The Jews of
Spain
Mysticism, Music & Poetry
November 9–19, 2023

From the “Golden Age” of Spain to the present, the Sephardic community has made important contributions to Jewish, as well as Western, culture. Before the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Spain was home to the world’s most vibrant Jewish culture — combining Hebrew and Arabic poetry, philosophy, science, and the Kabbalah.

Travel with us as we learn about the heritage, history, and mystical traditions of the Jews of Spain. We will explore the homeland of the Spanish Kabbalah, beginning in Barcelona, where Naḥmanides (Ramban) represented the Jewish community in the 13th-century disputation before King James of Aragon. While in Barcelona, we will visit the city’s important sites and see examples of Gaudí’s exotic architecture. A day’s outing will take us to Girona, home to one of the most important kabbalistic schools in Europe. Other highlights of our journey will include viewing the recently discovered remnants of the Jewish community of Tarazona, studying the roots of medieval intolerance in Madrid and Ávila, and touring the surviving synagogues of Toledo. Our accompanying scholar, Professor Ray Scheindlin, will address a wide variety of themes associated with Spanish Jewish history and culture.

Along the way, Professor Scheindlin will discuss such great personalities of Jewish and Spanish history as Naḥmanides, Judah Halevi, El Cid, and King Philip II. We will enjoy northern Spain’s stunning scenery, travel from Zaragoza to Madrid via Spain’s high-speed AVE train, visit world-class museums, and delight in the readings of the great Spanish Hebrew poets

Highlights

  • 10 nights of deluxe accommodations in Barcelona, Zaragoza, and Madrid  
  • Visits to Barcelona’s Jewish Museum, Aljafería Palace, La Seo Chapterhouse Tapestry Museum, Tarazona’s old Jewish Quarter, El Tránsito Synagogue and Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and the adjoining medieval palaces of the Picasso Museum with over 4,000 of his works
  • Walking tours: Barcelona’s Catalan architecture, Gothic Quarter, and former Jewish Quarter; Montjuic; “Old Toledo;” and Segovia’s Old Town
  • Special presentations by Dr. Ray Scheindlin, Ph.D., former Guggenheim fellow and world-renowned expert on Hebrew and Arabic cultures in Spain: “Naḥmanides and the Jewish Mystical Tradition,” “Abraham Ibn Ezra and Judah Halevi: Children of Tudela,” and “Toledo’s Jews: From Golden Age to Decline”
  • Day trip to Girona, birthplace of Naḥmanides and once the center of Jewish mysticism known as the Kabbalah

Itinerary

Thursday, November 9 | Barcelona
Guests will check in to the 5-star Majestic Hotel & Spa — just steps from Las Ramblas, situated on one of Barcelona’s most prestigious boulevards and renowned for its unique architecture and upscale boutiques. After a chance to rest, we’ll receive an overview presentation and orientation by our accompanying scholar, Professor Ray Scheindlin. We’ll get to know one another at a welcoming dinner (included) at the hotel’s farm-to-table restaurant with traditional cuisine and ingredients from its own kitchen garden.

Friday, November 10 | Montjuic | Barcelona

Our day will start with a guided tour of Montjuic (said to be named for a Jewish cemetery once located on its hill) led by Dominique Tomasov Blinder, an architect and co-founder of the Heritage Commission of the Jewish Communities of Catalonia. Dominique has been dedicated to Jewish heritage protection and promotion as an activist, educator, and researcher since 1999.

We’ll return to Barcelona’s “Old City” for a walking tour through what was the Jewish Quarter in the Middle Ages. We’ll explore its small, unique Jewish museum in the former home of a veil weaver; it covers the medieval history of Barcelona’s Jewish community. Following a break for lunch (included), we will enjoy a walking tour through the historic Gothic Quarter, including a private guided tour of the Picasso Museum. Housed in five adjoining medieval palaces, it contains one of the most extensive collections of artworks by Pablo Picasso.

We’ll return to the hotel for a festive Shabbat dinner together (included).

Saturday, November 11 | Barcelona
In the morning, you’ll be free to relax or explore Barcelona on your own. (The hotel is just a short walk to both the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and Museo del Modernismo de Barcelona.) If you wish to attend Shabbat services, the community center, Comunidad Israelita de Barcelona, has two synagogues — one Sephardic and one Ashkenazi.

There will be an optional afternoon walking tour focusing on local Catalan architecture. Led by Dominique Tomasov Blinder, we will see examples of some of Barcelona’s best-known modernist architecture, including works by Antoni Gaudí.

Professor Scheindlin will give us a presentation on Rabbi and physician Moses ben Naḥman, the medieval scholar, philosopher, and kabbalist also known as the “Ramban”: “Naḥmanides and the Jewish Mystical Tradition.” We’ll have dinner separately with many of Barcelona’s fine restaurants within walking distance of the hotel as options.

