “new part of the city”, which is still a few hundred years old) to visit the Mellah -the Jewish Quarter. The oldest Jewish Quarter in Morocco, the Mellah of Fez dates back to 1438, though very few Jews live here today, most having moved to Casablanca, France or Israel; there are some 80 Jews left in Fez, but live in the new city, Ville Nouvelle.

This community continued even into World War II, when the Sultan gave Jews citizenship and protected them from the Nazis. Indeed, Morocco’s Jewish population peaked in the 1940s but since the 1950s and 1960s, following the establishment of Israel, shrank to fewer than 5,000 today.

Hamid leads us through winding narrow alleyways to the Ibn Danan synagogue. The synagogue was restored in 1998-99 with the help of UNESCO, American Jews and American Express. From the top floor, you can see the Jewish cemetery. 

Nearby is al Fassiyine Synagogue, which a plaque notes, “belongs to the Jews (Beldiyine) Toshabirg, native Jews who lived in Fez before the arrival of the Megorashimns, the expelled Jews from Spain in 1492. The building, covering 170 sq meters, was built in the 17th century. It includes a small entrance hall which leads to a prayer hall housing some furnished rooms on the mezzanine level. It has been used successively as a workshop for carpets and then a gym. Despite these different uses and the degradation of its state, it still keeps its original aspect.”

Ibn Danan synagogue, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The synagogue was restored in 2010-2011 through the efforts of Simon Levy, former general secretary of the Judeo-Moroccan Heritage Foundation, the Jewish community of Fez, Jacques Toledano Foundation and the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Germany.

Jewish cemetery, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Morocco’s Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane inaugurated the reopening of the historic synagogue on February 13, 2013, in which he conveyed the wish of Morocco’s King Muhammad VI that all the country’s synagogues be refurbished and serve as “centers for cultural dialogue.”

Hamid tells me that an adviser to the King and the ex-minister of Tourism were both Jewish.

The tourism minister had a lot to do with putting Morocco on the map as an international tourist destination.  The king, who studied at Harvard, in 2000 set a goal of 10 million tourists.

“Morocco has no oil or gold. It had no highway or airport and didn’t exist except for hashish,” Hamid says. “The king opened Morocco to foreign companies, giving them five years duty-free. They were drawn by a peaceful country, a gateway to Africa. Foreign investors rebuilt the road to Marrakesh, turning it into an international city for the wealthy, like Europe.” Fez also seems to be benefiting – there is lots of restoration and new construction, at Riad el Yacout where we are staying.

Indentation on doorposts where a Mezuzah would have been, indicating a Jewish home, in the Fez el-Jdid, the Jewish Quarter Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we weave through the alleyways, he shows us the indentation on the doorposts of houses where a mezuzah would have been placed, now the home of Muslims (Jews apparently weren’t evicted from these homes, rather, they moved to the suburbs; what Jews remain in Fez live in the new city, Ville Nouvelle).

See: GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT: ENTRANCED BY THE MYSTIQUE OF FEZ, MOROCCO

Gibraltar

Arriving in Gibraltar from Morocco, it is almost culture shock to instantly find yourself in a British Brigadoon – back in time. It is all the more surprising to learn of Gibraltar’s sizeable Jewish community in a population of only 36,000.

Walking the trail on The Rock, Gilbraltar© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wrongly assume that Gibraltar’s Jewish heritage goes back to the Spanish Inquisition – after all, it is but steps away from Spain – but Gibraltar’s Jewish community actually traces the same route that I have come, from Morocco. Jews were readmitted to the tiny peninsula on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula after the British took the territory from Spain in 1704. By the mid 18th century, the community comprised about one third of the Gibraltar’s population. Today, the Gibraltarian Jewish community numbers around 600, many of whom are Sephardim whose roots go back to Morocco. (https://jewish-heritage-europe.eu/united-kingdom/gibraltar/)

On The Rock, which is literally the plateau on top of Gibraltar where many of the historic and nature sites are found, you can follow a trail to Jew’s Gate which leads to the Jewish cemetery tucked away behind trees that was in use up until 1848; it offers “a fascinating piece of history that reflects the important role the Jewish people have played in molding Gibraltar’s history”). I find four synagogues:

Gibraltar’s Great Synagogue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sha’ar Hashamayim – Esnoga Grande or Great Synagogue, the main synagogue in Gibraltar, originally built in the 1720s, was destroyed during heavy storms in 1766 and rebuilt in 1768, then destroyed again by gunfire during the Great Siege of Gibraltar, May 17, 1781, and reconstructed again, after a fire in 1812; Ets Hayim – Esnoga Chica or The Little Synagogue, dating from 1759; Nefutsot Yehoda – Esnoga Flamenca or Flemish Synagogue, opened in 1799 and rebuilt after serious damage from fire in the early 20th century, in the Sephardic style; and Esnoga Abudarham – Abudarham Synagogue, established in the early 19th century by immigrants from Morocco.

From Gibraltar, I basically walk from my hotel, The Rock, into Spain, where I take a bus to Seville for the next part of the Global Scavenger Hunt and my Jewish Odyssey.

See: GLOBAL SCAVENGER HUNT: A DASH THROUGH GIBRALTAR REVEALS A MODERN-DAY BRIGADOON

Next: Jewish Odyssey Continues in Seville

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Plenty to Discover, Experience Exploring New York’s Adirondack Hamlets

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin,

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Idyllic Hudson River spot near North Creek, NY © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Less than a half hour from Lake George Village, in upstate New York, you can discover cultural and artistic venues in smaller hamlets in the Adirondack State Park all year long without the crowds usually found in the Village. The draw to the small town shops and restaurants are in the quality of locally sourced products they sell and use in food preparation.

Check out some of the Adirondack State Park towns we discovered while driving around Lake George and following the Hudson River:

North Creek, NY – in addition to this town being the location of Gore Mountain ski resort, it is taking off as the art center of the Gore region in the State Park. To get to North Creek, we drove north of Lake George on Rte 9 and Rte 28 for about 35 minutes. The short journey took us along a shallow, yet scenic section of the Hudson River. We found glassblowing, mosaics, local artist exhibits, and regional foods – we spent a day here, but we could easily have stayed over at a local hotel to do more in town and in the surrounding mountains. 

  • Widlund Gallery at Tannery Pond Center – also called the Adirondacks Art Center (228 Main St, North Creek, NY 12853;  518-251-2505 x128; https://tannerypondcenter.org ), runs exhibits by local artists continuously throughout the year (even during ski season). Each exhibit runs for 6-7 weeks. Check out the Center’s site for upcoming exhibits. Socially distanced, outdoor events will begin early Spring, 2021.

    We toured the oil paintings of Elizabeth MacFarland whose art reflects local, natural settings. We purchased a beautiful poetry book for our granddaughter from the Center — Butterfly, Dragonfly – Poetry for Children, which was both written and illustrated by Ms. MacFarland – you can also find this book on Elizabeth’s website (https://www.elizabethmacfarland.com/).

The Center is handicap accessible, with parking spots across the street and a ramp leading up to the main entrance. The main floor contains the exhibits. A performance hall on the lower level can be reached by an elevator. Expect to wear masks while visiting. 

  • North Creek Mosaic Project just a couple of blocks from Tannery Pond Center, we found artist Kate Hartley working on the last major section of the 180-foot long mosaic relief along Main St. For the past 10 years, this project has been a labor of love for Hartley who conceptualized covering the retaining walls on this street with beautiful mosaic scenes representing activities in the Adirondacks. A project of this scale has drawn more than 2000 volunteers to help place pieces of tile, glass, and stone on the walls with Hartley’s guidance. Laurie is now one of those volunteers, by adding one of the last pieces to the mosaic that day. The Mosaic Project, now fully tiled, can be easily viewed from your car, but we recommend walking up to the walls to see close up the variety of materials used to build it. (For more information about this project follow https://www.facebook.com/northcreekmosaicproject/, or go to http://visitnorthcreek.org/project/the-north-creek-mosaic-project/.)
North Creek Mosaic Project © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Artist-in-residence, Gregory Tomb (https://www.gregorytglass.com) – Reserve a 1-2 hour glassblowing class when Gregory returns to the region as Artist-in-Residence from late spring through late September 2021. For a private class, contact Gregory at 530-318-9413 or info@gregorytglass.com. Gregory’s temporary studio is located at the North Creek Railroad Station Complex (21 Railroad Place, North Creek, NY 12853). Gregory helped Laurie learn to use glassmaking tools to create a beautiful paperweight; Marty learned to blow hot glass and shape it into a bud vase.  The building is handicap accessible with parking on a gravel lot, but no bathroom is located on premise.
Marty takes a glassblowing class in North Creek with artist-in-residence Gregory Tomb © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hudson River Trading Companyacross the street from the North Creek Mosaic Project, the 7,000 sq. foot, multi-level store (292 Main St., North Creek, NY; 518-251-4461) is filled with items for sale which represent Adirondack life and culture. The store has souvenirs distinctive of the region, including NY State maple-covered nuts and confections, accessories and wares for every room in your house, accessories for pets, and clothing for all ages.

As we toured the store, owner Laurie Prescott Arnheiter explained to us how she preserved the original 1898 walls and floors from its days as a livery and stables and later a butcher shop. Look for the posts and numbers where the horse’s yolks were hung on the walls of the lower room.  The retail store also has a kids’ section to keep them occupied while their parents shop – there is a puppet stage, a small piano, and a reading corner (note to us, bring our granddaughter next time). We purchased an Adirondack hoodie sweatshirt for our daughter, an apron for Laurie, some dog treats, local honey, and NY maple-coated peanuts and candies.

Arnheiter also owns the small gourmet shop next door — The Hungry Crow — which is also in a historic building, and offers all locally made shelf and refrigerated food, such as cheeses, ground coffee, chocolates, and pastas. She even scooped for us berry-infused ice cream freshly made from a local dairy. Check the website, https://hudsonrivertradingco.com, for spring reopening and hours.

Children’s Corner in Hudson River Trading Company, North Creek, NY © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gore Mountain – this Adirondack ski resort offers downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding. Gore Mountain remains open the rest of the year for activities such as scenic hiking trails, a mountain skyride, downhill mountain biking, and nine-hole disc golf. The 2020/2021 season pass packages start from $499/adult. The pass applies to some of the summer and fall activities, and includes an additional ticket for sharing a winter activity. (793 Peaceful Valley Rd, North Creek, NY 12853; 518-251-2411, https://goremountain.com)

Skiing Gore Mountain. Gore remains open after the snow melts for summer and fall activities, such as scenic hiking trails, a mountain skyride, downhill mountain biking, and nine-hole disc golf. (c) Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bolton Landing, NYthis lakeside hamlet is just 15 minutes north of Lake George Village, as you drive along the lake.  Beautiful views of Lake George and shopping in small businesses with plenty of parking was a huge draw for us to stop and spend an afternoon here. Bolton Landing is also the home of the historic luxury hotel, The Sagamore Resort. 

