By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Our ship, CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse, sails early in the morning of Day 6 of our Prague-Berlin river cruise for Wittenberg, reaching this historic city, the epicenter of the Reformation lined with noble Renaissance-style houses and a marvelous way of preserving history, in the early afternoon.
The Martin Luther House, which was once an Augustinian monastery and now is the Reformation Museum, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complete surprise – I might even say a revelation. I never expected to be so fascinated, so captivated by the unfolding of Martin Luther’s personal story so vividly depicted in the furnishings, artifacts, portraits and seeing where he actually lived, preserved pretty much as it would have been when he lived here. You begin to appreciate how one man could set a movement of such enormity – the Reformation! – into motion, how a single person could captivate and change the world.
I start off fairly disinterested but as I go through the house – the museum contains 1000 original objects from the Reformation over the centuries to the present including the many publications he put out – the answer comes quickly: the Guttenberg printing press (there is even a replica). You realize that Luther and the Guttenberg printing press were like today’s social media influencers. Indeed, by 1520, Luther had become a media sensation, unlike anything anyone had seen before.
Among Luther’s ideas that were heretical to the Catholic Church: Sins cannot be redeemed simply through confession, but faith; he reduced the seven sacraments to two, baptism and holy communion; he called ordination, confession, and last rites as “tricks of priests” to exert power. He called for the abolition of celibacy (and used that as the reason he got married, so he would not be a hypocrite); and said, “A Christian is free, subservient to no one (but subservient to all)” and he called upon the “electors and sovereigns” to implement the Reformation.
But the most controversial, which really roiled the entire institution, was the idea you can’t buy redemption with an Indulgence (the next day in a church in Magdeburg, we see the wooden box that would have been used to collect the Indulgences), and that priests can’t rid people of sin,
In June 1520, a Papal Bull accused Luther of 41 errors and gave him 60 days to recant. Instead, he created a media spectacle and burned the papal bull and other items.
Luther basically removed priests as the middle man between a Christian and his faith, and is most famous for translating the Bible into German, to make it more accessible (if I remember correctly, Jesus did the same thing to the priests).
Luther had been a monk and his wife, Katharina von Bora, a nun, given over to a convent because her family could not afford to support her, lived here for 35 years.
In what would have been their bedroom, we learn that Katarina fled the nunnery to marry Luther. A monk at the time, Luther said he should practice what he preached – abolition of celibacy. There is a wonderful quote from him (just about everything he said was dutifully transcribed by adoring followers) describing the surprising changes in his life after marriage, and the pleasures of being part of a couple. They had six children of whom four survived to adulthood.
We also see the living room where he would meet guests, have discussions with adoring followers. It’s like being in “the room where it happened” – where these ideas were formulated, transcribed, transmitted.
The couple became well to do after their marriage. Katarina, who clearly did so much to propel Luther (among the journal accounts is how she poured beer for the guests), farmed, and rented rooms to students.
Having been informed the day before to the importance of artist Lucas Cranach the Elder by my traveling companion, I am alert to seeing several Cranach paintings here, including the first authentic portrait of Luther, several others of Luther, and his monumental panel of 10 Commandments. (The English-language audio tour is invaluable to appreciating what you see.)
At this point, I am admiring of Luther and how he democratized religion, breaking the theocratic authority of the Pope and priests. But I later learn that in two of his later works, Luther expressed violent antisemitic views and called for the burning of synagogues and expulsion of Jews (I wonder if Luther regarded Judaism as a rival for worshippers.)
Luther wrote of a sculpture depicting an antisemitic scene, “Here in Wittenberg, in our parish church,” Luther wrote, “there is a sow carved into the stone under which lie young pigs and Jews who are sucking; behind the sow stands a rabbi who is lifting up the right leg of the sow, raises behind the sow, bows down and looks with great effort into the Talmud under the sow, as if he wanted to read and see something most difficult and exceptional; no doubt they gained their Schem Hamphoras from that place.” The inscription “Rabini Schem HaMphoras” was installed above the sculpture 27 years later, in Luther’s honor.