Sunday, November 12 | Girona | Barcelona
The day will begin with a trip to Girona, the one-time center of Jewish mystics and kabbalists and the birthplace of Naḥmanides. In Girona, we will visit the Bonastruc ça Porta Center, which houses the Jewish Museum — with eleven galleries about medieval-era Jewish communities of Catalonia and Girona — and the Naḥmanides Center. We’ll also see the restored medieval Jewish Quarter as well as the Alfama of Girona and its 11th-century cathedral. During the day, we will enjoy some free time in the area of Girona’s Ramblas before having lunch on our own.

In the evening, there will be a study group led by Professor Scheindlin for those interested in exploring selected passages from Naḥmanides’ commentary on the Torah.

Monday, November 13 | Zaragoza
We’ll depart for Zaragoza, capital of the Aragon region, arriving in time for lunch (included) and a tour of historical Zaragoza and Cathedral Square. In the afternoon, we will visit Aljafería Palace, an 11th-century Arab palace now home to the Aragonese Parliament, and the La Seo Chapterhouse Tapestry Museum. Located in the cathedral La Seo, this museum is home to a major collection of tapestries dating back to medieval times in the gothic style, the Renaissance, and the Baroque period — one of the most important collections of its kind.

That afternoon, we’ll check in to the deluxe NH Hotel in Zaragoza, once called “the house of the famous” because of guests such as Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway. We’ll relax until dinner (included) at the hotel’s fine La Ontina restaurant with its Michelin-starred chef.

Tuesday, November 14 | Zaragoza | Tudela | Tarazona
We’ll begin the day by exploring nearby Tudela, home of Benjamin of Tudela, one of the most important chroniclers of 12th-century Jewish societies. A detailed diary of his travels provides us with one of the most important legacies of 12th-century Jewish life around the Mediterranean basin, with descriptions of the communities of Baghdad, Alexandria, Aleppo, Tyre, and more. Following lunch on our own, we will continue to Tarazona to visit its old Jewish Quarter and the “Hanging Houses,” a recently discovered synagogue, and the Tarazona cathedral archives with newly found Hebrew documents from medieval Spain.

In the evening, Professor Scheindlin will give us a presentation about two fascinating historical Jewish figures from the region, “Abraham Ibn Ezra and Judah Halevi: Children of Tudela,” followed by dinner on our own.

Wednesday, November 15 | Madrid
This morning, we’ll depart Zaragoza via Spain’s AVE high-speed train (which runs at speeds up to 193 mph!), arriving in Madrid in less than 90 minutes. We will have time for a short overview tour of the city before breaking for lunch on our own near the Plaza Mayor, as well as a guided tour of one of Madrid’s finest art museums. Later this afternoon, we will check in to the exclusive Relais & Châteaux Hotel Orfila; once a small 19-century palace, this boutique hotel contains original antiques, period furniture, and a green garden courtyard. The evening will be free, and we’ll have dinner separately. (You’ll have many fine dining options very close by, including the hotel’s restaurant, El Jardin de Orfilia.)

Thursday, November 16 | Madrid | Toledo
We’ll start the day with an early morning presentation by Professor Scheindlin, “Toledo’s Jews: From Golden Age to Decline,” to prepare us for the day’s trip to Toledo. For centuries, the political, spiritual, and intellectual capital of Old Castile, Toledo was referred to as the “Second Jerusalem.” Walking through “Old Toledo” (once the center of medieval Spanish Jewry), we will visit Santa María la Blanca, originally a thriving synagogue, impressively decorated in a Moorish-Jewish style. Other sites of interest we will visit include the El Tránsito Synagogue and Museum. Built in 1357 as an annex to the palace of Samuel ha-Levi (treasurer to King Peter of Castile), this historic synagogue now serves as a Sephardi museum. Finally, we will return to Madrid in time for dinner on our own.

Friday, November 17 | Madrid | Segovia
We’ll start out early to drive to the charming city of Segovia, once a major center of Sephardic Jewry. We’ll take a walking tour of its picturesque Old Town with one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts. We’ll ride to nearby Ávila, once a thriving Jewish community — the birthplace of Teresa of Ávila (whose grandfather was a converso) and home to Rabbi Moses de León, author of the Zohar, widely considered the most important work of Kabbalah. We’ll then return to our hotel for a festive Shabbat dinner (included).

Saturday, November 18 | Madrid
The morning will be free for you to rest, reflect, or visit any parts of the city you like. The hotel is only a twenty-minute walk from both the Prado National Museum, which holds the former Spanish Royal Collection, and the Reina Sofia Museum, Spain’s modern art museum — two parts of Madrid’s “Golden Triangle of art.” In the afternoon, we’ll have a guided tour of the third piece, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which displays a wide range of styles, periods, and artists from the 13th century to the 20th. Afterward, we’ll enjoy a final meeting to reflect on all we’ve seen and enjoy a last dinner (included) together.

Sunday, November 19
Depart for home.