  • Lake George Adirondack Wineryfor a fun and educational wine tasting experience for up to four people, book online or call any of their three locations in the region: Bolton Landing 518-708-6672; Lake George Village 518-203-2597; Queensbury 518-668-9463, https://www.adirondackwinery.com/. We opted for the Bolton Landing location.

This family-owned winery uses northern New York State and Canadian fresh grapes and fruit to create delicious red, pink, white, and ice wines. Adirondack Winery also effectively infuses semi-sweet red and white wines with seasonal fruit. The Adirondack Winery shops and production facility are open seven days a week for wine tasting and shopping – confirm hours online.

For the “Original Wine Tasting Experience” (just $8/person) we each selected seven different wine samples from a choice of 32 Adirondack Winery prepared wines. We added the  “Locavore Sampler” and the “Cheese Lover’s Sampler”  for an additional $10/person, which allowed us to sample local Adirondack cheeses along with the wines. Our  platter included a mild goat cheese, a champagne-infused cheddar which paired deliciously with Adirondack Winery’s very own “Berry Breeze wine-infused” jam,  locally made chocolate truffles, and crackers and pretzels to eat with them. We finished off the wine tasting with a refreshing wine slushy of the day (additional $5/person).   Masks and social distancing are still required in the wine-tasting room, even though masks may be removed when you are sitting for the tasting experience. Based on our sampling,  we chose four different, full-bodied wines to take home, a block of the champagne cheese and the “Berry Breeze” jam  — they were a big hit with our multi-generational family.

  • Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course is perfect for a multi-generational family with over 100 obstacle courses and 15 ziplines for adults and older kids, and two courses and a playground for younger children. Whether you are a newbie to ziplining, treetop climbing and swinging obstacle courses, or an experienced adventurer, this aerial park offers something for everyone to spend a thrilling day in the wonderful mountain air and beautiful views of the Lake (5 Westwood Forest Ln., Bolton Landing, NY; 518-494-7200, https://adirondackextreme.com)

The aerial adventure park reopens in April 2021. Check the website for hours of operation, pricing of course packages, and minimum age requirements. Reservations and payment in advance by phone or online are required. Masks are required at check-in, during harnessing procedures, and walking throughout the park; masks are not required while climbing the courses. Social distance between separate groups is expected. 

North River, NY – a small hamlet on the banks of the Hudson River, North River is the home of the world’s largest, commercial-grade garnet deposits found on Gore Mountain. In 1969, Governor Nelson Rockefeller officially named the ruby red Barton garnet as New York State’s gem stone.

  • Garnet Mine Tours – currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions; check the web site (garnetminetours.com) to learn when they will reopen for tours of the historic Barton Mines (1126 Barton Mines Rd., North River, NY).  
  • Garnet Hill Lodge  just 15 minutes from the center of North Creek and around 45 minutes from Lake George, this rustic, Adirondack wood lodge, high up on a mountain, boasts a scenic canyon view of Thirteenth Lake from the resort’s meadow. 
Rustic Garnet Hill Lodge © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Garnet Hill Lodge  is a perfect one-stop resort for four seasons of outdoor activities. During winter months, the Lodge offers 35 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails and six different snowshoe trails starting immediately outside the lodge and its Outdoor Center. Every stay at the lodge comes with complimentary trail passes.  The full service ski shop assists guests with equipment, clothing, repairs, rentals, and lessons.

Throughout the rest of the year, lodge guests can enjoy the mountain’s hiking trails, the resort’s tennis courts, sign out complimentary mountain bikes, canoes and kayaks, and enjoy the Lodge’s staff-attended private beach on Thirteenth Lake. While walking around the mountain, in addition to looking out at the beautiful Adirondack mountain scenery and looking up at the beautiful clean sky, try looking down – you just might find a rock with garnets! (garnet-hill.com; 39 Garnet Hill Road, North River, NY 12856; 518-636-1652)

With continued Covid-19 flying and quarantine restrictions continuing throughout the country and world, this secluded, Adirondack State Park lodge and resort is ideal for a destination wedding. Pre-Covid, Garnet Hill was able to accommodate up to 120 guests for an outdoor or indoor ceremony and reception from June through October, and up  to 80 guests between November and May.

A two-night minimum booking for guests at the Lodge included food and beverages in the lodge’s full-service restaurant and pub, the Bobcat Bar and Grill. Guests have complimentary use of the lodge’s outdoor equipment in all seasons, including the lake beach and well-marked hiking and mountain biking trails. Contact Nicole at 518-251-2444 to discuss current capacity limitations, to book a getaway, or a visit and tour of Garnet Hill Lodge for a potential wedding or other group event. Nicole will assist with planning all aspects of a destination wedding or event within state guidelines and restrictions.

Glens Falls, NY

Reclining in zero-gravity chairs, wearing street clothes and covered up with warm, fluffy throw covers, we took off our masks, closed our eyes, and breathed in the medical-grade salt that was being released into the room. Listening to relaxing music, we immediately fell into a deep sleep.  Forty-five minutes later, owner Dawn gently woke us. We walked out of the room feeling quite relaxed, with Laurie commenting that she no longer had the acid reflux cough she came in with, and Marty left with clear sinuses.  The experience was a success for both of us!  We have one recommendation: the room is cool even with the warm comforter, so be sure to wear layers: long-sleeved shirt, jacket, or sweater, socks or booties, long pants.

Halotherapy room at Adirondack Salt Cave Halotherapy and Wellness Center in Glens Falls, NY © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Wellness Center is a holistic healing arts center which also offers Swedish massage, Shiatsu, Reiki, Esthetician services, therapeutic reflexology, and other massage therapy services.  Owners Dana and Greg Russell renovated a 123-year old collar and shirt mill, built out therapy rooms and the large “salt cave” room while preserving the original wood floors, brick walls, and tall windows for lots of natural light in the waiting area. Over 7,000 lbs of Himalayan salt blocks went into creating the long, beautiful, backlit wall that is the focal point of the man-made “salt cave” room. They also built out the front desk and the base of the benches with salt blocks. For pricing of services and packages and to make an appointment,  visit adirondacksaltcave.com, call Dana at 518-798-2343, or email her at dana@adirondacksaltcave.com. Please tell her that Laurie and Marty sent you! (11 Broad St., Glens Falls, NY 12801).

More information at https://visitadirondacks.com/.

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Driveable Getaways: Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Great Northern Catskills

Sunset Rock. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My getaway exploring the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Great Northern Catskills of New York starts at the trailhead to Kaaterskill Falls, where you get an amazing view of Kaaterskill Clove (HRSAT Site #4). You gaze out over the gorge where mountain peaks seem to thread together and compare the scene today to the way it is depicted by Hudson River School artist Asher B. Durand’s 1866 painting.

Kaaterskill Clove. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a short walk along 23A (watch out for cars on the winding narrow road) to the trailhead for one of my favorite hikes, Kaaterskill Falls (HRSAT Site #5), a stunning scene that looks remarkably just as depicted in an 1835 painting by Thomas Cole, known as the father of the Hudson River School. “It is the voice of the landscape for it strikes its own chords, and rocks and mountains re-echo in rich unison,” Cole (who was also a poet and essayist) wrote.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Kaaterskill Falls were a favorite subject of many of the Hudson River School painters and for me, is the quintessential combination of stunning scenery plus the physical pleasure of the hike – half-mile up to the base of the double-falls, then another half-mile to the top.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls, 175 and 85 feet, is the highest in New York State and was described by James Fenimore Cooper in “The Pioneers” which Thomas Cole, a friend of Cooper’s illustrated.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a small trail through the woods to the very top of the falls. Signs admonish hikers that climbing the ledges beside Kaaterskill Falls is extremely dangerous, and has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. But the falls are not flowing when I come, so I get to walk on the ledges, giving me a really nervous view straight down and beyond, to the Valley and letting me look at the carved initials and graffiti from the 1920s and 30s, some even from the 1800s.  You feel a sense of kindred spirit with those who have passed through and passed on. You feel the height and the proximity to the drop off, and it makes your heart flutter.

At the top of the Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later, I will recognize the view in Thomas Cole’s paintings and imagine how he must have stood in this precise place where you are standing.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a half-mile to the base, and another half- mile to the top of the falls, for a total of 2 miles roundtrip. There are some scrambles and it is uphill almost all the way (walking sticks are really recommended), and is thoroughly fantastic.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(The parking lot is just west of the trailhead and across 23A, so you park and walk back along the road, being very careful. Haines Falls NY 12436, 518-589-5058, 800-456-2267).

HRSAT Hikes in North-South Campground 

For my second day, after an amazing breakfast at the Fairlawn Inn, I head to North-South Campground, where there are several of the Hudson River School of Art Trail hikes (as well as many other hiking trails) – the lake itself depicted in paintings such as Thomas Cole’s “Lake with Dead Trees,” 1825 (HRSAT Site #6).

Artists Rock, Escarpment Trail, North-South Lake Campground, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Escarpment Trail to Sunset Rock (HRSAT Trail Site #7) begins along the well-marked blue trail (you cut off to the yellow trail to Sunset Rock) that mostly wraps around the ledges, with the amazing views that so enthralled the artists of the Hudson River Valley. Close to the beginning is a fairly interesting scramble, then the trail winds through the woods along side fabulous rock formations before coming out again to the ledges. You reach Artists Rock at about a half-mile. Continuing on, you look for the yellow trail marker to Sunset Rock and from there, to Newman’s Point.

Escarpment Trail, North-South Lake Campground, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can either reverse and come back on the Escarpment Trail, or make a loop, coming down the Mary’s Glen trail, passing Ashley’s Falls.

Ashley’s Falls on Mary’s Glen Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mary’s Glen trail can also be the entrance to a more challenging hike, to North Point, a distance of 3.2 miles with 840 feet ascent. It is a mostly moderate climb but has some short, steep scrambles over rock, but you come to large open slabs and expansive vistas at North Point, a 3,000 ft. elevation with some of the most distant views.)

