For four weeks this summer I traveled to Spain and Israel with BBYO Passport, the organization’s summer travel program, together with 42 other Jewish teens from the US, Canada and El Salvador. It was a month of enriching and meaningful experiences and I returned home with a stronger sense of my own Jewish identity.
The 8-hour plane ride from New York to Spain gave us a chance to get acquainted and friendships began forming easily. By the time we landed at Barajas Airport in Madrid, we felt a sense of community within our group.
Our week in Spain was spent exploring the country through a Jewish lens. On our only day in Madrid, we went to Plaza Espana, the central place in the city, and the Royal Palace where the King lives, before heading south to Toledo. I vividly remember our first group dinner that night. It was around 8:30 and we were all exhausted, but the sun was still shining brightly! In parts of Spain, there is only six to eight hours of darkness that time of year, so many nights I went to sleep in daylight.
Toledo is a diverse city packed with religious sites. We were surprised to see that each step leading up to the Jewish quarter had a tile with either a Chai or a Star of David. The mountaintop city is a complex blend of three cultures – Christians, Muslims and Jews – who all lived and flourished here. Two of the city’s original ten synagogues remain, and we visited the famous Sinagoga del Transito and the Sephardic Museum. In a city that feels like a living museum, I was keenly aware of the heightened security.
Seville, the largest city in southern Spain, is on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. Our first stop on a Friday morning was at Plaza de Toros, the famous bullfighting ring In the summer, the bullfights are held on Thursday nights so the staff was cleaning up from the night before. Seville is also home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus in the Cathedral of Seville and the tombs of Isabella and Ferdinand, who together instituted the Spanish inquisition in the 15th century. We enjoyed shopping in the colorful Plaza de Espana and wandering around the lively streets.
Our first Shabbat abroad was in the British territory of Gibraltar, famous for the Rock of Gibraltar. On Shabbat morning we climbed the Rock and stopped many times to take in the fantastic views of all of Gibraltar, Spain and Morocco. But the highlight of the climb was seeing the Rock Apes that live on the top half of the Rock. They are a favorite among tourists, despite being famous for pickpocketing. Food, hats and pretty much anything they can get their hands on is fair game. While I was taking a picture, one of them even ran off with my water bottle!
We spent our last two days in Spain in and around the beautiful city of Grenada. Highlights included Marbella, a cosmopolitan beach resort on the Costa del Sol, a Flamenco show, climbing 6,000 feet to explore the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains and visiting the Arabic baths. We savored our two hours in the steam room, hot pool and cold pool and emerged relaxed and rejuvenated.