My traveling companion on the ship – who is from Munich – has told me to look for the sculpture in the church which I assume (incorrectly) is the Castle Church where Luther posted his Theses.
I still have about an hour to explore Wittenberg on my own (the rest of our group are all French-speaking and led by a guide) – really not enough time. I would have loved to have the whole afternoon to wander. But, armed with an excellent map that pinpoints 36 important sites, I set out with an aim of finding the church and the sculpture.
I head to the old market square and the Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther delivered most of his sermons, and is the site of the first celebration of Mass in German instead of Latin. Wittenberg in general—and the Stadtkirche in particular—is considered the heart of the Protestant Reformation. There is a statue of Luther outside.
But on the map, behind the church, I see a street name, Judenstrasse (Jew Street) that suggests the Jewish Quarter would have been right here.
I later learn (from an article in Smithsonian, “Hatred in Plain Sight”) that around the back of the Stadtkirche set into the facade is the carved sandstone sculpture depicting a rabbi lifts the tail of a pig to look for his Talmud that Luther referred to, that I was looking for.
“The sandstone sculpture is a once-common form of medieval iconography called a “Judensau,” or’Jew’s pig.’ Its existence predates the Nazi period by nearly 700 years. Sculptures of Jews and pigs started appearing in architecture in the 1300s, and the printing press carried on the motif in everything from books to playing cards well into the modern period,” Carol Schaeffer writes in the Smithsonian. “Today, more than 20 Judensau sculptures are still incorporated into German churches and cathedrals, with a few others in neighboring countries. At least one Judensau—on the wall of a medieval apothecary in Bavaria—was taken down for its offensive nature, but its removal in 1945 is thought to have been ordered by an American soldier. The Judensau in Wittenberg is one of the best preserved—and one of the most visible. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage site.”
There was an effort in Wittenberg to “solve its Judensau conundrum” by turning the site into a Mahnmal – a memorial to the Jewish people.
“After five years of deliberation, those in charge of the project decided that the Judensau would remain—but they would add a memorial to the Jewish people. Unveiled in 1988, it is now installed on the ground in bronze. Two crossing lines are surrounded by text that reads: “The proper name of God, the maligned Schem-ha-mphoras, was held holy by the Jews long before the Christians. Six million Jews died under the sign of a cross.” Alongside those German words is a Hebrew quotation, the beginning of Psalm 130: ‘Out of the depths I cry unto Thee, O Lord’,” Schaeffer writes.
Neither of these are included on the map, and I miss them entirely, thinking that the sculpture is in the Castle Church.
But I do find the Cranach House. I’ve become fascinated with Lucas Cranach who turns out to have been an apothecary as well as important artist whose portraits filled the Luther House, and whose works decorate many church altars (including the one we had just visited in Meissen). You can visit the original apothecary (it’s still a pharmacy), and then go through to a courtyard where the Cranachs would have lived and today there is an art school. He and his son also served as Wittenberg’s burgomaster (mayor).
I later learn how important Lucas Cranach the Elder was in popularizing – spreading – the Reformation. Cranach was the court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, ground zero for the Protestant Reformation. His patrons were powerful supporters of Martin Luther and he embraced the movement, using his art to spread the new faith. Cranach made numerous portraits of Luther – several that we see in the Luther House – and provided woodcut illustrations for Luther’s German translation of the Bible. Cranach became such a close friend of Martin Luther that he was best man at Luther’s wedding and later godfather to his son. At some point, the duke gave Cranach the monopoly for selling medicines at Wittenberg and a printer’s patent with exclusive privileges as to copyright in Bibles. Cranach’s presses were used by Martin Luther. His apothecary shop was open for centuries, and was only lost by fire in 1871.
I notice that apartments on the second floor of many buildings through the town have names of their important occupants: Maxim Gorki (1903), Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, German playwright, poet, and philosopher. Jeremias Trautmann, German physician who performed the first completely documented cesarean section, in Wittenberg, Germany, on April 26, 1610. And very close to the Castle Church, one name really stands out: Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), who lived here in 1852.