North-South Lake. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back at the North-South Lake, you can follow around the shoreline to see the same views that inspired Hudson River School paintings.

You can also take the trail to the site of the Catskill Mountain House (HRSAT Site #8), one of the earliest tourist hotels. The majestic hotel, which was opened in 1823 and accommodated 400 guests a night (Presidents Arthur and Grant were among those who stayed here), burned down in 1963 but the view that attracted visitors still remains as one of the most magnificent panoramas in the region, and can be compared to Frederic Church’s “Above the Clouds at Sunrise” (1849).

Where the Catskill Mountain House used to stand. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is fun to see the initials carved into the stone ledges from more than a century ago. The Mountain House began drawing thousands of guests each season from all over the country as well as from abroad, who came not just for the cooler, healthier climate but for what had already become one of the most renowned natural panoramas in the young nation: the valley 1,600 feet below, stretching east to the Taconic Mountains and the Berkshires, with the silvery thread of the Hudson visible for 60 miles from north to south.  On a clear day, you can see five states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The hike is just a half-mile with only an 80-foot ascent.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a $10/car day use fee for the NYS DEC’s North-South Lake Campground from early May through late October, however the fee is waived for NYS residents 62 years or older midweek. The campground is open May through October; 518-589-5058 or call DEC Regional Office year-round at 518-357-2234, www.greatnortherncatskills.com/outdoors/north-south-lake-campground.

The Hudson River School Art Trail also features Olana, the magnificent and whimsical mansion home of artist Frederick Edwin Church. At this writing, the entrancing mansion was not yet reopened to visits, but the 250-acre grounds and the first-ever legally protected “viewshed” to the Hudson River are open (5720 Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.)

Frederick Edwin Church’s Olana, Hudson, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, you can walk the grounds Thomas Cole Historic Site (the home has yet to be reopened, but is marvelous to visit, especially Cole’s studio). (218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, www.thomasscole.org)

Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, NY, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Get maps, directions and background on the Hudson River School Art Trail atwww.hudsonriverschool.org/hudsonriverschoolarttrail.

View from Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, NY, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, walk on the Hudson River Skywalk along the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to find incredible river views.

In Tannersville: Explore the Mountain Top Arboretum, 178 acres of trails, wetlands, gardens, and native plants; go on a mountain biking adventure at the Tannersville Bike Park, part of the Tannersville-Hathaway Trail System.

In Athens:Rent a kayak or paddleboard at Screaming Eagle Outdoor Adventures; explore along the Hudson River at the Athens Riverfront Park and look for the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse

Places to stay include:

Fairlawn Inn bed-and-breakfast, Hunter, NY, the Catskills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In Hunter, the Fairlawn Inn where we have stayed, oozes charm; open year-round (7872 Main St. Hunter, NY 12442, 518-263-5025, www.fairlawninn.com).

Just outside of Catskill, A Tiny House Resort offers 10 tiny houses perched over the Catskill Creek; open-year-round (2754 CR 23BSouth Cairo, NY 12484, 518-622-2626,www.atinyhouseresort.com).

In Coxsackie, Gather Greene is a glamping destination offering 17 wooden glamping cabins on 100 acres of rolling hills and fields, each is equipped with air conditioning and heating, full bathrooms, a mini-fridge (176 Levitt RoadCoxsackie,  262-448-3683, www.gathergreene.com).

More information from Greene County Tourism, 800-355 CATS, 518-943-3223, discovergreene.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Memorable Meals in World’s Best Restaurants Remind How Restaurants are Mainstay of Community, Magnet for Travelers, a Doorway to Appreciating Culture, Heritage

Master sushi chef, Okane, Japanese gastropub, in San Francisco’s SoMa district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Eric Leiberman, Sarah Falter

Restaurants are not just a mainstay, a staple, for a community, they also are a magnet for travelers – experiencing food has become a top priority for travelers who plan destinations and itineraries around it. Restaurants are vital to a local economy.

But at this point in time, they are among the most endangered of species as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Local, independent restaurants are the backbone of our communities, tourism, and redevelopment in every corner of the U.S.,” writes the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), formed to lobby Congress for the interests of the more than 500,000 independent restaurants across the country. (https://www.saverestaurants.com/)

“We directly employ over 11 million people across the country, and indirectly employ hundreds of millions of workers up and down the food supply and delivery chain — from growers, packers, fisherman, linen services, delivery people and more — who depend on the continued revenue of restaurants to stay in business.

“We contribute $1 trillion to our economy, and represent 4% of our GDP. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are closed for business. As of today, up to seven million people have been laid off, and millions of our suppliers will have their bills go unpaid, creating an unprecedented trickle down effect of economic damage to local restaurants and the small businesses that rely on them. We are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities, and we need help.”

The restaurant industry is also an industry that is singularly dependent upon human resources, with products and services that are perishable and cannot be stored on the shelf for a half-price sale months from now, vulnerable to the ebb and flow of cash flow.

“Independent restaurants are small businesses. But, unlike many other small businesses, our cash flow is completely dependent on current business. The bills from 45 days ago are paid with revenue earned today. If there is no revenue, those bills go unpaid. Independent restaurants estimate that there needs to be a minimum of $150 billion cash flow just to pay our current bills, rent, and taxes — and that’s before we pay our employees, who are the front line of service in this hospitality industry and the backbone to the local economies our businesses sustain.”

A Doorway to Savoring Heritage, Culture

Travelers especially appreciate food as a doorway to appreciate heritage, society, the ecosystem that forges a culture. The foods, the ingredients, the seasonings, the preparations, and the ambiance of restaurants – these forge sensory memories. Indeed, “food” has become one of the top factors for travelers when they choose a destination. Food is the front door into a culture, a community, a neighborhood – in fact, one of the tips travel experts offer is to find the best restaurant by simply asking a local, perhaps the Uber driver, for their favorite restaurant.

Remembering some of my most memorable dining experiences brings me back:

Shaving truffles onto rissotto at Restaurant RiziBizi, Portoroz, Slovenia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurant RiziBizi, with Eric in Portoroz, Slovenia, capping our eight-day Venice-Croatia self-guided bike tour, specializes in truffles and serves one of the sensational meals that you remember forever. The restaurant has a tasting menu (from 50 to 60 E). We opt for a la carte: tuna tartar with zucchini, wasabi-reduced plum; truffle soup, the chef sends over pate, served on sticks in a plant; risotto with Adriatic scampi and truffles (the waiter brings a dish of black truffles to table and shaves them onto the dish); duck breast with wine sauce. All the selections are based on locally sourced produce. I can imagine the most devoted foodies getting on planes and coming to Rizi Bizi just for the truffles. And they should. This is a world-class restaurant and the dining experience has been truly memorable, with selections that uniquely reflect the local produce, exquisitely presented. The restaurant is exemplary in every way – we dine on a patio with a view overlooking the hillsides down to the sea; the service is impeccable. (Restaurant RiziBizi, Villanova ulica 10, 6320 Portoroz, Slovenia www.rizibizi.si).

I’ll never forget the meal we shared on the last night of our bike trip on the Danube Bike Trail, in Vienna. David and Eric found one of Vienna’s most famous restaurants on yelp: Figlmueller has been a popular restaurant since 1905 – so popular there are two locations on the same street and both are full. We go to Wollzeile, right behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral, inside a small alleyway. David manages to talk his way in – on the wall is a New York Times review with a photo of then-Senator Al D’Amato of New York on the page. The flagship restaurant is often referred to as the “Home of the Schnitzel”.

Figlmueller boasts Vienna’s best schnitzel, which comes as an enormous round, bigger-than-the-plate, breaded pork pancake pounded impossibly thin. It is delectable with a light, delicate, tender texture. The waiter tells us that four men do nothing but pound schnitzel all day long – 1,600 schnitzels each day. The secret to the delectable taste is using only the best light vegetable oil for frying. Only a few schnitzels are fried in the pan at a time. Then the vegetable oil is changed which means that each month several thousand liters of oil make their way in and out of the kitchen at Figlmüller; they are processed into biofuels. “To ensure that each schnitzel turns out tender and crispy we do not take any chances with the frying temperature of the vegetable oil. It takes 3 different pans to make the perfect schnitzel.” It is a memorable dining experience in every way, and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a perfect trip. (figlmueller.at)

Another memorable meal was a highlight of my around-the-world in 23 days Global Scavenger Hunt: at the Riad el Yacout where we stayed in Fes, Morocco, I savored a fantastic dinner  of chicken tagine and chicken couscous – the food and the atmosphere – amid the stunning tiles, fountains, patterned textiles, sheer perfection. Riad el Yacout was built in 1347 for Professor Laharchi, philosophy who taught at the famous Al Qaraouvine university and the house stayed in the family until 2000, when it was converted to a 33-room guesthouse (www.riadelyacoutfes.com/en/)

A memorable dinner at Riad el Yacout in Fes, Morocco of chicken tagine and chicken couscous © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another unforgettable dining experience was a dinner at the Castello di Verrazzano (the explorer’s actual family home, 1,500 years old), a vineyard and winery making fine Chianti wines, where you it can dine at its Farm restaurant, offering meals produced with raw ingredients from the farm and locality, including the wild board they raise here. The Castle became the property of the Verrazzano family in the VII century. Giovanni da Verrazzano, the navigator and discoverer of the bay of New York (the bridge was named for him in 1964) was born here in 1485. (They also recently opened “Foresteria Casanova, lodging, right in the midst of the vineyard).( Hosteria della Cantina, Via Citille, 32A Località Greti 50022 – Greve in Chianti (FI), Tel: +39 055 854243, https://www.verrazzano.com/en/the-place/)

Sea urchin, a specialty of Okane, a SoMa neighborhood izakaya (Japanese gastropub), flown in specially from Tokyo’s famous fish market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As astonishing find in San Francisco was Okane, the hip, casual sister restaurant to the more upscale, sophisticated Michelin-starred Omakase restaurant literally next door. Okane, which opened in 2015, by 2017 had been rated a Michelin Bib Gourmand. Okane is a SoMa neighborhood izakaya – a Japanese gastropub – serving traditional and refined Japanese “comfort” food and contemporary sushi.  Many of the selections would be common in Japan but are rarer to find in a Japanese restaurant in America. We dined on items that had been freshly purchased at Tokyo’s famous fish market and flown in that day. (Okane, 669 Townsend Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 415-865-9788, www.okanesf.com).

I can still taste the revelation of the sweetest, most succulent lobster, prepared over open fires on a secluded beach on Maine’s Penobscot Bay, a feature on every Maine Windjammer cruise on historic sailing ships (sailmainecoast.com).

