by Rabbi Dorit Edut~
These narrow, dark cobblestone streets still echo with the click-click of many shoes, sandals, boots…. of the modern tourists, flamenco dancers and local yuppies who now populate these gentrifying neighborhoods where once there stood a Jewish ghetto – Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Granada… Small tiles with the words” Chai” in Hebrew or the Menorah symbol can be found scattered on the sidewalks. A Magen David is discovered above a balcony window, etched in the stone wall. The synagogues are now museums or churches or convents. Even at the advertised Sefardic restaurants there are no Jewish servers or managers. A statute of Maimonides sits alone in a small front courtyard, looking out abstractedly at the ongoings of generations after him, while a huge purple bougainvillea spreads behind him. The cathedrals of the Catholic monarchs, built purposely in the middle of these formerly Jewish neighborhoods like some kind of weeds – are also museums today.
There are silent sentries who remember – the ancient olive trees – the granite, dolomite and sandstone rocks which form mountain chains – and the endless blue waves of the Mediterranean whooshing on the eastern shores of Spain upon which our ancestors first sailed to this land- and later fled in the Edict of Expulsion. There were glorious “golden” years until the Moors and Muslim rule, when names like Hasdai ibn Shaprut, Samuel ibn Nagdela, Solomon ibn Gabirol became household names for their high positions or their famous writings, when wealthy Jews donned silks and lace, made golden and silver candlesticks and other ritual objects, when Arabic, Hebrew, and Ladino were spoken on the streets and in the courtyards …..
Silence now as the wind rustles through the cypress trees and the husky smell of oleander bushes catches one’s attention. Suddenly there are strange sounds coming from the thick top branches of a row of acacia trees and several wild parrots sweep down and back around – non-native pets brought here from Australia, now released, finding hiding places and adjusting to this new environment . Will they learn to sing the songs of Andalusia and Iberia? Will they be driven out by larger, more powerful native birds – the buzzard, the kestrel, or the grey heron, or the great white egret? Will anyone notice and put parrot feathers in a natural history museum one day?
But all this is but part of the great mystery of life. We are here today, the descendants of those Spanish poets, philosophers, merchants, craftspeople and viziers. And even if our days seem to be troubled now, we can find hope as they did in the words of their inspired poetry and their belief in God’s infinite power:
From Thee to Thee I fly to win
A place of refuge, and within
Thy shadow from Thy anger hide,
Until Thy wrath be turned aside.
–from The Royal Crown by Salomon ibn Gabirol
For over 40 years, Rabbi Dorit Edut has been a Jewish educator in Metro Detroit. She was ordained in 2006 at the Academy for Jewish Religion, a pluralistic Jewish seminary, in Riverdale, NY. She served congregations for eight years and then brought together a diverse group of clergy and civic leaders in Detroit to create the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network (DION), where religious and faith groups share their projects and gain support from this network. DION has also created a literacy tutoring service for two elementary schools in Detroit, holds interfaith services with potlucks and social/educational programs every few months to spiritually uplift Detroit, is working with an urban gardening group, and has created programs for career exploration, conflict resolution, and arts and cultural awareness for youth and families in Detroit. Expanding an annual program of Muslim-Jewish Twinning, in April 2015 Rabbi Dorit helped to create the Greater Detroit Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Council to encourage social action and cultural exchanges. Rabbi Dorit strongly believes in the power of interfaith work to bring peace and enlightenment into our modern world.