A window in time
Above: This is the actual border bridge at Castelo de Vide, Portugal, used by hundreds of weary Jewish refugees fleeing Spain. A plaque now marks the event and all that happened there.
To understand more about our ancestors, we need to learn more about how Jews in general lived in centuries past. This series traces the history of the multitude of Jews whose ancestors came from the Spanish peninsula. Many had lived there since ancient times, helping to develop and rule the land until the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled them in 1492; the same year that Columbus set sail for the Americas.
But they couldn't erase their Spanish heritage. Over the centuries these Jews had developed a culture very different from the northern European or Ashkenazi Jews. They took that culture into exile. They are important because they represent one of the largest segments of the Jewish people, including perhaps some students in your class and families that later migrated to Eastern Europe (and only know vaguely about their Spanish heritage from family tales).
The series tells what happened to these Spanish or Sephardic Jews during their time on the Spanish peninsula and afterwards; a tale too often overlooked in Jewish history. It recreates their adventures, sorrows and achievements before and after they were forced out.
It offers a chance to listen to the music of the Jews from Spain, learn a little of their Ladino language, become familiar with some typical Sephardic names, appreciate the courage of the forced converts known as conversos and crypto Jews, try out some recipes, eat their food, sing their songs, celebrate their interpretation of festivals like chanukkah and seder, appreciate the differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews.
Some real life stories are included. You will meet famous Jewish women like Dona Gracia Nasi who used her fortune to help her fellow Jews escape from the neighboring country of Portugal. And when you have played the Caribbean adventure game and met Carla, the ship's cat, you will understand the beginnings of Jewish immigration in the history America. Today, Sephardic Jews live in all parts of the world and still practice many of their original Spanish customs. Whether they reside in Istanbul, Amsterdam, Curacao, London, Seattle, Tel Aviv, San Paulo or New York, they all share a common cultural heritage that binds them together in laughter, food, music and song.
There is an old legend that says that when the Jews were expelled from Spain, they took along the old rusty keys to their houses to remind them of the life they loved in Spain. Although most families no longer have these keys, they became a symbol of their unique heritage and common history that harkens back to Spain.