I make it to the famous door of the Castle Church where, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther is said to have posted his 95 Theses, challenging the notion that indulgences can buy salvation, setting off The Reformation. The old wooden Theses Door was lost when the church was destroyed by fire in 1760. In 1858, King Frederick William IV of Prussia funded the bronze door with the Latin theses.
I don’t have time to go into the Castle Church (the Elbe Princesse group that was guided did). You can also pay a small fee to climb the tower.
I really would have liked more time to explore Wittenberg, a truly beautiful and well preserved historic village. (You can purchase an audio tour of the sites.)
We get back on the bus and then back on the ship for lunch, and then a relaxing afternoon sailing to Burg. In the evening, we have another marvelous dinner and entertainment. Tomorrow, we discover why Magdeburg is so interesting.
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:
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).
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/)
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.
The theme of this part of my journey could well be exploration. I had not realized thatthe 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
There can be nothing more full of hope and promise for the future in this holiday season for a traveler than a gift that speaks to that wanderlust. The holiday spirit is manifesting differently this year, but nonetheless splendorous.
And travel companies offer Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals which can make that bucket list that much less costly but still as valuable. There are so many that you should just check the websites of travel companies, tour operators, hospitality companies you are interested in, but here are some examples:
&Beyond is offering 20% discount on its series of ‘7 Wonders in 7 Days’ itineraries designed to offer a longer stay in one destination with less travel time for travel dates through Dec. 15, 2021. Each itinerary includes conservation and community experiences as a way to do good while travelling. The discount will apply to a selection of itineraries across Africa and South Americaon inquiries made on Cyber Monday (Nov. 30) only. https://www.andbeyond.com/cyber-monday/
G Adventures is offering up to 21% off select worldwide tours (like Costa Rica, Iceland, Peru), $1 upfront deposits and 21% off My Own Room (gaadventures.com, 800-280-5214).
REI (which I love for clothing and specialized equipment, especially when they offer sales) is also an adventure travel company, and is offering 10 percent off 2021 private departures booked by Nov. 23. For groups of four or more, the cost per person is actually the same as our regular trips. Call for an estimate: 877-326-0470, [email protected].
Hurtigruten’s Black Friday sale offers savings up to 50% off pp, and book with discounted deposit of $500 pp. Hurtigruten operates premium expedition cruises on small, purpose-built, hybrid ships designed specifically to sail in remote waters and reduce carbon footprint to Alaska, Antarctica, the Caribbean & Central America, Greenland, Iceland, North America, the Northwest Passage, Norway, South America, and Svalbard (Hurtigruten.com, 888-412-2590)
The White Elephant Resorts portfolio, including Jared Coffin House, The Cottages, The Wauwinet, White Elephant, and the Boat Basin in Nantucket, and newly opened White Elephant Palm Beach in Florida (debuted November 4), will offer 20% off the best available rate on bookings made from Black Friday through Cyber Monday for travel through Dec. 31, 2121. (www.whiteelephantresorts.com/ Booking code: Cyber)
Island Outpost properties in Jamaica, Strawberry Hill and The Caves, is offering 30% off bookings (minimum two nights) made from Black Friday through Cyber Monday (for travel January 4-December 19, 2021, with holiday blackouts).
The Setting Inn, Napa Valley will offer 30% off all three-night bookings made from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, including $100 credit at Bottega Napa Valley restaurant and $100 transportation credit with Beau Wine Tours for travel Nov. 27, 2020-March 31, 2021.
The Meritage Resort & Spa and Vista Collina Resort & Spa will offer 21% off all two-night bookings made from Black Friday through December 1, 2020 for travel through April 30, 2021. The Meritage Collection will also donate $21 per stay to the First Responders Children’s Foundation to support the families of first responders. https://meritagecollection.com/specials/black-friday-offer
Gift the gift of genealogy: start tracing roots for a future trip to discover heritage. Ancestry.com is offering 20% discount on gift memberships (through Nov. 25). Then, trace your family story on genealogy tours, created in collaboration with Ancestry, where each trip includes an AncestryDNA® kit and pre-trip family history review and a genealogist from AncestryProGenealogists® accompanies your tour group to answer questions about your heritage. (https://www.goaheadtours.com/travel-styles/heritage-tours, 800-590-1161; check Black Friday deals).
