CANTOR’S BLOG: CRUISING THROUGH IBERIA
Hello to everyone at Kol HaLev! As I write this blog entry, we have completed our brief run through Portugal and the Canary Islands, and we are on our way back to Southampton, England. The port cities that we’ve visited— Madeira; Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands; and Lisbon---have been enjoyable, but with little active Jewish life to speak of. One exception: as we were walking back to the ship in Tenerife, we heard an accordion player playing “Tum Balalaika.” Wonder where that came from. . . It’s striking to think of the dynamic Jewish populations of Spain and Portugal prior to their expulsion in 1492, and then to look at their absence today, so we arranged for a special tour in Lisbon. Ricki and I and our new friend, Mitch (one of our regular Chanukah attendees) had a personal Jewish tour of Lisbon. Our guide informed us that there were about 50 Jewish families there, and that if someone asked them if they were Jewish, they would not admit to it---until they found out that you were Jewish yourself, in which case they would connect with you.
Our guide in Lisbon took us to where the Inquisition courts had been—there is now a theater on that spot, and Portuguese Jews never enter that building out of respect for those who died there. She shared lots of history with us (too much to share here) and took us to where there had been a massacre of all Jews in 1509, to the chagrin of the King who was out of the country at the time. The King then ordered those who perpetrated that massacre to be put to death. We visited places where, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Jews who had managed to escape the Nazis stayed and waited for exit visas—one Portuguese man was responsible for 30,000 visas for Jews (more than Schindler!).