Providing kids with Jewish cultural experiences that will connect them to their roots
Posted by Jessica Swiatlo on May 9, 2017 5:00:19 AM
Providing kids with Jewish cultural experiences and facts for kids on Judaism can be challenging. You make an effort to connect your kids to their Jewish identity and roots at home. Whether that’s through Jewish education, Jewish traditions, and customs, Friday night dinners, preparing traditional Jewish cultural foods, or sending them to Jewish summer camp (and the list goes on), it’s part and parcel of American Jewish living.
But what about when you go on vacation? Chances are, aside from the requisite trip to Israel, your kids haven’t connected to their roots and Jewish identity on a global level through travel. But travel is the best way to connect to your roots.
We all come from somewhere and seeing the history behind the Jewish communities in different countries helps bring that idea to life. That, in turn, will help your kids grow into adulthood with the desire to remain connected, hold on to the things that they feel make them Jewish and pass those lessons about where they come from to their children. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
There are a million ways to go about this as the network of Diaspora Jews spreads far and wide. Whether or not this is YOUR particular background, you can choose a country that is enjoyable all around so that you and your kids feel that you’re mixing ‘business’ with pleasure apart from tours to Israel and vacations.
How would you describe Jewish culture to a child?
There are so many ways to define Jewish culture for a child. Jews come from all over the world–Yemen, Poland, Ethiopia, Syria, Mexico, and everywhere in between. Across all regions, one of the best ways to show Jewish culture to a child is to teach them the history of the Jewish people through experiential learning. There is no better method of experiential learning than travel.
While you can teach Jewish culture to a child at any age, one of the most meaningful times to teach children Jewish culture is when they’re becoming adults under religious law. The Bar Mitzvah period is a great time to teach kids about Jewish culture.
Get creative with Jewish culture for kids with some ideas from this post.
What is important to Jewish culture?
Like many parts of being Jewish, what is important to Jewish culture depends on the community and location. Whether that’s certain foods, traditions, lessons, or communities, it’s impossible to define a singular important topic in Jewish culture.
One of the best ways to learn what’s important to Jewish people is to speak to communities around the world about their Jewish experience.
Interested in teaching your child about Jewish symbols? Take a look at our post on Jewish symbols.
There are great locations to learn about Jewish culture around the world, but one of the most fun (and arguably most delicious) is in Spain. That’s why we’ve put together this list of places to visit in Spain with your child.
With that said, Spain is the origin of the Sephardic Jews and a must-see for any family looking for a Jewish cultural experience that will connect them with their roots.
Take your family on an enriching vacation where together you will discover unique medieval towns oozing with inspiring Jewish history, all the while soaking in the Spanish Sun!
Here are my top destinations to rediscover the Jewish cultural tours in Spain.
Barcelona is great for its old synagogue
Barcelona, a thriving tourist hotspot was once home to a large and prominent community of Catalonian Jews that practiced Jewish traditions and rituals. The famous story of Nachmanides (a figure your children are likely to learn about in school or Hebrew school), a very well-known and respected scholar, who came to the defense of the Jewish community in a religious debate with King James I, where he argued the validity of Judaism to thwart the forced conversions that were imposed at the time. With his eloquent words, Nachmanides won the debate.
Amidst its alluring beauty and enticing atmosphere, Barcelona still holds some Jewish sentiment. In the core of the Cal (Jewish Quarter) you will find the oldest synagogue in Europe dating back to 1391 as well as remnants of the rich Jewish culture that prospered during the Golden Age.
If you are looking for a great tour in Spain or anywhere else for that matter you might be interested in this post, Top 7 Qualities of an Ideal Tour Guide.
Girona the home of the Ramban
Home of the great Ramban (another figure your kids will learn about), the Jewish quarter of Girona remains one of the best preserved in the world. The cobbled paved streets leading to hidden allies between the restored stone buildings; offer a taste of Jewish community living before the Spanish Inquisition.
While venturing through this labyrinth of medieval streets you stumble upon a 15th Century Jewish Synagogue that has since been converted into an outstanding Jewish History Museum.
For those with an itch to learn you can also delve into the Nahmanides Institute for Jewish Studies which serves its purpose of further promoting and educating the public about the histories and influences of the Gironean Jews.
Many say that it also serves as a private place where Spaniards that were converted during the period of Jewish oppression can explore their controversial Jewish roots.
FUN FACT: The Jewish Quarter of Girona was also used as a set for the filming of HBO’s hugely successful series Game of Thrones.
Toledo where Jewish lived peacefully
Known as the City of Three Cultures, Toledo was the epicenter for the coexistence of Muslims, Christians & Jews. You’ll know you’ve stumbled upon the ancient Jewish Quarter of Toledo when you find yourself stepping along paths, embedded with tiles decorated with Hebrew letters and Jewish symbols.
As you start to explore the winding alleys soaked with ancient histories you arrive at the Sinagoga del Transito. Built in 1366, the construction of the synagogue was permissioned by King Peter. Some say it was compensation for foul doings unto the Jews, others claim it was the result of a love story between the King and a Jewish woman.
As you walk these cobbled streets your kids can imagine the lives of those that walked before them. Today the synagogue is best known as the Museo Sefardí, where more can be discovered about life for the Spanish Jews of Toledo before the Inquisition.
Cordoba beautiful Jewish quarter
Your journey through Cordoba Juderia – the Jewish Quarter, will again take you through a network of medieval cobbled streets lined with white washed walls that still carry an enigmatic sense of history and life before the inquisition. At the center of this maze remains the famous synagogue that was built in the 1300’s, then an important center for a thriving intellectual Jewish community.
This is a fantastic opportunity for you and your family to discover more about the great Jewish doctor and philosopher, Maimonides (another major figure your kids will certainly learn about). Born in Córdoba, the accomplishments of Maimonides as a great professor and scholar reflect on the intellectual and philosophical value of the Jewish community at that time, and have an impact on modern Jewish traditions, while also inspiring followers of his great works to journey to the area for the sole purpose of rubbing his statue’s feet.
Make sure you don’t get too lost in your family's philosophical discussions and still leave time to check out the Casa de Sefarad, a unique project dedicated to the history of the Jews before the inquisition.
Granada and the Realejo quarter
Granada itself is a vibrant historic town best known as home of the Alhambra, a historical fort encompassing a majestic Muslim palace set at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
For those that want to delve into the subtleties of the city, there is still a sense of the remnants of the Jewish ancestors that prospered in the area. Exploring the Realejo quarter (Jewish quarter) of Granada you will discover white washed mansions with walled gardens.
Although we do know Jews once thrived in this community before their persecution, there is not much that remains to tell us of their life there. Perhaps a subtle Star of David on a door down an alley might give us a slight clue.
Other than that we will have to use our imagination to picture the hustle and bustle of the famous silk & cotton trades as well as the shuffling of academics to and from their studies, as was typical of the Jewish community in that era.
Whether or not your roots are Sephardic, your children will certainly learn about the many important figures of enlightened Sephardic Jewry and the history of the inquisition. Bringing those history lessons to life as you delve into the Jewish culture and history in Spain is a great lesson and an opportunity to create a memory for your kids. The added bonus is you get to do it in a country with beautiful landscapes and amazing food.
Topics: Jewish Heritage