Holy Toledo!

I am being followed.  Up and down the narrow, winding streets of Toledo, passing armored mannequins beckoning tourists into shops brandishing razor-sharp knives and swords of all sizes; I feel their presence.

I am flanked by shadows.  Even in the dampness of this cloudy, cooler than what I wished for day; they loom in ancient walls, in the bricks and stones of the Juderia, stretching underground into the remains of eight toppled synagogues, awaiting resurrection.

I am tormented by whispers.  Perched on top of this golden medina,  awestruck by this panorama of cypress, water, earthen domes and homes dotting the rocky hillsides; even in this mountain paradise, their hushed murmurs gnaw at my soul.

I am stalked by history.   I run from the ghost of Isabella the queen, chasing me around massive columns of Europe’s wealthiest cathedral, where I duck behind one of El Greco’s apostles, then flee to a corner of the room of golden treasures that blind me with their brilliance and greed.  Escaping through the door, I run through the maze of the Jewish quarter, ducking into the synagogue turned church, Santa Maria Del Blanca.  My heart races with fear; nonetheless, I continue to elude her, running uphill to the stolen mosque, Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, the burial place of this queen of hatred, the architect of this Juden-free, Muslim-free Christian empire.

I have become invisible.  I go unnoticed by the rest of the walking tour, who listen to descriptions of false converts, who were hunted down, tortured, burned at the stake, strangled by the slow turns of the screw that bolted an iron collar.  “They were discovered,” she says, “by their refusal to eat ham.”  “They were found in the baths, an un-Christian ritual.”  “They were expelled, but they took their keys with them,” she explains as if describing preparations for a family vacation.  “Dominating the vista before you is the grand San Juan De Los Reyes Monastery,” she says talking to the backs of heads turned towards this former mosque, now home to Franciscans, spread over the hillside. “Notice it was built smack in the middle of the Jewish area.”

The tourists “ooh” and “ah” at its grandeur.

I am now the other.  Our guide continues, walking us along the cobblestoned streets of the Sfarad.  “This may be called the Jewish quarter, but there are no Jews here.”  The whispering voices return, their faces form a crowd, wrapped in medieval robes.  One is holding a Torah.  “Tell them, tell them they are wrong.”  “Hineineni.”  I am here.  “Anachnu po.”  We are here.

“Who am I?” I ask my husband over a glass of wine in a trendy restaurant.  The questions fill me more than the mediocre food.  “Why no apologies for the inquisition?”  “Is this what it feels like to be a Native American or an African-American, an Armenian?”

In typical Mordi fashion, he takes a hearty gulp of his beer.  “Just consider yourself part of the “ancestors of the ethnically cleansed who nobody gives a shit about” club.

“An apology….even too late…..an acknowledgement…”  I search Google and discover that on May 6, 2011, a Spanish official made the first start by apologizing for the murders of 37 Jews in 1691 on the island of Mallorca.  “Thirty-four were publicly garroted and their bodies were burned in bonfires. Another three, including a rabbi, were burned alive.”  Their crime—secretly practicing Judaism.   The only public statement of remorse in 500 plus years….

And in Toledo, Jewish life goes on, or at least cashing in on Jewish life.  The souvenir shops are bursting with Damascene Magen Davids of gold nestled in black steel, menorahs and Chai symbols adorn cheap ceramic plates.  Yet, there are not enough Jews to create a minyan.  A Jewish quarter, without the Jews.














2 thoughts on “Holy Toledo!

  1. Sarah – I am deeply moved by your post. I had a similar – out of body – into the depths of outrage – experience at Dachau. I wrote about it extensively. The writing helped. Stay safe, take very good care of yourself. These are no small things. Our history reaches out and grabs up – drags us down. It’s OK to go to dark places. Let Mordi help you lift out. It’s not OK to stay in the darkness. We are survivors. There must be a reason we survived.

    Keep writing. YOu touch my heart. Much love. Stay safe,Nancy

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