Steaming fresh lobsters on a secluded beach, a highlight of a Maine Windjammer cruise aboard a historic sailing ship in the Penobscot Bay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Our globe-trotting correspondents Dave E. Leiberman and Laini Miranda offered their international favorites:

O Camilo, Estr. da Ponta da Piedade, 8600-544 Lagos, Portugal, +351 282 763 845, https://goo.gl/maps/n1CKYth49Tk27Rt8A

Tiger shrimp at O Camilo, Lagos, Portugal © Dave E. Leiberman

Punta Corcho, Avenida Rafael Melgar SM 01 MZ 6 Lote 01-01, 77580 Puerto Morelos, Q.R., Mexico, +52 998 206 9105, https://goo.gl/maps/vsfzyDJUxgZVW4X16

Punta Corcho, Puerto Morelos, Q.R. Mexico © Dave E. Leiberman

Les Bacchanales, 247 Avenue de Provence, 06140 Vence, France, +33 4 93 24 19 19, https://goo.gl/maps/nFgeymrduQB41BLU6

Les Bacchanales, Vence, France © Dave E. Leiberman

Pou Kitchen and Café, 136 Steung Thmei, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia, +855 70 716 969, https://goo.gl/maps/nxTtoojW1mks4z6M7

Club culinario toscano da Osvaldo, Piazza dei Peruzzi, 3/r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy, +39 055 217919 https://goo.gl/maps/6mGpSW9sZey5JJAt7

Moran’s Oyster Cottage, The Weir, Roymore, Kilcolgan, Co. Galway, Ireland, +353 91 796 113, https://goo.gl/maps/uynTUXjNR8g2tSN97

Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, 600 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117, 504-948-9111, https://goo.gl/maps/6i2vAFghD6WXVx2i8

Hell’s Backbone Grill, 20 UT-12, Boulder, UT 84716, 435-335-7464, https://goo.gl/maps/UihaCLLbafLnkY1f7

Pappy & Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268, 760-365-5956, https://goo.gl/maps/FAGatwLWgqMEvpta6

Peck’s Arcade, 217 Broadway, Troy, NY 12180, 518-326-3450, https://goo.gl/maps/MSZvH1j81tDindC57

In the tradition of omakase, Doma Sushi, San Francisco, gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience. You watch him create his masterpiece right in front of you © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

World traveling gourmands Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter shared these “top of mind” favorites:

Verjus, 52 Rue de Richelieu, 75001 Paris, France, +33 1 42 97 54 40, https://goo.gl/maps/c9SeBBtg9Yw6pKMLA

Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka, +94 77 258 3450, https://goo.gl/maps/x7D4j2xvnVxBZYW89

Kyuyam-tei Shimokita-sou, Japan, 〒155-0032 Tokyo, Setagaya City, Daizawa, 5 Chome−29−9 ナイスビル, +81 3-6450-8986, https://goo.gl/maps/Sqsuuecx93s5AYgm9

Miznon, 22 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris, France, +33 9 71 34 53 84, https://goo.gl/maps/QzSo4Bpu8SvLSWpG7

Hungarikum Bisztró, Budapest, Steindl Imre u. 13, 1051 Hungary, +36 30 661 6244, https://goo.gl/maps/PfKwQEsFLsLEVUFV9

Memedof Balık Restaurant, Yalıkavak, Gerişaltı mevkii Çökertme cad. No:42, 48400 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey, +90 252 385 46 46, https://goo.gl/maps/gAYc9eY1cSTn635w9

LİMON GÜMÜŞLÜK RESTAURANT, Gümüşlük, 10. Yıl Sk., 48970 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey, +90 554 740 62 60, https://goo.gl/maps/vBFYD6N5zsq6ui4D6

Apoala, 97000 Calle 60 #471 x 55 Local 2 Portales de Santa Lucía, Centro, 97000 Centro, Mexico, +52 999 923 1979, https://goo.gl/maps/1DtAJhDXvgjsGEgA8

Doma Sushi, 433 Precita Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-648-4417, https://goo.gl/maps/3fS86STAujFqd8WP6

Doma Sushi, San Francisco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurants can transport you, and bring the world to you, as well. Here in New York, we have a United Nations of culinary experiences, so you can travel the world without even getting on a plane.

On one wonderful evening, I found myself in Peru for the first time in Greenwich Village at Llamita, the sister restaurant  (80 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014, 646-590-2771, llamitanyc.com). (It is the sister restaurant to the popular Llama Inn, 50 Withers St., Brooklyn, NY 11211, 7183873434.

Shalom Japan, “authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food in South Williamsburg” marries two cultures, just as the chefs Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi are also married. Aaron hails from Great Neck, Long Island (a 2000 graduate of Great Neck North High School), and Sawako is from Hiroshima Japan. Not just a gimmick. Aaron’s flavor combinations are astonishing, a sensory surprise. (310 South Fourth St. Brooklyn NY, 11211, 718-388-4012, info@ShalomJapanNYC.com, ShalomJapanNYC.com).

At Shalom Japan, Brooklyn, which marries “authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food), a Jewish blintz has artistic Japanese flair © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is likely that New York City and surrounding suburbs will be among the last to be able to reopen, and even then, will only be able to reopen with reduced capacity, social distancing, and such. But here are suggestions how they can stay economically viable.

In the first place, restaurants can play a vital role in staving off the epidemic of hunger that is accompanying the collapse of the economy. Depending upon circumstances, restaurants could be contracted by government or nonprofits to supply meals to shut-ins – better to spend the money that way than on unemployment – and needy families, as well as supply food pantries and kitchens.

In this current phase, as one of the IRC founders, “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio, told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross on NPR, turn restaurants into community food centers, “Restaurants turned into community meal service. That would keep the ecosystem of the restaurant – employees, suppliers – intact, and feed a lot of hungry people.”

Restaurants might also create pop-up market in the morning and midday non-mealtime hours.  You can support them by ordering take-out, pick-up, and also pre-purchasing gift cards.

When restaurants can reopen, for the foreseeable future (that is until there is a treatment or better, a vaccine), they will have to provide greater distancing (versus arbitrarily reducing capacity by 25-50 percent), test employees, and even give customers a temperature check upon entering. How to stay economically viable, when restaurants already operate on very thin profit margins?

They might consider 1) taking reservations and giving people specific times to arrive; 2) charging premium prices for eat-in dining with a more limited, even pre-ordered menu (to avoid waste) and 3) offering curbside pick up and delivery for menu items at reduced (that is, present) rates in order to keep up volume.

As the rules become a bit relaxed, allow restaurants to set up tables for social distancing (not arbitrarily cut capacity 25-50%), allow dining outside (close off streets in “restaurant zones” to parking, traffic; have seating by timed reservation and pre-selected menu (to avoid waste and unnecessary overhead) with premium pricing, continue take-out and delivery options at regular pricing.

If landlords are smart, they will help support the restaurants, as well – perhaps lowering the rent, or even taking rent as a portion of sales until the rent is paid off. 

The federal government should treat restaurants in a separate category, not lump together with small businesses, and take into account the specific issues related to restaurants (high overhead, labor-intensive, perishable products and services). And state and local governments can do their best to lower overhead – perhaps with tax rebates or tax holiday, refinancing credit and loans at the ridiculously low interest rates that banks are getting.

Support the restaurant industry’s lobbying efforts. The industry is asking for $120 billion in funding and business-friendly rules. Sign the petition at https://www.saverestaurants.com/

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York City Virtually: Greatest Cultural Institutions, Closed for Coronavirus, Share Exhibits Online

The Metropolitan Museum of Art may be temporarily closed, but you can explore its collections virtually © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City’s major cultural institutions are temporarily closed to help minimize the spread of coronavirus, but many are making their exhibits and programs available virtually, and have websites that really engage, that make the time spent in enforced hibernation that much richer and more productive, and frankly, less maddening.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is celebrating its 150 anniversary year, has temporarily closed all three locations—The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters—effective March 13. Meanwhile, you can watch videos from exhibition previews to curator talks and performances (https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia)) and experience the best of human creativity from every corner of the globe at The Met (I love watching the video of the conservation of the Degas tutu, https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/video/conservation-and-scientific-research/degas-tutu-conservation) and play audio guides (https://www.metmuseum.org/visit/audio-guide)

When the Met reopens, it will offer a series of special exhibits marking its 150th anniversary: The exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020 will present more than 250 works of art from the collection while taking visitors on a journey through the Museum’s history; The reopening of the galleries for British decorative arts and design will reveal a compelling new curatorial narrative; Transformative new gifts, cross-cultural installations, and major international loan exhibitions will be on view throughout the year; and special programs and outreach will include a birthday commemoration on April 13, a range of public events June 4–6, and a story-collecting initiative.

“Our galleries may be closed, but never fear! Social media never sleeps.” Follow @metmuseum on Instagram for Tuesday Trivia, #MetCameos, and daily art content.

Being confined to home is a perfect time to take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?, available now on Coursera. This course offers an in-depth look at over 70 works of art from MoMA’s collection—many of which are currently on view in the expanded Museum—from 1980 to the present, with a focus on art produced in the last decade. Learners will hear directly from artists, architects, and designers from around the globe about their creative processes, materials, and inspiration. What Is Contemporary Art? can be found at mo.ma/whatiscontemporaryart.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph is featured in MoMA’s exhibit “Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures”. Meanwhile, take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?

I can’t wait for MoMA to reopen so I can see Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive work in over 50 years. The exhibition includes approximately 100 photographs drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures also uses archival materials such as correspondence, historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures. These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide fresh insight into Lange’s practice. (Scheduled through May 9, 2020).