Heritage tours are a whole genre. Here’s another: Dromoland Castle, a 16th century castle-turned-hotel set in the countryside of County Clare, Ireland is offering a new genealogy package for families looking to trace their Irish roots. After filling out their family history, the in-house genealogist, Lorna Maloney, will host a private 45-minute Zoom call to give a genealogy review, then prepares the full results along with next steps on familial connections or travel suggestions. This can take place over Zoom or, ideally, at the Castle over tea and scones. The genealogy package starts at £220 for the Zoom conference, and nightly rates at the hotel start at $367 per night, double occupancy. (dromoland.ie)
The South Africa-based adventure, ecotourism and safari company, &beyond, is offering a slew of travel gifts that don’t require travel, including virtual experiences such as three-hour safaris; private, one-on-one sessions with conservation and marine experts; a virtual, interactive birding masterclass with leading birding specialists; virtual cooking masterclasses; a safari-themed children’s party; virtual session with certified nature and forest meditation therapy guide; yoga sessions; a virtual tango lesson; authentic African handicrafts and luxury accessories; or give a voucher for future travel (www.andbeyond.com/magazine/10-gifts-that-dont-require-travel/, andbeyondsafarishopping.com/)
Travel Gifts that Give Back
Many major travel companies that adhere to the principles of sustainability and responsible travel also are deliberate about giving back to communities and conserving heritage and resources. Among them Pure Adventures, Overseas Adventure Travel (Grand Circle Foundation, www.oattravel.com/oat-difference/grand-circle-foundation), Butterfield & Robinson, Austin Adventures (Wheels of Change) and Wildland Adventures (just acquired by Austin Adventures, which has Travelers Conservation Trust, www.tct.global) and The Travel Corporation (ttc.com), which is a family of 40 travel and hospitality companies.
TTC’s charitable foundation, TreadRight, is using holiday gift giving to benefit its project partners and sustainable initiatives around the world – artisans and conservation projects hard-hit by the collapse of international travel. TreadRight is bringing these artisans to you:
Butterfield & Robinson also has a foundation that supports conservation and cultural projects (https://www.butterfield.com/about/we-give-back/) as well as an B&R Artisan Marketplace promotes the small businesses and independent artists that you would otherwise encounter on trips (https://www.butterfield.com/br-artisan-marketplace/)
Give the Gift That Keeps Giving
Travel is a gift that keeps giving, living inside with memories and life-enhancing, life-changing experiences, with developing a global citizen value system, and forging bonds among family and friends. A way to immortalize those memorable travel experiences and family events is to create a photo book (the entire process online). MilkBooks.com, a New Zealand-based company, produces superb quality photo books and albums, offering great value, excellent customer service with online chats or by phone, and timely delivery (you need about 2-3 weeks), and offers discounts for first-timers.
I used the opening of the brand new Museum of the American Revolution as the theme for my three-day visit to Philadelphia – a really deep dive probe of the Revolutionary War era, a return to understanding the founding of the nation, through, original documents, materials and artifacts, at a time when we need to be reminded – everything from the off-hand comment by Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly that the Civil War could have been averted if only there were compromise (he should go to the National Constitution Center), to the quixotic amazement of a US Treasury official pining on his research into what’s this thing, “The American Dream,” before adopting the biggest redistribution of wealth since the Gilded Age, to the right-wing meme that America is a (white) “Christian Nation.”
Philadelphia is like hopping from time-capsule to time-capsule because you go from one authentic site where events happened, where the Founders and builders of this nation actually stood, to another. Come, time-travel with me. And the best way to appreciate it – and be wonderfully surprised at ever twist and turn– is to walk. That’s how you come upon things you never considered – the historic markers which point out where Wanamaker’s Department Store was, the Ricketts Circus, the American Philosophical Society (founded by Ben Franklin). I see an Art Deco “Automat” sign; the stunning Art Deco architecture of a building, gorgeous giant murals that pop up out of no where. I practically fall over what closer inspection tells me is the very townhouse whereThomas Jefferson stayed when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (called “Declaration House”), a short walk from Independence Hall.