Traveling with you…

Raymond P. Scheindlin, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Medieval Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a former Guggenheim Fellow. Dr. Scheindlin’s main field of research is the encounter of Hebrew and Arabic cultures in Spain, especially as embodied in the poetry of the two traditions. His books on medieval Hebrew poetry — Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life, dealing with secular poetry; and The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul — reflect both the academic and the literary aspects of his career. He is the author of a widely-used textbook, A Short History of the Jewish People, and co-editor of The Literature of Al-Andalus and The Song of the Distant Dove: Judah Halevi’s Pilgrimage. His most recent book is Vulture in a Cage: Poems by Solomon Ibn Gabirol.

Accommodations

Barcelona: Majestic Hotel & Spa

The Majestic’s neoclassical building sits in the heart of Barcelona, forming part of the central city’s urban landscape, surrounded by architectural masterpieces by Antoni Gaudí. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, sauna, steam room, full-service health spa, and massage services.

Zaragoza: Hotel NH Collection

Near the banks of the River Ebro, this hotel was originally designed by Madrid architect Antonio Rubio in 1929 and inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII. King Juan Carlos I lived here in his early days as a cadet; he always stayed in room 105. The newly reconfigured, modern, and relaxing rooms create a Zen-like calm with minimalist furnishings, an all-white palette, and spacious bathrooms.

Madrid: Hotel Orfila

Housed in a small 19th-century mansion on a quiet street close to restaurants, shopping, and attractions, this 32-room gem offers both exclusivity and luxury. Just a short walk brings guests to the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Reina Sofía museums. The spacious guest rooms and classic decor are complemented by period furniture, artwork, and upscale amenities.

Details

Program Cost: $6,950* includes:

  • 10 nights’ accommodations at deluxe hotels*
  • Full breakfast daily; two lunches; five dinners
  • Entrance fees to all museums and sites on itinerary
  • All group transportation via deluxe air-conditioned coach
  • Group speed train from Zaragoza to Madrid

*Per person, double occupancy; single supplement: $1,550.
Fees not included: Gratuities: $165. Museum of Jewish Heritage membership for nonmembers: $54. 

Secure your place

Book Now: use the link below to reach our easy online booking form.

By phone: 845-256-0197 Monday–Friday, 10am–4pm EST.

Payment Reserve your space with a nonrefundable deposit of $1,000 per person. Final balance is due 120 days prior to departure.

Membership Tours offered by the Museum of Jewish Heritage are available to active members. The individual annual membership is $54 and will be collected at the time of final payment for any nonmembers. To see the list of benefits, visit the museum’s website.

Participation Tour sizes are limited to 26 participants unless otherwise noted. Trips entail considerable walking including over uneven terrain. Participants need to be in good health, be able to keep up with the group, be able to experience group and cultural differences with grace, and be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Please let us know if you have any physical conditions that may require special attention while on tour.

Cancellations All cancellations must be received by Jewish Heritage Travel in writing. Cancellations received 120 days or more prior to departure: full refund less nonrefundable deposits, per person; 119–90 days prior to departure: 50% refund per person after nonrefundable deposits. 89–0 days before departure: no refund.

Trip Cancellation Insurance Jewish Heritage Travel strongly urges all participants to purchase travel insurance for coverage of losses necessitated by having to cancel due to illness or accident. For your convenience, we are providing a link to Allianz Global Assistance, which many past participants have used. Please use code ACCAM/Agency ID# F026815 or feel free to use your own insurance agent. When purchasing insurance, please consider the plans carefully to familiarize yourself with what is covered. In this context, do take note that most insurance companies generally will waive exclusion for preexisting conditions only if your application is received by them within 14 days from the date of your program registration. If you have a preexisting medical condition and are interested in taking trip insurance, you should do so either with Allianz or through your own insurance agent within 14 days of registration.

Changes All rights are reserved by Jewish Heritage Travel to make scholar substitutions and/or to modify the itinerary (including hotels) as needed. Every reasonable effort will be made to operate the program as planned; however, should unforeseen world events and conditions require the itinerary to be altered, Jewish Heritage Travel reserves the right to do so for the safety and best interest of the group. Any extra expenses incurred in this situation are the responsibility of the participant.

Disclaimer of Responsibility By registering for this program, participant specifically waives any and all claims of action against the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Heritage Travel office and their respective staffs for damages, loss, injury, accident, or death incurred by any person in connection with this tour. The Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Heritage Travel office and their respective staffs assume no responsibility or liability in connection with the service of any train, vessel, carriage, aircraft, or other conveyance that may be used wholly or in part in the performance of their duty to the passengers. Neither will the Museum of Jewish Heritage or the Jewish Heritage Travel office or their staffs be responsible for any injury, death, loss, accident, delay, or irregularity through neglect or default of any company or person engaged in carrying out the purposes for which tickets, vouchers, or coupons are issued. No responsibility is accepted for losses or expenses due to sickness, viruses, weather, strikes, wars, and other causes. In the event it becomes necessary or advisable for any reason whatsoever to alter the itinerary or arrangements, including hotels or scholars, such alterations may be made without penalty. All rights reserved to require any participant to withdraw from the tour at his/her own expense when such an action is determined by the tour staff to be in the best interest of the participant’s health and safety and that of the group in general. Prices subject to change. Cost in effect at time of registration will be honored.

Registration