Why We Went to Portugal

Tomar Castle, Tomar, Portugal

Dear friends and followers,

Many of you know that we just spent 6 weeks crisscrossing Portugal and jumping to Madeira and Azores archipelagos. We explored in depth cultural and historical centers like Lisbon, Evora, Coimbra, Belmonte, and Porto, which also served as our bases for trips to towns like Guimarães and Guarda and a dozen or so enchanting small mountain villages saturated with rich history and Jewish stories. We met with many wonderful people on this trip who opened the doors to special museum and archival collections helping us to reach our objectives. And, just as importantly, we made new friends. So, why did we go to Portugal for so long?

Yes, you guessed it right: we were on the hunt for materials and photos for our next book “Shaland’s Jewish Travel Guide to Portugal.” This will be the second book in our Jewish Travel Guide series, following the “Shaland’s Jewish Travel Guide to Malta and Corsica” published last year and available at Amazon in the paperback and eBook formats: https://amzn.to/3nfjH9s

Shaare Tikvah Synagogue, Lisbon, Portugal

The writing and photo editing phase of the projects will start soon after our return from the Tiger Safari in India at the end of May. Stay tuned for updates!

Irene & Alex

The “Jewish Question” in Vienna (excerpt from The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories)

monument in Vienna, Austria

Don’t look for the Steinedererinnerung in your guidebook: the murdered Jews of Austria have neither a Rick Steves nor a Frommer. And Vienna, basking in its Baroque and Art Nouveau splendor, would rather have you waltzing from Schonbrunn palace to Sachertorte’s shops instead of searching out the synagogues and homes of long-gone Jews. An Austrian sarcastic proverb, as noted by Magrit Reiter in her conference presentation “Antisemitism in Austria after the Shoa,” declares that Germans were the “better Nazis,” while Austrians were definitely the “better anti-Semites.”

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Judaica Research and Education Center in St. Petersburg, Russia

I recently attended an Educators meeting at the Jewish Federation building in Beachwood.  The meeting centered on a fascinating exhibit of old photographs from shtetls or Jewish Villages before World War I.   Titled “The Way We Looked,” the Beachwood exhibit marks the first time these photographs have been shown in North America.  The collection was loaned to Cleveland by the Center for Judaica Studies from St. Petersburg, Russia.  The co-curators of this exhibit, two scholars from the Center, Drs. Alexander Ivanov and Valery Dymshitz, presented an exciting lecture/slide show based on their in-depth research.

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Villa Romana Sicily – Must See for Italy History Buffs

Entrance to Villa Romana

Villa Romana del Casale located in Piazza Armerina in the Sicilian heartland is a not-to-be missed site for all history and art enthusiasts. Covered by layers of mud for 700 years, rediscovered in 1950, and reopened in 2003 after over forty years of reconstruction, the Villa is a treasure trove of the best Roman mosaics in existence today.

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Following the Steps of Tennessee Williams in Sicily: Taormina’s Casa Cuseni

Casa Cuseni Taormina, Sicily

I came across the name “Casa Cuseni” when I was reading about Tennessee Williams and his beloved partner, painter/poet Henry Faulkner, spending many happy months in Taormina while staying in Casa Cuseni. I knew then, without a doubt, that when we are in Sicily, we will follow the steps of Tennessee! We and our four friends arrived at Casa Cuseni on a beautiful late September afternoon. We were met by the B&B’s smiling owner, an MD and art lover, Francesco Spadaro, and we followed him up the stairs through a terraced garden. 

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What does it take to preserve Jewish identity if you are a Chinese Jew?

Irene Shaland and Mr. Jin at Jewish Cemetery in Kaifeng, China

October 2012, Again – Kaifeng, China. We are at the oldest Jewish burial place in China – with Mr. Jin in front of his life-long project, his family memorial. Our new friend dedicated his life savings and his entire life to create this marble memorial book which presents – engraved in English on one side and in Chinese on another – the 900-year story of Mr. Jin’s family within the context of Chinese history.

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History of Confucian Synagogue in Kaifeng, China

Irene Shaland in Kayfeng, China

We visited this synagogue in Kaifeng in October 2012. On the photo you can see how  Irene hurriedly writes, Esther, a Founder and Director of the Kaifeng Jewish History Memorial Center, tells the story of her forebears. On the wall, is the 18th- century rendering of Kaifeng synagogue.  For anyone who visited the Forbidden City in Beijing and at least a temple or two elsewhere in China, the synagogue rendering reminds of the country’s typical residential or religious compounds.

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