This is why it is so terrific that my hotel, the Sonesta Downtown Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square is so well located (1800 Market St. Philadelphia 19103, 215-561-7500).
It’s the afternoon when I arrive at the Sonesta Hotel on Market Street (a parking garage is adjacent) and after checking in, I have just enough time to explore one attraction on my list.
I am headed to the Betsy Ross House, walking down Market Street, literally through Philadelphia’s magnificent City Hall. Walking, you get to see the markers which discuss the history of this site and how the city was planned out. You also can stand on a podium and have a photo taken of yourself as a monument.
As I walk passed the lawn that is just opposite Independence Hall, I spot a huge banner proclaiming the George Washington’s famous words, “Happily the Government of the United States Gives to Bigotry no Sanction, to Persecution No Assistance,” and a statue, in commemoration of the nation’s centennial, “ dedicated to “Religious Liberty. Dedicated to the People of the United States by the Order B’nai B’Rith and Israelites of America.” Then I see a small banner advertising the National Museum of American Jewish History and realize I am standing in front of it. Who knew there was such a thing?
In point of fact, the museum has only been in this building in a prime location in the historic district since 2010; previously, the original collection which formed the basis of this grand museum was housed in Philadelphia’s oldest synagogue, Congregation Mikveh Israel, known as the “Synagogue of the American Revolution,” is the oldest formal congregation in Philadelphia, and the oldest continuously operating synagogue in the United States. It dates back to 1740 when Thomas Penn granted land to Nathan Levy for a burial plot for his son. The current incarnation of the synagogue, a modern building, is only about a block away from the Museum, tucked behind (appropriately enough), the Bible Society Building which is directly across the street from the National American Jewish History museum, and across the street, as it happens, from the National Constitution Center. It all fits together and is most appropriate for my visit to Philadelphia this weekend timed for a family Bat Mitzvah.
I have a little less than two hours before the museum closes, and you need a minimum of 2 ½ (good news: the ticket is good for a two-day visit).
The National Museum of American Jews was a revelation to me – beginning with why it is “National”: it is the only museum of its kind in the nation. That’s why.
I have seen parts of the story in other venues – notably Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (www.tourosynagogue.org), the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida; Ellis Island and the Jewish Museum in New York City– but none presented such a comprehensive unfolding of the epic Jewish experience in America that dates back nearly as far as the Puritans in Plymouth (though Jews first settled in the New World since Columbus).
Its exhibits and galleries, the artifacts and commentary brilliantly presented to express complex concepts – the sweep of history, in effect – but taken down to very personal levels of a person, with a face, a name and a genealogy.
Non-Christians were part of this country’s founding and the Founders, who were humanists, globalists and men of the Enlightenment – among them George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin – were not only tolerant of other religions but open-minded about philosophies. But what is painfully clear are the strains of anti-Semitism and racism that have persisted throughout American history despite George Washington’s assurances to the Touro congregation (“To Bigotry No Sanction,”), despite the Bill of Rights and the Naturalization Act of 1790 which bar the establishment of religion, an issue as relevant as today’s headlines.
There are four floors which wrap around a huge atrium, each floor devoted to a different era and theme. The displays, including multi-media , interactive stations, and artifacts, are well presented to convey complex, even nuanced concepts, intertwining real people with places, historical events and cultural movements. In some instances, it is the sheer numbers that impress.
Foundations of Freedom: 1654 – 1880
I start on the top floor, “Foundations of Freedom: 1654-1880”. Do most Americans realize that Jews were already settled in the New World colonies from 1654? A giant map shows the trade routes that coincided with Jewish migration, especially after the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, which drove many into the Caribbean islands. (How many people realize that the first white settlement were of Marrano Jews in Jamaica?) Then, when the Spanish took over, a group fled Barbados where they had lived since the 1620s, to Newport, Rhode Island in 1658.
You gaze at a family tree of the first Jewish families, most of Portuguese background.
