On our way!
Shalom from Ben Gurion airport!
After an all-nighter and all airport arrangements, we are on the plane ready for departure.
We all are tired (some of students even took a short nap at the gate 🤣) but very excited to start our trip and explore the history and culture of Spain.
Spain – Day 1
Shalom from Spain!
Wow, What a day we have had! The flight was uneventful and once we found our driver at the airport, we had a smooth ride to our hotel. We enjoyed taking in the scenery as we drove along the coastline for part of the way. After taking a few minutes in the hotel to get ourselves organized, we set out on foot to begin exploring the beautiful city of Barcelona.
Our first stop was La Rambla street, which is one of the famous streets in Barcelona and also across the street from our hotel. We couldn’t ask for a better location nearby. We next headed to explore one of the Gaudi landmarks – the famous Park Guell. This public park includes both gardens and architectonic elements and is located on Carmel Hill with breathtaking views of the city and coast. UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site and we could see why as we wandered around the park and took in more of Gaudi’s work.
On the way back, we headed down La Rambla to the edge of the water for our next activity. We boarded the beautiful Goleta Karya, a stunning hand-crafted wooden sailboat, and we set sail for a one hour trip along the coast. We all had a wonderful, relaxing time enjoying the beautiful weather and the open seas. Well, a few of us who shall remain nameless got a little tiny bit seasick, but a little nap on the couches on deck seemed to help with that (ok, no need to be embarrassed… It was me and Essence who have decided that sailing is not necessary for us).
Back on dry land, the calm of the waters and the lack of sleep overnight started to settle upon us (as you’ll see in the photos), we headed straight to dinner. We ate at a great Tapas restaurant where the food was excellent. We had a great time nevertheless tasting countless dishes of local food. My personal favorite was the tuna dish.
Finally, back at the hotel for the night, everyone headed off to get some much-deserved sleep. Everyone had a great time. It’s been a pleasure spending this time with your children and I’m looking forward to the continuation of our adventure tomorrow!
I hope you enjoy the attached photos.
Spain – Day 2
What a great day we had! Ready to hear about it? Here we go:
After a pleasant breakfast, we headed to our first stop – Casa Batllo, one of the famous structures designed by Antoni Gaudí. Like everything Gaudí designed, it is an incredible site to see! There are few straight lines found within the building and a lot of colorful mosaics. As we made our way through the house, we used an audio guide with an accompanying smartphone device that showed us how the house would have looked when occupied by the Battlo family complete with decorative rugs, stunning furniture, and beautiful paintings on the walls. Gaudi’s imagination is visible in even the smallest of details like the door handles and even the ventilation system. We were all AMAZED at how the place combined such an experiential education by using technology and good storytelling. We had such a meaningful time that Raya, Eliya, and Nath mentioned they could stay all day there and explore Gaudi’s work. I’m attaching to the email some examples of how it looked from our eyes.
The next site we visited was also a Gaudi design but of a much higher scale – the Sagrada de Familia. Construction on this basilica began in 1883, and it’s not quite finished yet… Gaudi designed this church and worked on the project for over 40 years until his death. In fact, Gaudi is buried in a crypt in this church. Funded entirely by anonymous donations, the Sagrada de Familia is widely considered the most iconic and famous Barcelona landmark. The hope is by the centennial anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026, it will be completed. The building is massive, and it felt like a cross between a cathedral and scary fairy tale castle – surreal yet magnificently beautiful.
We then headed by the Metro and another cable train for a journey all the way to Mountjuic -“Mount of the Jews,” named after the Jewish cemetery that has been there for many years. There we visited the Joan Miro Museum, and we had a nice time exploring the museum. Miro was a famous and influential artist who was from Barcelona. The museum is of contemporary art, and his later work is often described as abstract. While his surreal and modern style of art was not to everyone’s taste, we kept an open mind, and everyone agreed that it was a great opportunity to see the work of a famous artist. While walking between his arts, it was fascinating to hear and discuss with the students about their interpretation of the specific art piece and how different or similar was it to Joan Miro’s vision.
