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!).

Chanukah on the High Seas

It will feel rather strange for us not to be celebrating Chanukah with Kol HaLev this year--it will be the first time that I have not been there to help Rabbi Geoff with the singing and candlelighting, and I will miss being with you in person. But Ricki and I will certainly be there with you in spirit. I have the rare and wonderful honor of serving as the Cantor aboard the Queen Mary 2 this month, and that, of course, includes Chanukah. My "temporary congregation" will consist of folks from all across the globe, and I look forward to singing in the holiday with them---to meeting them and learning about their customs, as well. And while I'm here, I will try to post a few blog entries on the KHL website during the next week or two. Please feel free to respond to anything that you find interesting, or just if you want to say hi---through the wonders of modern technology, you can reach me, as always, at

I thought I might just start off with a few things about Chanukah that you might not already know. Historically, the story of Chanukah is not found anywhere in the Jewish Bible--the Torah, Prophets, and Writings--usually called by the acronym "Tanach." This is because the Tanach had been codified several centuries earlier--the events of Purim are included, but not Chanukah.

Hard Working Board

I had the opportunity to sit in on a KHL board meeting this evening.  I was impressed that:

  • the board is very open to member input—an informal atmosphere made it possible to comment and add to the discussion
  • everyone on the board has important and time-consuming tasks, e.g., running Beit Lev, maintaining the software infrastructure, developing social action programs, ensuring community sustainability—this is a hard working board
  • the focus of board work is making sure that the community functions effectively and efficiently

It's clear to me that not only do board members deserve our thanks, but also each of us can help by offering small amounts of our time and talents to assist with the tasks of running the community.  We don't have to be board members to work, and we don't have to work hard.  But each of the small tasks that we might perform means a board member can spend their time on more integrative tasks.  These are simple things like delivering the food collected at Yom Kippur to the food bank, helping to set up the room for Shabbat, being available to clean up for an event.  And, the key is for each of us to volunteer to do tasks, rather than waiting to be asked.