Asher Levy came to North America in 1654; look down his family tree and you come to Arthur Sulzburger (1881-1964), whose family publishes the New York Times.
By the 1600s, a small group of Jews settled around Charleston, SC; a 1669 constitution, written by John Locke, granted “Jews, heathens and other dissenters” the freedom to worship.
Throughout the displays, there is a kind of running count which puts into perspective Jews in America:
“European laws excluded Jews from most trades except finance and commerce, so they settled in port cities. In 1700, there were 250 Jews among the population of 250,000 white settlers in colonial America; zero synagogues. The population grew slowly, from a mere 250 out of a population of 250,000 to 2500 out of a population of 3.9 million by the end of the 1700s.
In Savannah in 1733, there were 42 Jews – the largest single Jewish group to arrive in colonies up to that time. Among them, was a Jewish doctor who arrived during an epidemic and began caring for ill and dying.
Jews arrived in Philadelphia in the 1730s; by 1760, there were close to 100 Jews.
We learn that Jewish Americans were split (like the colonists) over whether to side with the Patriots or the Loyalists in the American Revolution, based on livelihood, families and aspirations, but “most Jews stood for independence.”
New York’s Jews collaborated with British Loyalists; Jews who sided with Patriots escaped to Philadelphia.
The US Constitution made American Jews citizens in 1790, but some states had laws lasting well into the 19th century barring Jews from holding public office (despite the Bill of Rights’ first amendment which prohibits the establishment of religion).
“To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” George Washington wrote in 1790 to the congregation of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, founded by Portuguese Jews in 1763 who fled their settlements in the Caribbean when it appeared the Inquisition would be imported there from Spain and Portugal.
Of the 3.9 million population in the fledgling nation, 2,500 were Jews; 9 of 13 states required public officials to be Christian even though the 1790 Naturalization Act contained no religious requirement.
A theme that runs through is of what it means to perpetually be a minority in America.
Innovation & Expansion
A section themed “Innovation & Expansion” is part of the timeline of Jews in America usually ignored entirely, but Jews were very much a part of the Westward expansion and the march to the Industrial Revolution.
From 1820-1870, the United States doubled in physical size, the population quadrupled and the Industrial Revolution transformed society.
For Europeans, America beckoned as a land of opportunity; millions of immigrants crossed to be the laborers that built the factories, railroads, roads, including 200,000 Jews, attracted by promise of economic and political freedom.
The population of Jews during this period mushroomed, from 2500 to 250,000.
Here we see the photos and effects of families, personifying the experience.
There is a large map spread out on the floor where you can play a video that shows the expansion; and a whole room where you see, city by city, how Jews populated them, and particular highlights.
In New York City, in 1823, for example, the first Jewish periodical, “The Jew” began publishing. During the 1800s, New York City became a center of political, economic and cultural life of American Jews. By 1840, a majority of American Jews lived in the city; the population grew to 60,000 by 1860.
Baltimore saw its total population increase from 120,000 to 320,000 during the mid-1800s, with its Jewish population increasing from 100 to over 10,000 by mid-1860s.
Other cities: Cincinnati, where Hebrew Union College opened in 1875;
Trinidad Colorado was where the B’nai B’rith was founded in 1843, modeled after the Masons, Odd Fellows and other fraternal organizations.
With each display, there are specific people who are associated and here, we learn of the “Girl Rabbi of the Golden West: Pioneering female Jewish revivalist” (she gave up preaching when she married).
The Civil War was as traumatic for Jewish Americans as it was for the rest of the country.
Just as Jewish colonists were divided over the issue of joining the Revolution or remaining loyal, there were also splits over supporting Union or the Confederacy, largely based on where they were living and their livelihood. In the section themed, “Union & Disunion,” the Civil War era, it notes, “Jews never unified on issue of secession or slavery: 10,000 Jews fought in the Civil War: 7000 for Union, 3000 for Confederacy. Which side depended largely on where they lived as well as their livelihood.