Following the museum, we arrived at Poble Espanyol, essentially an open-air museum and large souvenir shop… Built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, the site consists of 117 full-scale buildings, which recreate Spanish villages. It also contains a theater, restaurants, artisan workshops, and a museum of contemporary art. Wandering around the village, we had the chance to see a glassblower working on his craft, musicians, and many others dressed in local costumes from around the country. Each of the shops offered something new to tempt us with! We especially enjoyed the shops with things we could taste, like the rosemary-infused balsamic vinegar syrup and the chocolate nougat. We also marveled at the cool architecture of many of the buildings we passed… The balconies of many of the buildings especially give the city a unique feel. We all agreed that the sense of the place is a mixer of three places in Israel: Tzefat, Neve Tzedek and Jaffa. It shows how well the students know the cities :).
As our day started to wind down, the level of energy increased as we watched with amazement, an incredible flamenco show along with dinner. The dancers were unbelievable. The costumes were also really something special. Finally, we headed down to the Fountains of Montjuïc and enjoyed a really cool sound and light show. The fountain dances to the music, and the colors and choreography of the water were really exceptional. Thousands of people were gathered to see the fountain dance for us. It was a fun evening, and the fountain was stunning. If you are curious to check it out by yourself, please click here and enjoy the fountain from far away! 🙂
That’s all for today. Attached please find some pictures from today. Tomorrow we will have another day of exploring the city and its history. We will end the day by welcoming and celebrating Shabbat dinner together with a local young Jewish community. As it says in Psalm:
הִנֵּה מַה טוֹב וּמַה נָּעִים שֶׁבֶת אָחִים גַּם יַחַד / Hine ma Tov u’ma na-im Shevet Achim gam ya-chad
(Translation: Behold how good and how pleasing / for brothers (people) to sit together in unity)
And we are very excited to meet them tomorrow!
Spain – Day 3 & 4
Shavuah Tov to all of you from the beautiful Barcelona. What a meaningful weekend we had together. I’m excited to share it with you the following highlights we had:
We started our morning with Ohn, an Israeli who has been living in Barcelona for the last 11 years. Together we explored the old Jewish quarter of Barcelona, located just next to La Rambla. Ohn took us to a number of sites, through a network of narrow streets, and to beautiful plazas. One of our first stops was at one of the squares sits the Catalonian parliament and he discussed with us the political tension which came to a peak last year with Catalonia voting for independence and a number of Catalonian political leaders being imprisoned. All around the square, yellow ribbons were tied and painted on the ground to signify the people’s demand for the political prisoners to be released.
As we toured the ancient Jewish quarter, we talked about the Golden Age of Spain. In order to understand the history of the Jews in the country, he shared with us some important details of Spain’s general history, which was fascinating. We also visited the King’s palace and learned about the Barcelona disputation which took place there. During one of our stops, Ohn pointed out to us that among the bricks building the walls of the specific building, there are a number of stones with Hebrew inscriptions, and then he explained to us that they had been removed from the Jewish cemetery on Montjuic after the Jews had been expelled and used for building purposes. While we found it sad that a cemetery was desecrated in this way, we also discussed how the stones are a testament to the Jewish community that once was and felt pride in the return of the Jewish people to a place from which they were expelled and forced to convert so long ago.
Sinagoga Major was also one of our stops. It is the oldest synagogue in Europe. This was a very unique experience, more like entering a small cave and seeing remnants of what once was. This synagogue was only discovered when it was bought from the previous owner who was using it as a warehouse. The Jewish community excavated it less than twenty years ago and now it is a museum with thousands of Jews and non-Jews who visit every year to learn about the Jewish history of Barcelona. On Sunday, we will continue learning about the history of the Sapin Jews.
After an experiential history morning lesson, we had lunch at Mercado de La Boqueria, a market filled with local foods and treats which is located on La Rambla street.
As we finished our lunch, we headed to the famous Camp Nou stadium which is the largest stadium in Europe (and the third-largest in the world) with a few seats shy of 100,000. As you know, football (soccer) is a huge passion in this city (and throughout this part of the world…) and we had a nice time exploring the museum and stadium. As we entered and started the tour, the boys were so excited to explore the place, so we could not find them until the end of the tour is over!
