Belle Voir — A Good View

by Baruch Kraus, NFTY-EIE Principal

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Two weeks ago we began to look at the rise of Islam and its religious and political expansion in preparation of our trip to the mosque at Ein Rafa, located near Tzuba.  During this tiyul, we met with the Imam for an explanation of Islam along with questions and answers from our students followed by a discussion with a woman of the village on Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.  This was followed by a sumptuous lunch in a restaurant in the village of Abu Gosh.

We then started our study of the rise of Sephardi (Spanish) and Ashkenazi (Franco-Germany) Jewry.  Our first Tiyulim for the Middle Ages was to the Israel Museum, where we visited the wing for Jewish Art and Life which presents the religious and secular culture of Jewish communities worldwide, spanning centuries from the Middle Ages to the present day.  We focused on European and specifically the Spanish Jewish communities as we viewed the display “Illuminating the Script,” consisting of rare medieval and Renaissance Hebrew manuscripts, shedding light on their history and revealing their artistry. We then toured “The Synagogue Route: Holiness and Beauty,” where we saw four restored interiors of synagogues from Europe, Asia, and the Americas, along with Torah scroll ornaments. We were able to see the unity and diversity of Jewish religious architecture and ritual objects.  Our last station was “Costume and Jewelry,” This display was about how religious Law and custom and surrounding environment all play their roles in creating the rich variety of Jewish dress and jewelry from East and West.

This trip to the Israel Museum was also the prelude to our tiyul on Sunday, to Belvoir; a fascinating Crusader castle located on a precipice overlooking the Jordan River Valley – truly a belle voir (“good view”). There we read Pope Urban the IV’s speech which launched the Crusades, explored the castle, and discussed the effects of the Crusades on Ashkenazi Judaism and the resultant effects on the medieval period.

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After our time at Belvoir, we headed to Safed. We started our tour by asking why it became the center of Kabbala (Jewish mysticism).  For the answer, we walked around the town visiting different synagogues:  one, named after the Ari Hakadosh (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria HaAshkenazi) another after Rabbi Yoseph Karo. Through this we discussed a mixture of philosophy and halakha (law) and learned that the proper direction of one’s heart in all our deeds leads to the perfect life and truth.  After studying we gave the students time to wonder through the artist quarter and the old city of Safed.

As we finished up the Middle Ages, we commenced studying the European enlightenment and its affects on Jewish communities in Europe as well as the development of Ultra-Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and the Neo-Orthodox movements. We visited an Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood called Nachlaot in Jerusalem, where we could see how this sector of Jews surrounds themselves with Jewish institutions for education for all ages from 3 to old age, tzdaka institutions, and mikvaot.

This week we are studying the development of the modern Judaism’s religious and non-religious ideologies that developed out of the Emancipation in Europe.

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