A quintet of vacation destinations with surprising Jewish history

History hiding in plain sight

Bagels  image
Montreal is famous for its bagels, which taste and look different from its New York counterparts. (Credit: Openverse)

Planning your next vacation?  Here's a round-up of some off-the-beaten-path travel destinations with unique Jewish histories. 

Troyes, France 

A picturesque town in eastern France in the heart of the Champagne region, Troyes is known for fine wine and shopping. It also was home to Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (known as Rashi), whose commentaries on the Torah and Talmud are still read today. 

Born in 1040, Rashi worked as a vintner (wine maker) by trade while penning his Jewish works. After surviving the First Crusade he founded a renowned Torah academy in Troyes. Today, visitors to Troyes can visit the Rashi Synagogue at 5 Rue Brunneval. 

Tangier, Morocco 

Legend says that Jews fled to Morocco after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Recent evidence backs that up: archeologists found ceramics with Jewish menorah decorations in Tangier, making its Jewish community one of the world's oldest. Tangier's Jews were joined by Jews from Spain in the 5th and 6th centuries CE, who fled marauding Visgoth tribes. A millennium later, Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition settled in Tangier. 

Tangier's modern Jewish community dates from the early 1700s, when Moses Maman of Meknes, the Jewish treasurer to Sultan Mohammed III, encouraged the Sultan to grant Jewish merchants special protections in Tangier, with an aim to building up the city. The sultan complied, and soon Tangier became a major center of Jewish life.  

Once home to over 20 synagogues, today Tangier's magnificent Nahon Synagogue is the only one still in use. Visitors can travel to the Rue des Synagogues, and see the remains of several synagogues, plus the lavishly restored and decorated Temple Benetar. 

Gibraltar 

This picturesque peninsula at the southern tip of Spain is smaller than 2.5 square miles and dominated by the massive 400-foot-tall Rock of Gibraltar. A British territory since the 1700s, Gibraltar is home to hundreds of Barbary Macaques, the only wild apes in Europe, and a vibrant community of 30,000 residents. Gibraltarians speak the dialect Llanito, a mixture of Spanish and English-with some Hebrew influences thrown in. 

Jews have lived in Gibraltar since the 1300s, profoundly shaping the territory's history, identity, and language. Today, visitors can pray at four synagogues and take part in Jewish life alongside the local community, which is overwhelmingly Sephardic and Orthodox. 

St. Augustine, Florida 

This picturesque coastal city was discovered by Spain in 1513 and incorporated as a town in 1565, making it the oldest European-founded city in the continental USA-and one of the oldest Jewish historical sites in America. Spain officially banned Jews from living in the city, though local historians believe that some early Spanish residents might have been secret Jews. In 1783, Spain made an unprecedented ruling, relaxing the draconian decrees of the Spanish Inquisition, allowing Jews to live openly in the town. 

Since then, Jewish life has flourished. St. Augustine lawyer David Levy Yulee became the USA's first Jewish Senator in 1837. In 1964, St. Augustine became the site of the largest mass arrest of rabbis, when 16 Jewish leaders demonstrated on behalf of Martin Luther King; their letter "Why We Went to St. Augustine," written in prison, is a major document in Civil Rights history. Today, St. Augustine's First Congregation Sons of Israel, a Conservative synagogue, is the oldest synagogue still in use in Florida. 

Montreal, Canada 

Settled by Jews as far back as the 1700s, Montreal became a major Jewish center after World War II when thousands Holocaust survivors moved to the city, making Yiddish Montreal's third most spoken language, after French and English. Today, Montreal is known for its Jewish bagels, which are smaller and sweeter than their New York rivals. 

Dr. Yvette Alt Miller lives with her family in suburban Chicago. Her latest book, Portraits of Valor: Heroic Jewish Women You Should Know describes the lives of 40 remarkable women from different eras and lands. 


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