3rd floor — Dreams of Freedom: 1880 – 1945
You can easily spend two hours just on the fourth floor alone, but I see how limited my time is and go down to the third floor: themed “Dreams of Freedom: 1880-1945”, chronicling the migration of millions of immigrants who came to the United States beginning in the late 19th century who profoundly reshaped the American Jewish community and the nation as a whole.
The first section of this floor considers immigration and integration: getting to America, making a home, the reception immigrant Jews received, and learning to negotiate American society. The second section takes up life after Congress legislated the end of free and open immigration in 1924. Through the lenses of the fine and performing arts, political activism, and religious expression, it explores how Jews defined what it meant to be an American Jew during an insecure period of American, and world, history. The final section of Dreams of Freedom delves into how American Jews experienced World War II.
It addresses the strain of anti-Semitism that has existed throughout American history, going back to colonial times – in Newport (when Lopez was refused American citizenship and had to get it in the Massachusetts colony), and New Amsterdam, when Peter Stuyvesant wanted to throw Jews out but the Hudson Bay Company insisted Jews be given rights, even despite George Washington’s pronouncement and the First Amendment to the Constitution.
So even though the Constitution provided for religious freedom, states denied Jews the right to hold political office; even after World War II, Jews were denied access to housing, hotels, country clubs, college and jobs.
And as the Roaring Twenties was followed by the Great Depression, a virulent strain of anti-Semitism re-emerged leading up to World War II, when many in Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet and the majority of Americans content to let Hitler and Nazi Germany begin its murderous campaign against European Jews. “No War for Me” characterized mood of Americans not to lift a finger to help Jews during the Holocaust. (Breckinridge Long, assistant secretary of state, pushed for strict immigration controls that blocked Jewish refugees from escaping the Nazis.)
Choices and Challenges of Freedom: 1945 – Today
The Museum’s second floor begins in the immediate postwar period with stories of migration, from war torn Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the Soviet Union. Within the United States, as well, Likewise, between 1945 and 1965, there was a huge migration: about a third of all American Jews left large urban centers and established themselves in new suburban communities like Long Island. For Jews and non-Jews alike, a suburban home became a sign of success, prestige, and security-a “Shangri-La” for the middle class.
After World War II, American Jews felt comfortable with their identity and Jewish communities thrived in the new suburban communities of the 1950s into the 1960s – 60% of Jewish families belonged to synagogue, twice the percentage as 30 years before. Community synagogues were a locus for Jewish life and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs became legendary affairs; Jewish kids went to Jewish summer camps and families vacationed in the Borscht Belt of the Catskills. You walk through a mock-up of a 1950s suburban house, such as you might have found in Levittown, Long Island, where a black-and-white TV is airing an episode of a Jewish American sit-com, “The Goldbergs.”
Here you see how Jewish American culture went mainstream. The museum incorporates multi-media – videos, sound tracks – there is a small theater where you watch performances by Jewish entertainers going back to early films, theater and television (Fannie Brice, Marx Brothers, George Burns, Three Stooges, Eddie Cantor, Bud Abbott, Sophie Tucker, Al Jolson); a series of changing images of major figures like Simon & Garfunkle, Carole King.
American Jews felt comfortable enough in American society to emerge as activists who championed civil rights, women’s rights and social and political justice, including Gloria Steinem and Bela Abzug.
The first floor houses an Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame honors 18 Jewish Americans – some well known, others less so, and the choices, challenges and opportunities they encountered on their path to remarkable achievement. Through the lives of real people—some well known, others less so—the gallery, utilizing a combination of multimedia, original artifacts and interactive experiences, weaves compelling stories from the past and present with the larger themes of the Museum.
The first 18 individuals featured in the Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame are: Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Louis Brandeis, Albert Einstein, Mordecai Kaplan, Sandy Koufax, Esteé Lauder, Emma Lazarus, Isaac Leeser, Golda Meir, Jonas Salk, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Rose Schneiderman, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Henrietta Szold, and Isaac Mayer Wise. Recent inductees include Gertrude B. Elion and Julius Rosenwald.
