Rashi’s Grade 8 Tours Jewish Spain

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Middle School, Learning

A culminating highlight of every student’s time at Rashi is their Grade 8 trip to Israel. Given the current war in Israel, the difficult choice was made to travel elsewhere. Rashi’s goal of providing an immersive experience connecting eighth graders to their Jewish heritage led to the decision to travel to Spain. And so, our students and faculty chaperones excitedly boarded their plane and landed in Madrid early this week.


Led by Dean of Jewish Learning Rabbi Sharon Clevenger along with a Jewish educator from tour company Keshet and local Spanish guides, Grade 8 has spent the past few days exploring the rich history of the Jewish diaspora in Spain, starting in the Judería de Córdoba, the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba. Their first stop was the medieval plaza and statue of Maimonides, a Sephardic (belonging to the Spanish/North African diaspora) rabbi and scholar from the middle ages who we still learn from today. There, the class was taught about the history of Cordoba as the epicenter of science, medicine, poetry, and halacha (Jewish law) in the 10th century.


The students then visited Casa de Sefarad—the House of Memory. While touring this 14th century home-turned-museum, students learned about the persecution of Jews during the Inquisition. The group visited a former synagogue, seeing where Jews worshiped in secret during the Spanish Golden Age (1492-1659). “The city of Cordoba is definitely a place to remember. The vast city provides many opportunities to learn about Judaism in Spain and in general. We have all made many meaningful memories with each other, people we met, and Spain as well,” said student Josh M.

From there, the class continued their tour of Jewish Spain in Granada. While taking a fun flamenco course in the mountains, they got an incredible view and sneak peek of their next big destination, the Alhambra. Considered one of the most iconic examples of Islamic architecture in Spain, one may wonder, how does this tie into Jewish learning? As it turns out, the design may be inspired—at least partially—by the home of Talmudic scholar Shmuel ibn Nagrela Hanagid, a Jewish communal leader who was well respected by both Jews and Arabs. He was versed in both Jewish and Islamic teachings and is widely thought to have authored the Mevo ha-Talmud, an introductory book to the Talmud.


While at the Alhambra the following day, students also learned about the works of influential Jewish poets, such as Judah Halevi, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Shlomo ibn Gvirol.

With almost one week down and one to go, Rashi’s eighth graders will continue their tour in Madrid, Toledo, and Segovia. They will learn about Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) language and culture, join the local Reform Jewish community for Shabbat, and stop at the old Great Synagogue (now the Church of Corpus Cristi). While not the trip they expected at the start of the school year, Rashi students are immersing themselves in the expansive and fascinating history of the Sephardic diaspora. For some, the connection to Sephardic Jewry is personal, and for others it is brand new. For all, their understanding of Judaism, including their own Jewish identities, is deepening as they take in the sights, sounds, and fun of Spain.