I am sitting in my daughter and son-in-law's apartment in Haifa as I type these words, having stopped in Israel for a few days "on the way" to Spain. Tonight, we have a 4:50 a.m.(!!) flight to Prague and then on to Barcelona.
My theory about what will make this Cantors Assembly Mission to Spain remarkable and special: Many of us know the history (more or LESS) of the Jews of Spain. Many people that I meet have toured Spain and its Jewish sites (or one-time Jewish sites) -- but for most, they lack the visceral experience of that history being THEIR personal history. When we visit Germany and Poland and Russia and see where the Ashkenazic Jews were (and, remarkably in many places, have been returning to live), we know what is missing. We know how they prayed and sang and dressed. We know the foods they ate. Because most of us spring from that tradition.
But this trip to Spain will enable us to bring the culture of the Jews of Spain to life in ways that may have never occurred since the Expulsion of 1492. We will travel with two scholars and many hazzanim who either come from the Spanish, Sephardic, Ladino traditions or at least speak the language and relate to its music in ways that others couldn't.
I have been reading The Jews of Spain by Jane Gerber, a good brief (but not brief enough for the time I have available) history -- so that when the lectures come, the names and places and happenings will be a little more familiar. It's not my first time through the material (in terms of spending time learning about the Jews of Spain -- but it's the kind of thing that sinks in better the 3rd or 4th time!
A final thought this afternoon about connecting Cantors Assembly Missions. . . I took a walk around my kids' Haifa neighborhood a few minutes ago, and walked into and through a stadium that was built here in memory of the athletes who were murdered in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Notwithstanding the fact that the Olympics start very soon in Brazil, the tragedy of 1972 takes me back to the last Cantors Assembly trip when we stood solemnly at the site of the 1972 tragedy. Poland (our first mission in recent times). . . Germany....Spain.
As I read the chapters of Gerber's book, I come to an understanding about how great Jewish life was so many times in the ancient world: Too many people seem to think that Jewish life is about surviving and transcending the Holocaust. One of the things I recognized on my trip to Germany (especially in a Rhine River Cruise which our family did following the CA Mission) was "gee, the Jews got kicked out of here hundreds of years before the Holocaust, too. They had a really well-developed life here in medieval times. I saw the restoration--or preservation--of a mikveh so much larger and more elegant that's anything I ever saw in the Land of Israel.
My conclusion before the trip begins: Tragedies, expulsions, murders have befallen our people many times in our history. And each time, we have moved forward, moved INTO the world to the extent possible (except for certain groups among us) and persevered. I'm looking forward to celebrating the greatness that was and the terrible waste that followed it in song, in prayer, in learning, and in many kinds of celebration. A vivid fiesta for all concerned.