It was cool to see all the trophies and other paraphernalia, as well as have the chance to explore the physical therapy room, part of the players’ area, and head down to the field. While we were not on the grass, we did get to be at field level in the area where the players, VIPs, and the press sit/stand during the games. We also got to enter the press area for the broadcasters and see the stadium from that height.
After the stadium, and right before Shabbat, we dedicated some time for shopping at La Rambla. Then, we headed back to prepare for Shabbat and join the local Jewish community for Friday evening services followed by dinner. We were honored to join this project which is run by local members of the synagogue. Their goal is to gather young Jews in the area to meet and interact. It was a fabulous experience for us. ALL the students were mingled with the locals and heard their personal stories. We even met one of our Alumni from 3 years ago! She moved to Barcelona to intern abroad for a year, part of her school program. It is such a small world.
We started our Shabbat Morning with optional breakfast and sleeping in after really packed days in the city. In the late morning, we gathered together for a spiritual session lead by Tomer and me about Shabbat. We used the artwork of Gaudi and Dali to discuss the meaning of our Shabbat in life.
After the session and lunch, we headed to the Picasso Museum. Pablo Picasso was born in Spain and although he spent much of his life in France, he is, of course, considered a significant national figure here in Spain. Wandering through the gallery, we enjoyed seeing the different works form the different periods in which he painted.
Then, after a nice and chilly walk, we arrived at another famous Gaudi construction: Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera which means “the stone quarry,” a reference to its unconventional rough-stone appearance. This building was the last private residence designed by Gaudí before he turned all his focus to the Sagrada Familia. The Casa Mila was built between 1906 and 1912. After exploring the beautiful courtyard, we climbed eight flights up to the roof and we explored the rooftop filled with wild chimneys, slopes, and warrior statues. I should mention, that the weather has continued to be incredible and we’re enjoying all the time we get to spend outside! Moving down through the attic, we felt like we were in the belly of a whale, which is basically what Gaudi’s intention was for the construction. Throughout the attic was an exhibit about Gaudi and his work. We learned about how he used nature as an inspiration for designing many of the structures and how he liked to incorporate the elements into his designs as well. Heading down to one of the residential floors, we saw how a typical family would have lived in the building when it was constructed. Finally, back on the ground level, we had a great time taking photos in the courtyard again.
As we finished the Casa Mila, we had time to explore other parts of the city we did not have a chance to visit. One of the main parts on a gap year, as you all aware, is learning the meaning of independence, and how to manage in new places. I’m really proud of the students who asked this opportunity and wanted to feel some independence as mature grown-ups. It was so amazing to see how they manage bythemselves and already behaved like they have been here for so long…and almost like locals 🙂
We ended our Shabbat with dinner followed by Havdallah. It was a true Jewish moment for us as we made a circle, outside our hotel, with the candle, grape juice, and spices. We made a circle and sang, with such a passion, the prayer of Havdalah. Wow, what an inspiring moment! As we’re done, we treated ourselves with one of the best ice creams places in Barcelona and wished each other a sweet week 🙂
Tomorrow, we are leaving Barcelona and will be visiting Girona and Besalu. Our flight is at 11:05 pm and will be landing in Israel at 4:05 am.
Shavuah Tov (Have a great week),
Spain – Day 5
Yesterday was another incredible day and a great way to top off our trip. As we started out, it was chilly before we left Barcelona. After breakfast, we met our Israeli guide, Ohn, which we met on Friday. Together, we boarded a private minibus and headed farther to the north-east of Spain to the town of Girona. The students really enjoyed spending the day with Ohn – he was an excellent guide who was fun and informative.