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History. While the museum is closed, go online to its “Explore” site for videos, blogs and OLogy, a science website for kids of all ages. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History while closed, the website is a treasure trove of information and engaging photos and ways to explore and interact on your own. At the section of its site labeled “Explore” https://www.amnh.org/explore, there are videos, blogs and OLogy: The Science Website for Kids, where kids of all ages can play games, do activities, watch videos and meet scientists to learn more about fossils, the universe, genetics, and more. (Check out https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/brain)

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC. While the exhibit is closed, there are excellent materials online. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is in the midst of the landmark exhibit, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. The most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition about Auschwitz ever presented in North America, the exhibit had already been extended until August 30, 2020. The museum so far is scheduled to reopen March 29; in the meanwhile, there are excellent materials at the website that will inform and prepare you for when the exhibit reopens (https://mjhnyc.org/discover-the-exhibition/about-the-exhibition/). (See Groundbreaking Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage Transports to ‘Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away’)

New-York Historical Society presents “Women March” exhibit marking centennial of Women’s Suffrage. Many materials are online, but you can also re-visit some of the N-YHS’s imortant past exhibits, like a personal favorite, “Harry Potter: A History of Magic.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society is closed so you will have to wait to experience “Women March,”   presidential/election exhibits (take a selfie in Reagan’s Oval Office) and “Bill Graham” (phenomenal and surprising exhibit with fabulous musical accompaniment about this iconic concert impresario). Meanwhile, the N-YHS website offers sensational online exhibitions featuring some of their important past exhibits, including ‘Harry Potter; A History of Magic,” and “the Vietnam War: 1945-1975” and Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/online-exhibitions). You can also delve into its digital collection, with selections from the N-YHS Museum and Library’s holdings paintings, drawings, photographs, manuscripts, broadsides, maps, and other materials that reveal the depth and breadth of over two centuries of collecting.  (http://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/).  (See: Many Pathways to Mark Centennial of Women’s Suffrage)

Meanwhile, some outdoor venues are open, as of this writing (the situation has changed daily):

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden remains open to the public, having implemented stringent cleaning protocols and posted new signage on-site about best practices in personal hygiene. “We hope that the Garden might offer you some comfort and beauty even during a particularly stressful time.” (https://www.bbg.org/visit)

Central Park, Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows may well provide needed respite. However, the Wildlife Conservation Society has temporarily closed the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and New York Aquarium, effective Monday, March 16. Check wcs.org for updates.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Groundbreaking Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage Transports to ‘Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away’

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Out of 1200 artifacts, photos, video testimonies, it comes down to one: a tiny, well-worn leather child’s shoe, the sock still hanging out of it. Was it taken off in anticipation the child was just going to a shower, or was the child ferociously pulled out of the shoe and sock?

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shoes take on special significance at the “Auschwitz: Not so long ago. Not far away.” landmark exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan, which has been extended through August 30, 2020 before touring to other cities.

As you first walk in, there is a single red shoe in a glass case that perversely sparks an image of the ruby slippers in “Wizard of Oz.” set against a grey-toned wall-mural sized photo of piles of shoes. Further on as you walk through the three-floors of exhibits, there is the pair of hardened leather clog-looking shoes in a case with a prison uniform so rough and raw they would irritate, then infect and swell the feet, a death sentence for the hapless prisoner.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another display case in the “Selection” section contains shiny leather boots, much like those that the prisoners would see Mengele wearing as they were forced out of the freight cars minutes after being unloaded at Auschwitz, beneath the sign that said. ‘Work Sets You Free.” He was the doctor who selected out twin children for his medical experiments. The rest of the children – 200,000 of them – were immediately sent to the gas chamber along with their mother, aunt, sister, grandmother or friendly stranger who had accompanied them on their journey. The tiny leather shoe with the sock still in it is the only evidence this child existed at all, his life extinguished.

800,000 more Jews were immediately sent to their deaths in the gas chambers, 2000 at a time, their bodies thrown into crematoria that worked 24/7 to keep up with the factory-scale exterminations, their ashes thrown into a river.

Out of the 1.1 million “deported” to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi killing camps, only 200,000 were “selected” not for immediate death but to become slave labor in the concentration camp. They too were immediately marched into showers, their hair shaved, their arms tattooed, their bodies stripped of any dignity or humanness. Few lived more than a month or two under the atrocious conditions – dying of starvation, disease, overwork, beatings or simply shot on the spot. Some became so infirm, they settled into their fate, and welcomed being carried by stretcher to end their daily terror and pain. Others, packed six to a wooden plank in the barracks, would wake up to find a dead person next to them.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” offers a different perspective on the Holocaust, a horror on a scale that is incomprehensible, by focusing down to the most personal elements.

This exhibit, which focuses down to one “tiny dot” on a map that was the largest killing camp in the Nazi’s network – makes it as personal as is possible. You walk in their shoes. And yet, as well as they show the faces, the horrors, the personal objects, the testimonials of survivors, the drawings and photos, an actual freight car and an actual barracks, even so, it is still hard to comprehend.

Indeed, the incomprehensibility of the horror was key to its success – along with secrecy and deception. People could not imagine the level of brutality, cruelty, savageness. So they packed up what they could in suitcases, expecting they were being resettled to places free of anti-Semitism, where they could work and live out their lives.

It is also the danger that such dehumanization, genocide, industrial-scale killing can happen again. Indeed, Auschwitz was not that long ago, nor that far away.

“Auschwitz” isn’t just a look back with graphic evidence to plant a marker in the history books that others are working so hard to erase . It is a look at now, a look at where the trajectory can lead. That is what is embodied in the phrase. “Never Again.”

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I had been steeling myself to visit the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. I recognized that I had an obligation, a responsibility to be a witness to the extent possible. A NYC-Arts special on PBS helped enormously because I could visualize, know what to expect and better prepare for the horror – unlike the millions who were sent to the killing camps. Then there was that television screening of the story of Irena Sendler, a Warsaw nurse who smuggled 2,500 children out of the Ghetto to safety – the film so graphic, her courage and nobility so palpable. Surely I could summon the courage to face the past. To Remember. Never Forget.

If you thought you knew about the Holocaust and the Nazis’ Final Solution that exterminated 6 million Jews and too many (40% of adults and 65% of young people) don’t know anything at all, this rare exhibit, with artifacts gathered from 20 institutions around the world, focuses just on Auschwitz – from how a simple Polish village, Oswiecim where half the population was made up of Jewish families who had lived there for centuries, was turned into the largest of six killing factories in Poland. Original artifacts – documents, personal items, posters, photos – show the roots of anti-Semitism and how being Jewish was converted from a religion to “an inferior race,” a sub-human species, stripped of legal, political, property and professional rights. That’s the first floor.

You see and hear from survivors how families were stuffed 100, 150 into a box car (like the one outside the museum), with the ploy of telling them they were being resettled to a better place free of anti-Semitism, then locked in with just one pail as a toilet and one pail for water, so crowded, one had to stand up in order for someone to sit down. And then they arrive on the “ramp”, where they are “selected,” crossing under a wrought iron sign that said, “Work Makes You Free.” That’s just the middle of the second floor.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here you see stacks of suitcases, a pram (a rare artifact) that eerily reminds you of the display as you enter Ellis Island, the gateway for millions of immigrants into the United States. But here, it shows how unwitting the victims were. Because they were only moments away from being sent to their death. And because access to safe harbors like the United States were shut off to them.

Turn the corner in a room shrouded in darkness and you come upon a white door of a gas chamber, a metal mesh chimney down which the Zykon B poison was sent, a gas mask. In another case, one of the innocuous looking showerheads that survived the fire the Nazis set to destroy evidence of their Final Solution. Extraordinarily powerful and horrifying drawings by survivor Alfred Kantor depict how women and children were told to undress and hang up their clothes on a numbered hook so they would find them again – “Remember your number.” And then they would be locked into the gas chamber.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They, too, were told they were going to shower to be de-loused. The Nazis made a show of having them undress in a changing room, have them put their clothes on numbered hooks so they could find them again. They were shoved 1000 at a time into a shower room, the doors clanked shut, and Zykon B poison pumped in. It took barely 15 minutes to exterminate them all.

The door would open at the other end and a group of Jewish prisoners, called Sonderkommandos, would pull the bodies out one by one, drag them to a dumbwaiter to the crematoria. To keep the secret safe, the Sonderkommandos were kept isolated from the rest of the camp, living in barracks above the crematoria. A rabbi among them, a Hungarian, took each child and said Kaddish before placing the small body in the crematorium.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But one of the Sonderkommandos, working with Polish resistance, smuggled a camera and film and took photos of bodies being burned in vast fields with the overflow that couldn’t be handled in the crematoria, working night and day. There are four of these photos on display.

The Nazis harvested their victims. As the bodies were pulled from the gas chamber, a Sonderkommando designated “The Dentist” would pull out their gold teeth. Their clothes and meager belongings had already been plundered and sent to “Kanada” – vast warehouses named for a country that was considered rich but out of reach. Between the various business enterprises that the Nazis used their slave labor and the looting, it is estimated that each prisoner returned $794 in profit to the SS.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

How were the Nazis able to lead 11 million including 6 million Jews to slaughter like sheep? The secret is how they kept such a massive killing secret, and who could have imagined such diabolical cruelty, such grotesque brutality, who could have imagined a Final Solution?

How did they keep such a monstrous secret? How they managed to move people by the thousands – trapping them into the freight cars when the people thought they were being resettled to a pleasant village where they would be allowed to work. They kept it a secret when immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz, they were separated into two groups. One line was pushed to showers, told to strip and were turned into slave labor – their hair shaved, arms tattooed, all their property stripped away along with their identity, their personhood, stuffed into a prison uniform with an appropriate identifying symbol as to their status.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You continue on to learn what life was like in Auschwitz for the 200,000 who were not immediately murdered. You listen to harrowing testimonials by survivors, see part of an actual barracks.

Indeed, Auschwitz  death toll of 1.1 million was the largest among all the German death camps. But it also had the greatest number of survivors – some 200,000 people brought to Auschwitz were sent to other camps before the war ended, and some 7,000 prisoners were liberated at Auschwitz in January 1945.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You leave this section, which is dark, almost completely black, into a room called “Persistence and Resistance,” which is off-white, round, with natural light streaming from a domed ceiling.

Persistence took the form of ways that the prisoners preserved their humanity.

Resistance took the form of getting the story of what was going on in Auschwitz out to the world, in the hopes that the Allies would bomb the killing center or disrupt the deportations, and preserving evidence that would ultimately hold perpetrators of such colossal evil accountable.

This is the most moving section of all – when I can finally start breathing again.

The Auschwitz SS aimed to destroy any possible solidarity between prisoners…‘Resistance’ in Auschwitz therefore consisted of acts in which prisoners, against all odds, showed solidarity with others. It included heroic actions made with a view to the larger world outside of the camp, grand gestures of generosity and small acts of kindness and charity, along with spiritual resistance. And it was expressed in the determination that-despite the best efforts of the SS – death in Auschwitz would not remain anonymous, and the victims would not remain without names.

I learn the amazing story of Witold Pilecki, a Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army who had himself arrested under the name Tomasz Serafinski and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 (prisoner no. 4859) in order to spy for the Polish government.

