Having devoted several months to visiting the locations of vanished or vanishing Jewish communities, David Wolpe spent Passover in Spain. He shares his reflections from the eve of the holiday:
Although Spain’s history is particular, its outlines are sadly familiar. To travel almost anywhere in the world as a Jew is a tour of loss. . . . With rare exceptions, there are three kinds of synagogues that survive at all. There are those that whisper their history through the faded remnant of a Jewish star on a stone above the arch of a building now serving as a mosque, a church, or a department store. There is the historic synagogue, no longer in use, that is preserved by the waning Jewish community or the government as a monument to what once was. And there is the synagogue that still functions, but all too often only for the handful of older people who still care, and who pray with the ever-present consciousness that no one will come after. . . .
Many of these empty buildings, like those in Eastern Europe, are a mute reminder of the mass murder of World War II. The synagogues in Poland and Lithuania were filled one day and empty the next. Others reflect the emigration of entire communities to Israel or the United States because of persecution, economic deprivation, or cultural isolation. And some represent a gradual ebbing away, the slow fade of a minority swallowed by a much larger culture. Intermarriage, absorption, indifference: the trifecta of modern disappearance. . . .
In Hebrew, a synagogue is called not a house of God but a house of gathering. But there are none left to gather. . . .
And yet. The Jewish philosopher Simon Rawidowicz once titled an essay “Jews, the Ever-Dying People.” He wrote that each generation believes it is the last. In my travels I’ve come to understand that sadness is essential, but despair is a sin. Spain may be a land of ghosts, but it was not hard for me to find Jews with whom to celebrate the Passover seder.