After an hour journey, we arrived in Girona where we first visited the toilet museum (Ohn’s joke…I love it!). As we crossed over the bridge between the old city of Girona and the newer modern part, we enjoyed seeing the beautiful river and the colorful buildings along the water. Entering the old city area, we learned several local legends. One of them relates to a statue of a lioness on a pillar and claims that in medieval times if you climbed the pillar and kissed the bum of the lioness before a trip, you would be ensured a safe journey and would return to Girona. As we reached the local church, we noticed that it was built outside the walls of the old city which was strange since you would assume it should be inside the protection of the walls. Ohn explained that the church served as a sanctuary to provide protection to anyone who couldn’t reach the entrance to the old city walls. According to local legend, it was here at this church that the miracle of the flies took place. They say in September 1286, when the army of the King of France, Philip the Fair, besieged Girona, although the city surrendered without a fight, the French behaved abominably when they entered the city: they looted the church and tried to steal the bones of Sant Narcís which were in the church. At this point, huge flies started to emerge from the body, furiously biting the French soldiers and their horses. And after being bitten, the enemies died stamping their feet. This supposed event has resulted in the image of a fly being a symbol of Girona.
Then we headed to visit the Chabad Jewish Center which was established in the last couple years to serve the approximately 150 Jews who live in the Girona area. The Center is in an old house that belonged to a Jewish family and the Rabbi talked to us about the documents which were discovered here with Jewish texts and Hebrew writing. Interestingly, the artifacts in the museum were mostly not from Girona because everything had basically been destroyed, but the community wanted to show visitors what Judaism is and what Jewish life had been like in the town. Among the artifacts were gravestones from over 700 years ago from the cemetery on Montjuïc (where we were three days ago). As we about to leave, he asked who wants to put on Tefillin – Joseph, Evan, and Nate used this opportunity and they were really excited to do so. It was Evan’s first time to put on Tefillin and we all celebrated together this moment!. Our next visit was at the local Jewish museum which was established at the site where the synagogue and mikvah were in medieval times. Although the Jewish community was expelled from Spain, there once was a thriving center of Jewish life here. Notably, the Ramban (Moses ben Nahman is also known as Nachmanides) was from Girona. In addition to seeing the museum and the ancient mikva,
After a nice lunch in the beautiful square of Girona, we again boarded the bus and traveled to the medieval town of Besalu which is located even further to the north towards the French border. This town once was home to 900 residents, 500 of whom were Jewish. The entrance to the town was picturesque as if it were right out of Game of Thrones (they actually filmed there a few scenes). We passed through two gates to enter overlooking a river and the lush green mountains surrounded us. It was stunning!. We also learned that because the Jewish community had been so significant here, the town has an annual festival to celebrate the Jews around Purim time, during which everyone dresses up like a Jew – with kippot, tzitit, payes, etc. The whole thing sounded quite offensive on some level to us, but the goal is to honor the Jews. Our guide Ohn shared with us that many local residents are actually descendants of Jewish families who were converted to Christianity during the Inquisition. Statistically, about one-third of the Spanish population is thought to be of Jewish heritage. In fact, we discovered that our bus driver for the day is likely from Jewish heritage – his last name was Perez which is a known Jewish surname. Inside the town, we visited the site where the synagogue once was and entered the mikva which was really a remarkable site. One interesting fact about this mikvah was the window was shaped so that the rain would fall right into the ritual bath. We also had time to wander through the streets and alleys.
Back in Barcelona, we had the best meal of the whole trip. Dinner was at a restaurant which our guide recommended and everyone walked away happy! We couldn’t have finished the trip with a better taste in our mouth! During the trip, Raya suggested we will play a game to appreciate the past day/s. We played it a few times during the trip and we loved it so much that we ended our trip with a last round of appreciation. We could not end the trip in a better way!
Everyone was sad to be leaving Spain but were are also looking forward to getting home to Israel. The memories we made and the friendships we cultivated in Barcelona will surely last far beyond the trip.
It has been a real pleasure spending these five intensive days with your children. Spain is a beautiful country and we experienced a lot together. But what made it truly special was the group of people – we had a lot of fun and really enjoyed being together. We learned a lot about art, architecture, Jewish history, and Spanish politics in addition to so much more.
Thanks to those of you who have emailed me in the last couple of days. I’m glad you have all enjoyed reading about our adventures and seeing the photos!
I want to give a special thanks to Tomer for all his hard work this past week chaperoning the trip with me. I can’t imagine having led this trip without him!
And finally, thanks to the students for being so amazing this week!!!
Wish you all G’mar Chatima Tova,