Witold Pilecki, a Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army who had himself arrested under the name Tomasz Serafinski and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 (prisoner no. 4859) in order to spy for the Polish government. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He managed to smuggle out messages about life and death in the camp while organizing fellow prisoners. In April 1943, Pilecki escaped, and returned to Warsaw to convince the Polish Resistance to attack Auschwitz in a coordinated effort with prisoners. But the commander who had sent him on his mission had been arrested, and the new leader judged an attack on the large and well-armed Auschwitz garrison to be suicidal. They also realized they wouldn’t be able to shelter the tens of thousands of inmates who might be freed. Pilecki wrote the first full report on conditions of Auschwitz and the mass murder of Jews in the gas chambers. The allies received the report but ignored it. Pilecki continued to fight the Germans, participating in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

Outrageously, in 1947, he was arrested by the Polish Communist government, tortured, and executed in 1948.

It was so critical to get information out that several risked their lives to smuggle information out.

I learn the story of The Auschwitz Protocols:  In March 1944, Slovakian Jewish inmates Walter Rosenberg (aka Rudolf Vrba) and Alfred Wetzler observed the Nazi’s preparations for the arrival of transports from Hungary. With a lot of planning and luck, they escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944 and fled to Slovakia in the hopes of warning the Jews of Hungary.

The testimony of Vrba and Wetzler, along with information supplied by Czeslaw Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin, who escaped Auschwitz on May 27, 1944, yielded the first substantial report of the use of Auschwitz as a death factory. It became known as the “Auschwitz Protocols” and detailed the continuing massacres in the gas chambers. But the information didn’t reach the Hungarians in time: beginning in May, over 400,000 Jews were deported and murdered. A summary of the report arrived in the US in July. That same month, the Red Army’s liberation of the Majdanek camp led to the publication in the US of sensational reports written by well-known journalists in America media. Though it didn’t succeed in its primary objective, the Auschwitz Protocols led to diplomatic pressure that forced the Hungarian government [the leader now fearing he would be tried for war crimes] to stop further deportations, saving the lives of over 150,000 Jews. It also triggered a debate among the Allies: what parts of Auschwitz could or should be bombed.

On August 20, Allied bombers attacked the IG Farben factory, but not Auschwitz camps.

“I firmly believed that [the daily killing in the crematoria] was possible because the victims who came to Auschwitz didn’t know what was happening there,” Auschwitz survivor Rudolf Vrba wrote in 1985. “I thought that if this would be made known by any means within Europe, this might stir up the Resistance outside and bring help directly to Auschwitz. And thus the escape plans are finally formulated and the escape took place on April 7, 1944.

The Sonderkommandos organized an ill-fated revolt in October 1944.

Roza Robota recruited women prisoners working in the munitions factory operating next to the camp to smuggle gunpowder off-site. Robota passed it to Timofei Borodin, a Russian technician, who carried it to the Sonderkommandos. Their aim was to destroy the crematoria and spark a rebellion.

But the uprising went awry. The Sonderkommandos of Crematorium 5, hearing they were to b e gassed, revolted ahead of schedule. On October 7, they killed 3 SS, wounded 12 and burned down Crematorium 4. At the same time, the Sonderkommandos of Crematorium 2 attempted a breakout.

In retaliation the SS killed 451 Sonderkommandos. The camp Gestapo identified Robota and three other Jewish women – Regina Sapirstein, Ala Gertner and Ester Wajeblum – as plotters. After weeks of torture they were hanged publicly. As the noose was placed around her neck, Robota cried out ‘Nekama;’ (Revenge!)

Ester Wajeblum “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Auschwitz Sonderkommando Zalman Groiadowski (Sept 6, 1944), leaves a note. “Dear finder, search everywhere, in every inch of soil. Tons of documents are buried under it, mine and those of other persons, which will throw light on everything that was happening here. Great quantities of teeth are also buried here. We, the Sonderkommando workers, have expressly strewn them all over the terrain so that the world should find material traces of the millions of murdered people…”

Socks reinforced to muffle footsteps. Some 300,000 Jews went into hiding to avoid being rounded up and deported to concentration camps.“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This groundbreaking 18,000-square-foot exhibition takes up three floors, 20 thematic galleries. Through the artifacts and Holocaust survivor testimony, it brings you inside and re-creates the experience as best as possible, raising the alarm how the unimaginable, the inconceivable happened and can happen again. The commentary notes that one demagogue like Hitler could not have produced the Holocaust.

“Genocide is a social act,” the audio guide says toward the end of the exhibit. “It requires a society who conspires…But the same society can resist.”

Nazis attempted to burn all evidence of their atrocities. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But there is one question that is not answered: who, what and how those who administered torture, who beat and murdered and presided over such intense suffering. That is a critical question to knowing whether such a thing could happen again. Just what percentage of a given population are sociopaths?

There are some clues provided in the statements that are presented:

Once Hitler had decided that the “Final Solution” would be enacted, one important question remained: Who was to be in charge of the genocide? Heinrich Himmler sought this responsibility as he believed it would help him consolidate his power.

Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoss (1946) testified, “I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. I did not think his methods were very efficient. I used Zykon B, a crystallized prussic acid dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from three to 15 minutes to kill the people. Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process.”

“The children, they’re not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood inside them. The enemy is the growing up to be a Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that the children were included as well.” (Former Auschwitz SS man Oskar Groning explaining in a 2004 interview why he condoned killing Jewish children).

The exhibition explores the dual identity of the camp as a physical location—the largest documented mass murder site in human history—and as a symbol of the borderless manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.

Consider this: Jews had lived in Germany for 1000 years before the Holocaust; they had lived in the Polish town of Oswiecim.that the Germans renamed Auschwitz and repurposed for a killing factory for hundreds of years. It was only 10 quick years between when Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor in 1933, to the Final Solution in 1942. By the time Germany surrendered, two years later, 6 million Jews – two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population – had been exterminated.

That’s how fast things can descend into unimaginable evil.

Groundbreaking Exhibition

Produced by the international exhibition firm Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, the groundbreaking exhibition is the largest ever on Auschwitz with more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs. The New York presentation of the exhibition allows visitors to experience artifacts from more than 20 international museums and institutions on view for the first time in North America, including hundreds of personal items—suitcases, eyeglasses and shoes—that belonged to survivors and victims of Auschwitz. Other artifacts include: concrete posts that were part of the fence of the Auschwitz camp; part of an original barrack for prisoners from the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp; a desk and other possessions of the first and the longest-serving Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss; a gas mask used by the SS; Picasso’s Lithograph of Prisoner; and an original German-made Model 2 freight train car of the type used for the deportation of Jews to the ghettos and extermination camps in occupied Poland. 

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition also features 10 artifacts on loan from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which include the spilled, dried beans Anne wrote about in her diary and that were later discovered lodged between the cracks of stairs in the home where she hid from the German Nazis. The beans have never been displayed anywhere before. Most recently, the Museum announced the exhibition’s incorporation of a shofar (a ram’s horn that is made into a special wind instrument used during Jewish High Holiday services) that was hidden and clandestinely blown in the Auschwitz. The shofar was newly added to the exhibition on the cusp of the High Holy days and temporarily transported to two New York City synagogues to be blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

The Museum of Jewish Heritage has incorporated into the exhibition nearly 100 rare artifacts from its collection that relay the experience of survivors and liberators who found refuge in the greater New York area. Alfred Kantor’s sketchbook and portfolio that contain over 150 original paintings and drawings from Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Schwarzheide; the trumpet that musician Louis Bannet (acclaimed as “the Dutch Louis Armstrong”) credits for saving his life while he was imprisoned in Auschwitz; visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania often referred to as “Japan’s Oskar Schindler”; prisoner registration forms and identification cards; personal correspondence; tickets for passage on the St. Louis; and a rescued Torah scroll from the Bornplatz Synagogue in Hamburg, postcards sent home in order to deceive family members as to what was really going on at the camp. 

A rare film of a killing field. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most profound is a film that has survived showing a killing field in which the killers are so casual, even bored by the routine as villagers look on, and the four photos of Crematorium 5 smuggled out by Alberto Errera, a Jewish-Greek army officer who joined the resistance during the German occupation, assuming the name Aleksos (Alex) Michaelides. Captured, Errera was sent to Auschwitz in April 1944 and selected for the Sonderkommando. On August 9, Errera attempted an escape but was captured, tortured and killed.

One of four photos smuggled by Alberto Errera of bodies being burned in a desperate effort to notify the world. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most poignant are the video testimonials of survivors describing their personal experiences.

Also on display from the Museum of Jewish Heritage collection is Heinrich Himmler’s SS helmet and his annotated copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as well as an anti-Jewish proclamation issued in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring by German security chief Reinhard Heydrich on the occasion of Göring’s birthday. The proclamation required Jews to identify themselves with a “yellow ring” on their clothes. Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s work. “These artifacts stand as evidence of a chapter of history that must never be forgotten.”

The information is presented as clearly, simply, directly, forth-rightly and in excruciatingly personal terms, but it is all still so hard to comprehend, to process, the magnitude, the scale of cruelty.

The artifacts and materials in the exhibition are on loan from more than 20 institutions and private collections around the world. In addition to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, participating institutions include Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, and the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London. 

Parallel Lives: One wall shows photos of Nazis frolicking at Auschwitz; the other the “Lost World”of Jews before the Holocaust. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far awaywas conceived of by Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and curated by an international panel of experts, including world-renowned scholars Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, and Paul Salmons, in an unprecedented collaboration with historians and curators at the Research Center at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, led by Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz.

“When we, the Musealia curatorial team set out to design the Auschwitz exhibition, we realized that we faced a difficult problem. In Auschwitz over a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered shortly after their arrival or suffered and died in unimaginable circumstances. How does one create an exhibition about such a dark chapter in human history that, in our understanding, is not long ago and happened in a place not far away? How does one make the public, that has so many opportunities to explore a great city like New York, decide that it would want to see such an exhibition? Our tools were straightforward: a narrative told through more than 700 original artifacts, 400 original images, 100 stories, made present by means of filmed testimonies and quotes – all revealing individual experiences of a history we must learn from,” said Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, Chief Curator.

Following the New York presentation, the exhibition will tour to other cities around the world.

Visiting

You need 2 ½ to four hours to see just this exhibit (I was there five hours before I realized it). hours).

Entry is by timed ticket available at Auschwitz.nyc. Audio guide (available in 8 languages) is included with admission. Tickets are $25 Flexible Entry (entry any time on a specific day); $16 Adults; $12 Seniors and People with Disabilities; $10 Students and Veterans; $8 Museum Members.