There are also special exhibits: the upcoming one is Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music, which celebrates the centennial birthday of one of the 20th century’s most influential cultural figures, who personified classical music and produced a rich repertoire of original compositions for orchestra and the theater. “Audiences may be familiar with many of Bernstein’s works, notably West Side Story, but not necessarily how he grappled with his own religious, political, and sexual identity, or how he responded to the political and social crises of his day. Visitors will find an individual who expressed the restlessness, anxiety, fear, and hope of an American Jew living through World War II and the Holocaust, Vietnam, and turbulent social change – what Bernstein referred to as his ‘search for a solution to the 20th‐century crisis of faith’.” The exhibition will feature one‐of‐a‐kind historic artifacts, all brought to life through immersive film, sound installations, and interactive media. (On view March 16 – September 2, 2018.)
Free public hour-long Highlights tours are usually offered daily at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm. (Availability is subject to change, so check at the Admissions Desk on the day of your visit for confirmed times.) Space is limited; interested visitors should request tour badges from Admissions to reserve a spot, which are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
More than 30,000 artifacts form the basis of the core exhibition. You can browse selected objects on its site as well as search the Museum’s online collections database, and its Pinterest page.
You need at least 2 ½ hours but the ticket is good for two consecutive days.
National Museum of American Jewish History; 101 South Independence Mall East; Philadelphia, PA; 19106-2517; (215) 923-3811; www.nmajh.org
I am chased out of the museum at closing (they are setting up for a wedding), and am intrigued to visit Mikveh Israel synagogue a short walk away. It is Friday evening and the synagogue, which is Sephardic, is getting ready for Sabbath services.
Mikveh Israel traces its beginning to 1740, when Thomas Penn granted land to Nathan Levy for a burial ground for Levy’s infant son. There, Levy established a cemetery for the Jewish community. Mikveh Israel’s first house of worship was completed in 1782 with financial assistance from Benjamin Franklin, among others. The synagogue has moved several times before returning to its original neighborhood in 1976, the Bicentennial.
Mikveh Israel follows the Spanish-Portuguese (Sephardic) ritual, introduced by Reverend Gershom Mendez Seixas, who, in 1780, came to serve as Hazzan (Congregational Leader). This relatively modern building, not far from its original 1782 redbrick structure on Cherry Street, is its fifth since the synagogue’s founding. (Limited hours to visit. 44 N. 4th St. Philadelphia PA 19106, 215-922-5446, www.mikvehisrael.org/.)
The Jewish cemetery on 8th and Spruce Streets, part of Independence National Historical Park, includes the grave of Rebecca Gratz, who is believed to be the inspiration for the character Rebecca in Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe,” and memorials to Haym Salomon, who helped finance the American Revolution.
Just outside Mikveh Israel, there is a monument of Uriah Phillip Levy, born in Philadelphia in 1792, a 5th generation American (his great-great grandfather, Dr. Samuel Nunez, arrived in America in 1733 and was a founder of the city of Savannah, Georgia). Levy left for sea when he was 10 years old, returning to Philadelphia for his Bar Mitzvah. He joined the US Navy in 1812, serving with distinction in the War of 1812. During his 50-year career in the Navy, he was court marshaled 6 times and killed a man in a duel – all related to anti-Semitism. He became the first Jewish Commodore of the United States Navy. During the Civil War, he helped repeal the practice of flogging sailors.
Levy was a great admirer of Thomas Jefferson and purchased Monticello in 1834 – at that point, Jefferson’s mansion home was in a terrible state of disrepair. Levy restored and renovated the structure, and opened it for public viewing. but local people were incensed that such a structure was owned by a Jew, they tried to have the property taken away. A World War II destroyer was named in his honor, the USS Levy, as well as the Jewish chapel at Norfolk Naval Base; he is buried at Beth Olam cemetery in Queens (Emma Lazarus is as well).
(Our exploration into Revolutionary War America continues with the Museum of the American Revolution, Ben Franklin Museum, Betsy Ross House and National Constitution Center.)
Visit Philadelphia provides excellent trip planning tools, including hotel packages, itineraries, events listings: 30 S 17th Street, Philadelphia PA 19103, 215-599-0776, visitphilly.com.