We came to Gerona to walk the old city and visit one of the most intact of the Jewish ghettos in Europe. But it is the painting on the wall outside of the bridge that leads to the enclosed city that welcomed me and highlighted my visit.
The ghetto dates from the 12th century and you can see narrow streets, the last Rabbi’s house, a few stones with indentations for mezuzot, a Jewish museum and bookstore but no Jews. That is much of the story of Jewish sites in Spain and Portugal. (Although we did meet the Chabad Rabbi of Gerona – a different blog, a different time).
In the 12th Century, Gerona housed one of the most important schools of Kabbalah in all of Europe and one of the most renowned Rabbis of Gerona was Nahmanides or the RAMBAN. He was an author, philosopher, kabbalist, scholar, activist. One slice of his life: Called in July of 1264 by King James (Not the Bible one) to debate with the apostate, Pablo Christiani whether Jesus was the messiah or not in what is called the “Disputation of Barcelona”, Nahmanides was awarded 300 gold Dinar by the King who proclaimed it the “best defense of an unjust cause”. King James had promised Nahmanides freedom of speech but the Dominicans disagreed and initiated legal proceedings against him for abuses against Christianity. Even though the King extricated him from the pending trial, Nahmanides left for Jerusalem a few years later. It was there that he wrote his famous letter to his son, which also brings me back to the painting on the wall.
The painting has everything to do with voting and the Catalonian referendum on independence from Spain. But for me, it was a call to arms and a call to speaking out and an echo bouncing off the centuries. I don’t know what Nahmanides knew about his son but his letter talks about humility, distancing yourself from anger, and greeting each person with kindness and respect. Its language is not my style but as I filled out my ballot this morning, his words reverberated in my pen. It was so easy to let my frustration and anger at the politics of deceit and deception color the broken lines I had to complete in order to indicate my choices. And I knew that this was not the way for change to happen.
I needed to vote and you need to vote and your friends and neighbors need to vote. But we also need to lower the rhetoric, speak softer, allow for differences, greet even the people we disagree with gently. Listen to how Nahmanides ethical challenge begins: “Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone. This will prevent you from anger ….” There is too much anger; there is too much rhetoric. We need to find a way to disagree effectively and it is hard – Nahmanides knew it was hard – he told his son to read the letter weekly.
One of the ways is to vote.
Written the first day of early voting, Florida October 22nd 2018.