FREE for Holocaust survivors, active members of the military and first responders, and students and teachers through grade 12 in schools located in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (with valid school-issued ID). 

Garden of Stones is a memorial garden planted by the artist, Andy Goldsworthy, Holocaust survivors and families, overlooks the Statue of Liberty. Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. The third largest Holocaust museum in the world and the second largest in North America, since 1997, the Museum of Jewish Heritage has welcomed more than 2.5 million visitors; it maintains a collection of more than 40,000 artifacts, photographs, documentary films, and survivor testimonies and contains classrooms, a 375-seat theater (Edmond J. Safra Hall), special exhibition galleries, a resource center for educators, and a memorial art installation, Garden of Stones, designed by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Set in the southernmost tip of Manhattan overlooking the New York Harbor, the Museum completes the cultural and educational triad with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, visible from its balcony.

The Museum also partners with Jewish Heritage Travel – offering heritage trips  to Germany & France; Poland; The Baltics; Germany; Spain & France; Argentina; and India (jhtravel.org, 845-256-0197).

The Museum is closed on Saturdays, Jewish holidays, and Thanksgiving. 

Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, 36 Battery Place, New York City, 646-437-4202, mjhnyc.org.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New Yorkers Show Solidarity with Chinese, Asian Community at Lunar New Year Parade

NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio presents proclamation to Steven Ting, organizer of the 21st Annual Lunar New Year parade and festival, with US Senator Chuck Schumer, China’s Consul General Huang Ping, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, State Senator Brian Kavanaugh, among other dignitaries © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Always a show of support, solidarity and respect for the Chinese and Asian community in New York City, this year’s Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown in downtown Manhattan, welcoming the Year of the Rat, took on added urgency because of the coronavirus afflicting Wuhan, China, and the recent fire that destroyed a building housing much of the collection of the Museum of Chinese in America.

People held up signs, “Stay Strong Wuhan,” but even though there have been no instances of the coronavirus in New York City, visits to Chinatown, normally at peak during the Lunar New Year celebration, have declined and business has been affected.

The parade route went just passed 70 Mulberry Street, where on the night of Thursday, January 16, a fire destroyed most of the 85,000 items stored there for the Museum of Chinese in America, housed nearby in a new building on Centre Street since 2009. The rare and cherished items preserved the rich and challenging story of the Chinese migration to the United States through such personal objects as textiles, restaurant menus, handwritten letters, tickets for ship’s passage, traditional wedding dresses (cheongsam).

The building, a former school that educated generations of immigrants, is a community center that housed a senior center, the Chen Dance Center and several community groups, in addition to storing the museum’s artifacts that were not on display.

Political and parade officials praised the New York Fire Department, which had a prominent place – bagpipers and all – in the parade.

Meanwhile, fear over the virus has kept people from Chinatown and Chinese restaurants during what should have been the busiest time of year, the Lunar New Year celebration.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Elected officials are urging the public to take normal precautions against illness, but not to let fears concerning coronavirus stop them from participating in the event. “It’s really important in this moment where everyone is understandably worried about the coronavirus, we need to be factual, we need to be scientific, and we need to be calm,” NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson said.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The annual event has not only paid tribute to the contribution the Asian community has made to the city, state and nation, but immigration as a whole.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, reading from a proclamation, said, “As a city built by immigrations, New York is the proud home to residents who hail from every corner of the map and speak a multitude of languages. This unparalleled diversity is the source of our singularity and strength and it is exemplified by our thriving population of Asian Americans that has made invaluable contributions to the cultural, civic and economic life of the five boroughs. On the occasion of the 21st Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival, hosted by Beter Chinatown U.S.A. I am pleased to recognize the indelible imprint this vital community has made on our great and global city.

“New York is fortunate to have an abundance of organizations devoted to advancing positive change. Established in 2001, Better Chinatown U.S.A. is guided by its mission to improve quality of life in Manhattan’s Chinatown and promote it as a destination of choice for our diverse residents and visitors. Its annual Lunar New Year Parade is a much anticipated event attracting thousands of spectators from far and wide for a pageant of traditional lion dances, music ensembles, and dancers in colorful folk costumes, followed by a party in Sara D. Roosevelt Park featuring Chinese food and cultural performances.”

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, one of the Grand Marshals, spoke of the resilience of the Chinese community, and how the community “contributes to the fabric of our city, our nation.”

“I’m here to say that Chinatown is open for business and we are behind you and we will remain strong,” Velazquez said. “Last night, I was here dining in a restaurant in Chinatown. I welcome everyone to come here and celebrate the culture and beauty of this community.”

China’s Consul General Huang Ping said “China is doing everything to confront the coronavirus. We have mobilized forces. We have strong leadership, resources, are working with the international community. Be strong China. Be strong Wuhan.”

Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, standing with China’s Consul General Huang Ping and messages to “Stay Strong China,” at Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lt Governor Kathy Hochul, “We stand together at one family. Stay strong China. Stay strong Wuhan.”

Other dignitaries participating State Senator Brian Kavanaugh, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, Assemblyman David Webrin.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio declared the city stands in solidarity with China and the Asian community, “no matter what is thrown at us.” New York has the largest Chinese community outside Asia “and we are proud of that.” The city made the Lunar New Year a school holiday and teaches Mandarin as early as pre-K, and is actively promoting participation in the 2020 Census.

“In China, there are so many of loved ones, faced with coronavirus and we stand together as community,” De Blasio said. “We celebrate New Year together – we are united, and we celebrate this extraordinary Chinese community the largest of any city outside of Asia.”

He also presented a Proclamation to parade organizer Steven Ting day for his continued work on the parade, proclaiming February 9 “Steven Ting Day.”

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

US Senator Charles Schumer used a bull horn as he marched in the parade to cheer for immigration. “New Yorkers are proud people, who come from all over the world. We fight those who oppose us.”

And on that score, the parade was also used to promote the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census, with one group of even handing out flyers to recruit census takers ($28/hr, flexible hours).

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The census, De Blasio stressed, will make Chinatown better represented if everyone takes part.

Here are highlights from the 21st Annual Lunar New Year Parade:

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Knicks players march in the Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The march of the Lunar New Year Parade stretches almost two miles, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Participate in the 2020 Census. Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Apply online to be a Census Taker! Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine Welcomes New Year 2020, New Decade with Concert for Peace

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine welcomed in the New Year and a new decade as it has since 1984, with a concert devoted to Peace. The people who fill this enormous space, coming in many cases year after year, come for the solace the concert always brings, the re-commitment to a world of tolerance, acceptance, that comes together in peace and good will to resolve conflicts.

The Cathedral Choirs joined forces under the leadership of Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music and one of America’s leading choral conductors. This signature event is one of many comprising the 2019–2020 season of Great Music in a Great Space.

Kent Tritle, one of America’s leading choral conductors, at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When the first concert for peace was offered, in 1973 at its sister cathedral in Washington DC, America was at war, an election had been decided, but Leonard Bernstein inaugurated the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace in 1984, years after the Vietnam War was concluded, because in the world, there has never been a time without conflict.

Even though technically, America is not at war, there is war raging in the land. “Americans are our own enemy, one against another,” Reverend Canon Patrick Malloy said. But every culture has the means to bring light out of darkness. “The world is varied and venerable ways, strikes fire, refuses to surrender to the dark.”

Kent Tritle conducts The Cathedral Choir and The Cathedral Orchestra at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year, the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra performed music ranging from Baroque works of Handel and Bach to contemporary works of artist-in-residence, organist David Briggs and Lee Hoiby’s poignant setting of ”Last Letter Home.” This work is based on a letter sent by Jesse Givens, Private First Class, U.S. Army, who drowned in the Euphrates River on May 1, 2003 in the service of his country. His letter to his wife Melissa was sent with the directions, “Please, only read if I don’t come home.”

Tony-award winning composer Jason Robert Brown, an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral since 2000, performs a song especially written for the Concert for Peace, “Sanctuary,” with his wife and daughters © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist-in-Residence Jason Robert Brown , who has won three Tony Awards for scores for musical theater, including Parade, The Bridges of Madison County, and Honeymoon in Vegas, at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist-in-residence, jazz-saxaphonist Paul Winter at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Choir’s own Jamet Pittman again led the audience in “This Little Light of Mine” as the assembled in the sanctuary lit candles to welcome the new year with hope, joy, and affirmation.

Soprano Jamet Pittman (right) performs with friends at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Conductors Kent Tritle, Raymond Nagem and Bryan Zaros at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The night also featured special guest appearances and performances by Judy Collins, who sang her iconic “Both Sides Now,” and “Amazing Grace” her voice ringing through this soaring space;  saxophonist and artist-in-residence Paul Winter performed Paul Halley’s “Winter’s Dream”;  artist-in-residence Jason Robert Brown, performed with his wife and daughters, “Sanctuary,” a song which Brown wrote especially for this concert; and host Harry Smith, the renowned journalist, who has hosted the Peace concert for some 30 years.

The incomparable Judy Collins fills the Great Space of Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine with her mellifluous voice © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reflecting on recent events, Smith said, “two-thirds of millennials don’t know what Auschwitz was; four out of 10 adults don’t know. So when things happen like what happened last weekend in a suburb of New York, we take pause.”

With that in mind, the Cathedral Choir offered an addition to its program, singing “Oseh Shalom”.

“The real news is terrible – also known as fake news. Mass shootings…Despair of an economy that works really well for a few. Wars without end, conflicts without resolution. It’s why so many of us show up here for New Year’s Eve…

“’We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek,’ said Barack Obama,” Smith said to applause.

Metaphorically wipe away the troubles of 2019 as we look ahead to 2020, Harry Smith, hosting the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, quotes Barack Obama, “We are the change we seek.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The atmosphere in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (not to mention the acoustics) is spectacular. You think you have been plunked down in Europe in a building 1000 years old – this grand Gothic stone structure with soaring arches 177 feet high. The original design, in the Byzantine Revival and Romanesque Revival styles, was begun in 1892, but after the opening of the crossing in 1909, the overall plan was changed to a Gothic Revival design. Actually, the building was never finished – it is still only two-thirds complete. After a fire damaged part of the cathedral in 2001, it was renovated and rededicated in 2008. Even without being fully built, it is the fifth largest church in the world, based on area (121,000 sq. ft.)

