Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Finding Beauty and Meaning in Split

Croatia! Yay! Today we are in Split. It is my first time in this country after hearing such great things about it from my friend Tamara. Split did not disappoint. The city is absolutely splendid. The coast line is astonishingly beautiful. The water is a gorgeous blue-green, and there are nice brown mountains in the background. The orange tiled roofs make for a nice contrast.

We started our day by walking into the walled city. We were debating whether or not to do a tour. The problem was that we didn't have a tour book for Croatia, so if we were going to walk around on our own, we wouldn't necessarily know what we're looking at. But, the walking tours we saw in town didn't include entrance into one particular site we knew we wanted to see. Luckily we ran into Carl and Pam from our table and they were having the same dilemma. We joined forces and went walking together. They bought a guidebook and we went on our way.

We stopped first at the cellars of Diocletian's palace. The cellars are so cool because they are very well preserved and date back to the Roman time. They also provide insight to the structure of the upper floors of the palace. We saw the olive press and a bunch of other really cool things.

Next we headed to the cathedral that was just outside the cellar. It was beautiful. It had these huge wooden doors that depicted the life of Christ. They are one of the best preserved specimens of wood carving from the middle ages. The church also had beautiful golden mosaics.

Attached to the church is a bell tower that offers one of the best views in the city. Pam and Carl didn't want to climb to the top, so Dan and I went alone. The stairs at first were old, steep, slippery, marble stairs arranged in a spiral. I was wearing the absolute wrong thing-- a short dress-- and between the steep stairs and the raging wind, I was in trouble! It was totally worth it though! The views were spectacular.

We met back up with Carl and Pam and went meandering through the city. We turned down one street purely by chance and found a small sign for a synagogue. Such luck! We rang the door bell and asked if we could see inside. A nice lady told us to go upstairs. When we got upstairs we saw the beautiful, tiny synagogue. It had a few benches, a bima, an ark, and a small women's section. The whole thing was just one small room.

 But then this man came in to talk to us about the shul. He said there are 100 members of the congregation, but no rabbi. There is a rabbi in Zagreb that comes down occasionally, but not often. This man has lived in Split his whole life and said he didn't meet a rabbi in town until he was 50. He's 60 now.

He told us all about how after WWII the community lost their religion. 84% of Yugoslavian Jews were killed. Those who survived, he said, had problems believing in a G-d that would allow such horror to happen.

However, even though the religion suffered, this man told us about how every Friday night around 25 members of the community gather and have Shabbat dinner. They try and get kosher meat when they can. When they can't, which is most of the time, they have fish or veggie dishes.

When the Rabbi does come, 100% of the community comes to the synagogue. I was so inspired by this community. I mean, they have Shabbos dinner every Friday night! And even though none of them keep Kosher in their homes, they all insist on keeping the synagogue as Kosher as they can.

I feel so inspired by this community that I know I have to do something for them. Dan and I were talking about discussing fund-raising ideas with Rabbi Herzfeld when we get home. Here are the ideas we are thinking about now:

1. send 5 people from the community on a birthright trip to Israel
2. sponsor Kosher meals for 6 months
3. sponsor Croatian-Hebrew prayer books (they don't have any books that translate the prayers for them! I want to send them at least one!)

I'm really excited because I think we can really make a difference with this community.

It was really nice to see that Pam and Carl were as inspired as we were. They were really moved by the stories the man was telling us. After debriefing over some espressos and hot chocolate, we parted ways. We found a cheap little Internet cafe so that I could call home and let them know I'm OK. I also got to see the first wedding pics. Yay!

Then, Dan and I went up to another view point It was at the top of a ton of stairs and also happened to be the site of the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery was locked, but the view from the top was gorgeous!

After a long full day in Split, we headed back to the ship. We went to nap by the pool (a.k.a. pass out while everyone stared at our gaping mouths) and then work out. We had another lovely dinner and then called it a day.

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