Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Introduction to Lesson 1, Book III

Introduction to Lesson 1, Book III


Those keys - large iron keys in the old Spanish style - lay in drawers and boxes, gathering dust, getting lost among clothes and cooking pots, sometimes for years until the family moved or someone died. Others were hung proudly above the front door; reminders of a culture they had loved and hoped to maintain.

Some years ago an Indiana University professor named Joelle Bahlou wrote an article in a journal that told of a rabbi in New Jersey whose ancestors lived in Spain. One summer, the rabbi went back to the city of Toledo and tried to fit the family's ancient key in the door of the house where they were supposed to have lived before Jews were expelled in 1492. According to rabbi, it fitted the lock perfectly! But of course, these are legends. We don't know for sure. As symbolism, however, his gesture was very meaningful. The presence of the key really did "open" the door to memories and traditions of the past, allowing later generations to learn about the old customs. In the process history was being restored, and with a sense of pride and identity.
But there were also practical reasons why the departing Jews took those keys into exile. In Girona, a town in northeastern Spain, documents have recently been discovered that suggest some of the local people who bought houses from the departing Jews agreed to give them back - provided the Edict of Expulsion was lifted within one year. Those keys could have helped to identify the owner in the days when few people knew how to write.
And, indeed, when the Jews were first expelled in 1492, many of them really did expect to return. Kings and queens were always issuing decrees that later had to be withdrawn, often because they caused more trouble than anyone had expected. But id di not happen in this case. Jews were not officially allowed into Spain until the 20th century - a banishment that lasted for 500 years.

Task 1
Discuss: Does your family have any legends? Do they tell stories about your ancestors or about the places where the family used to live? Or even about the way they lived or some of the things that they did? Write down a few ideas and then discuss them as a class. What might you have taken along to prove that the home you now live in once belonged to your family?

(The lesson continues from here...)


Introduction to Lesson 6, Book II


As we learned in previous lessons, the Jews who stayed in Spain and Portugal after the expulsion had no choice but to convert to Catholicism.


They did not give up. Many continued to practice Judaism in secret while others returned to their Jewish faith whenever they escaped to other lands where it was safe to do so.

A few went on to become the most distinguished Jews of later centuries.

Here is the story of one of them. Her name was Doña Gracia Nasi. She was a woman who felt so strongly about the agony of the converted Jews - who faced discrimination by the rest of the population even if they did not continue to practice their Jewish rituals - that she spent her life and her fortune helping them. It also shows how even 400 years ago certain women could rise above their domestic status to become successful business and community leaders. Her deeds were so outstanding that she was often compared to Queen Esther in the Bible.

Sephardic grandmothers like to tell this story to their granddaughters. Let's look in upon Estrella, a grandmother in Seattle, as she begins to tell the story to her 12-year old granddaughter Sarah.

(The story opens here... where it can become a play with students reading individual parts...)

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