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership. People from many faiths and communities worship together in services held more than 30 times a week; the soup kitchen serves roughly 25,000 meals annually; social service outreach has an increasingly varied roster of programs; the distinguished Cathedral School prepares young students to be future leaders; Adults and Children in Trust, the renowned preschool, after-school and summer program, offers diverse educational and nurturing experiences; the outstanding Textile Conservation Lab preserves world treasures; concerts, exhibitions, performances and civic gatherings allow conversation, celebration, reflection and remembrance—such is the joyfully busy life of this beloved and venerated Cathedral.

The Cathedral is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit stjohndivine.org for more information and a schedule of public programs including concerts, among them the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra performing J.S. Bach’s monumental “St. John Passion,” on March 31, 2020 at 7:30 pm.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Philadelphia Offers Treasure Trove of History, Heritage, Culture: Magic Gardens, Franklin Institute

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia is a jewel box of unique and spectacular, even life-enhancing attractions, a trove of national treasures of history, heritage, culture that glitters particularly during the holidays. The holiday splendor is eye-catching and warms the heart, but any visitor still has to make time to experience first-hand at least some of these iconic places. I manage to bookend my holiday merrymaking with a mix of art (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens) with history (Independence Hall) with heritage (National Museum of American Jewish History) with science and enlightenment (Philly is the hometown of one of our most enlightened inventors, Ben Franklin), and so I end this visit with the Franklin Institute and can’t wait to come back.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

You get a taste of what to expect in Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) as you enter the South Street neighborhood. The creator, Isaiah Zagar, who has lived in the neighborhood since moving there with his wife, Julia, in the late 1960s when it was derelict and blighted, turned trash and broken walls into sparkling mosaic art. Otherwise forbidding narrow alleyways and whole sides of buildings twinkle with the pieces of broken mirrors and glass and humor (you can’t help but smile). But nothing prepares you for the awe you feel when you walk out of the two indoor galleries into the Magic Gardens.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here is a riot of handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirrors, international folk art, recreated into walls, pathways, stairways, layers and levels. There is so much to explore and discover – not just visually, but emotionally. Woven into the art are Zagar’s profound, personal sayings, expressions, thoughts, feelings: “I build this sanctuary to be inhabited by my ideas and my fantasies.” “Imagery which refuses to stabilize.” “The complexity of various problems. Rewind it.”

Messages not in a bottle. Artist Isaiah Zagar embeds his philosophy into his  Magic Gardens© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s called Magic Gardens even though there are no plants, flowers or trees. But you aren’t here long before you realize how it nonetheless is a living organic thing, where broken and discarded trash and objects considered valueless or past their useful life, get new life, purpose, meaning. And value.

The “magic” is how the objects are re-animated – an expression of creativity, infusion of imagination. ”The Garden” grows organically, as if living organism.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It is one man’s vision, process, style,” Elisabeth Carter (Lis), a Magic Gardens guide, tells me. “He had assistants. Most of the smaller figurines and sculpture were made by Mexican folk artists and couple of local artists, especially the Aguilar family. Others helped make some of the tiles – including First Lady Michelle Obama (there is a letter that she sent to the Gardens).

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It is still a work in progress – new pieces are added – plus it is outdoors, so weather (snow/ice) is factor. We have a full-time preservation team of thee who maintain, repair, and document new folk art.

“He’s interested in how things wear, fade, and change over time – things are constantly changing, new things added – like a breathing animal.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zagar brings the art form of mosaic to a whole different dimension.  “Zagar is known for mosaics. He uses things that others think are trash or have no value. He is inspired by the Hindu God Shiva – the god of destruction and transformation.”

Zagar, who is 80 years old now, studied art at the Pratt Institute, Lis says, “but painting wasn’t fulfilling. He Is bipolar; he used mosaics as mental health therapy. Small, broken pieces of tile people were throwing away, he found satisfying to build into something positive and beautiful.”

Lis points me to a small sculpture which is a self-portrait, depicting the artist with three arms.

Isaiah Zagar (self-portrait in ceramic with three arms) inspired a movement of public art and showed that art could transform a culture, an attitude and create community © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There must be thousands and thousands of objects here. You first see what is in front of you as a whole, but then your eye goes to sections, narrower and narrower, until you spend time searching and discovering individual objects.  And what you see, what you experience would always be different – with light, time of day, weather affecting the colors and textures.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You have to walk through at least twice: the first time is very sensory, overload. The second time, you can focus more. You walk through an alley of art, curved paths, you see things differently from every angle, every step. Like a Japanese Garden, you cannot see the whole thing at once, and you don’t know what to expect beyond. It’s a carnival of art, a riot of color, texture, shapes and subjects that dazzle the eye and the brain and stir the heart.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Zagar has devoted himself to beautifying the South Street neighborhood since the late 1960s, when he moved to the area with his wife, Julia. The couple helped spur the revitalization of the area by renovating derelict buildings and adding colorful mosaics on both private and public walls. The Zagars, teamed with other artists and activists, transformed the neighborhood into a prosperous artistic haven and successfully led protests against the addition of a new highway that would have eliminated South Street. This period of artistic rebirth was coined the ‘South Street Renaissance.’ After the street was saved, Zagar continued creating mosaic murals, resulting in hundreds of public artworks over the next five decades.

Part of the fun at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is creating your own art, transforming Isaiah Zagar’s 3-D mosaics into 2-D images © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In 1991, Zagar started working on the vacant lots located near his studio at 1020 South Street. He first mosaicked the buildings on either side of the property, then spent years sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects. In 2004, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to witness the destruction of the now-beloved neighborhood art environment, the community rushed to support the artist. His creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, quickly became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the intention of preserving the artwork at the PMG site and throughout the South Street region. Zagar was then able to develop the site even further; excavating tunnels and grottos.”

Philadelphia Magic Gardens opened to the public in 2008, giving visitors the opportunity to participate in tours, art activities, hands-on interpretive experiences, workshops, concerts, exhibitions, and more.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is open Wednesday-Monday, 11 am – 6 pm, closed Tuesdays. (1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, 215-733-0390, www.phillymagicgardens.org)

I continue my walk to the Franklin Institute, all the while coming upon the fantastic public art throughout the city – magnificent murals that decorate buildings, that reflect and speak to that particular neighborhood and inspire with their beauty and their message. No doubt a public art movement inspired by Isaiah Zagar.

Everywhere you walk in Philadelphia you are surprised to come upon stunning murals which tell a neighborhood and a community’s story © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Everywhere you walk in Philadelphia you are surprised to come upon stunning murals which tell a neighborhood and a community’s story © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is also Philadelphia’s “Museum Without Walls” of sculptures and art work throughout the city (an audio tour is available, www.museumwithoutwallsaudio.org, 215-399-9000).

Franklin Institute

As you enter Franklin Institute. beneath a giant moon there is a sensational lighted statue of America’s first scientist and Philadelphia’s Favorite Founding Father, Ben Franklin, who inspired the institute’s founding in 1824. During the course of a few hours, I travel to outer space in search of life; walk through a human heart; tangle in neurons of the human brain; visit one of the earliest steam engines; and try to unravel the mystery (to me, anyway) of electricity.

Ben Franklin beneath the moon makes for a dramatic entrance to the Franklin Institute © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” Carl Sagan said, the quote opening the movie in the Fels Planetarium, one of the first ever built, that dates from 1933.

Founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest and premier centers of science education and development in the country.  Today, the Institute continues its dedication to public education and fostering a passion for science by offering new and exciting access to science and technology in ways that would dazzle and delight its namesake.

Everything about the Franklin Institute is designed to engage, immerse, interact.

I climb through a heart at Franklin Institute (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Climbing through a heart at Franklin Institute (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is exemplified in the special exhibition on view through April 12, 2020, the world-premiere exhibition of “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Experience,” based on the best-selling survival handbook series. The exhibit showcases strategies of survival and elements of escape in the form of a hands-on, minds-on logical series of immersive challenges providing the essential instructions for surviving unexpected but possible real-life scenarios with countless moments of excitement and levity throughout.

Learn how to jump from a moving train car, pick a lock, escape from quicksand, survive an avalanche, and more in the thirteen challenges that fill the Survival Gymnasium, which offers step by step instructions, expert advice, and the training to build the worst-case survival skills.

Tools for extreme survival, including counterintuitive uses for everyday items are on display, plus graphics that share how to identify anxiety and fear within the body and uncover how stress, physical exhaustion, and disorientation can make an activity, like surviving, more challenging.

Neurons become a climbing gym at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A new perspective of the brain at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating founded The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts in 1824. The Franklin Institute science museum opened to the public on January 1, 1934, calling itself a “Wonderland of Science,” and was one of the first museums in the nation to offer a hands-on approach to learning about the physical world. It has been expanded over the years to contain more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, two auditoriums, and the Tuttleman IMAX Theater – becoming the most visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a top-five tourist destination in the City of Philadelphia, and one of the leading science centers in the country.

Learn hands-on about machines and technology, like a steam locomotive at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Institute also operates the Fels Planetarium, the second oldest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. The Institute is home to the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, which was fully restored in 2010 and which is open free to the public. It is one of just a handful of national memorials in the custody of a private institution.

The new 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion which opened in June 2014, houses a STEM education and conference center, a climate-controlled traveling exhibition gallery, and (an amazing) new permanent exhibit Your Brain, in which visitors can explore neuroscience and their own senses.

Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th St., 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu.

Staying at The Roost East Market apartment hotel really enabled us to be part of the city, most of what we wanted to see within walking distance. It’s not hyperbole to say the comfort of a fully-equipped, gorgeously furnished apartment meets luxury amenities of a boutique hotel.  All of the apartments feature full-size kitchens with cookware and utensils (I especially love not having to go out for breakfast) and king size beds. A third-floor is devoted to guest amenities including a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center, magnificent and comfortable lounge areas and library, a huge demo kitchen, a private screening room, an outside, 20-meter heated lap pool, barbecue area, landscaped terrace, community vegetable garden;  and bike-share program. There is also 24-hour front desk and concierge, security (you need your card to access the elevator and public areas); and direct access to a parking garage.  They even arrange dog-walking and grocery delivery services. (The Roost East Market, 1199 Ludlow Street Philadelphia, PA 19107, 844-697-6678, https://myroost.com/philadelphia/east-market/).

One of the lounge areas for guests at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The outdoor, heated lap pool at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The living room in our two-bedroom apartment at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

See also:

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: The Barnes Foundation

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: Independence Hall, National Museum of American Jewish History

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures