My husband Ira and I very much enjoyed our recent trip to Spain. It’s amazing how three religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – overlap in this nation. A building may have been originally constructed as a temple, and then become a mosque, and then, many years later, a church.
We were lucky enough to visit Toledo and Cordoba to see the three oldest synagogues in Spain.
In Toledo, we visited the Sinagoga del Transito, which was built in 1361 and is now a Sephardic museum. It displays Jewish artifacts, including books, menorahs and costumes. It was built by Muslim craftsmen with Christian approval. It has intricate geometric carvings in stucco of leaves, vines, flowers and Hebrew writing.
We also visited the Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca in Toledo. It has very Moorish-looking arches and wall carvings that truly make it resemble a mosque. The synagogue was built around 1200 and became a church in 1492, the year King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews.
As you walk around Toledo and Cordoba, you see signs on the walls and streets designating the area as the Jewish Quarter. Some of the street signs point out key sites in the Spanish Inquisition.
Cordoba has a large Jewish Quarter with narrow streets, thick whitewashed walls and beautiful patios. The Sinagoga de Córdoba, built around 1314, is small but beautifully preserved. It is decorated with Jewish stars and quotes in Hebrew from the Psalms, as well as translations. On the east wall is the niche for the ark, which held the Torahs.
We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to connect with our Jewish heritage in such a visceral way.