The Jewish Nomad: Travel journalism for folks feeling stuck at home

A photo that Ilana Zackon took in Barcelona in 2019.

You probably don’t need me to remind you that you’re spending way too much time inside right now. 

Here in Toronto, restaurants are back to take-out—though you can legally eat on a patio, if you know one that’s heated— theaters have shut down, and there’s generally not much going on. 

So, I thought I’d take you out on a little reading journey to various Jewish locales I’ve visited around the world, and perhaps appease that appetite for wanderlust. (They don’t call me the Jewish Nomad for nothing.) 

The Ancient Synagogue of Barcelona and MUHBA El Call

In the antiquated Jewish quarter lies the oldest shul in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe.

As I walked down into the dimly lit cave-like space, a woman greeted me in Hebrew, asking if I was Jewish.

She proceeded to explain how the Barcelona shul had been taken over for many centuries (even briefly as a cellphone store—oy vey) and had only recently been reclaimed and restored in 2002.

The synagogue now primarily acts as a museum and cultural center, but it also offers services for bar and bat mitzvahs (including the use of their 16th century Torah—how cool!) as well as Jewish weddings upon request.

The artifacts are primarily donations from around the world, since its original pieces were seemingly destroyed or misplaced in the takeover.

How fascinating is this ancient hannukiah?

Next door is the Jewish branch of the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, a museum built on the former home of a local veil weaver.

The ground floor is made of glass and, under your feet, you can see the remains of Roman ruins.

Here, you can peruse the history of medieval Jewish life, as well as see ancient ceramics and tombstones.

Upstairs is a small library of books, as well as plaques describing the lives of famous Spanish Jewish thinkers and scholars, including the likes of Moses Maimonides.

Buzzy’s Luncheonette in Salt Spring Island, B.C.

A picturesque spot with “more bears than Jews”, is home to this kosher-style deli. Let me tell you, it was quite a comical shock for me when I discovered it by accident, among the touristy small-time shops and restaurants nearby the water.

Howard Busgang (a.k.a. Buzzy) is the culprit of this nostalgic spot. A former comedian and Montrealer, he founded the deli after his family moved to the island for a quieter life.

Reading the hilariously Jewish menu is worth a visit in itself. Sandwich names include “The Hungry Jew,” which features their made-in-house smoked meat, homemade horseradish, coleslaw and latkes (they don’t kid around).

When I visited, the deli had a blackboard with a Yiddish Word of the Day inscribed on it and a calendar featuring “Nice Jewish Boys” that Buzzy’s daughter had gifted him, among other inspired artifacts.

Turns out the retirees living on Salt Spring love a good smoked meat sandwich!

Buzzy and I also discovered we both went to the same Jewish high school. Small world.

You can check out Ralph Benmergui’s interview with Busgang on the Yehupetzville podcast and an earlier story about Buzzy’s from The CJN:

Universal Studios Hollywood

This famous movie lot (and the production company itself) was founded in 1915 by Carl Laemmle, a  Jewish German-American film producer.

I first went as a 12-year-old and was amazed to drive through the sets, on the Universal Studio studio tour, where many acclaimed movies were shot like Jaws, The Mummy and Psycho

As a major Back to the Future fan, seeing the film’s famous clock tower and DeLorean time machine was incredible.

While you’re visiting the park, I recommend taking a deep dive (it’s literally a 90-degree drop) through the mouth of a dinosaur, on the theme park’s classic Jurassic Park ride.

The Animal Actors show is also lots of fun. It’s where you meet real-life pets who have made appearances on-camera and watch them do tricks. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get to go up on stage! (I did!)

I’ve been twice and I’ll definitely be back again.

(What are some of your favourite Jewish spots around the globe? I’d love to hear from you.)

What’s up with Bonjour Chai

In our latest weekly podcast episode, Avi Finegold, David Sklar and I conducted interviews with four of the 20 new Jewish recipients of the Order of Canada.

I had the pleasure of interviewing established theatre professional, Jane Heyman, based in Vancouver.

Despite having lived in Vancouver for five years, this was my first time meeting Jane, and she’s lovely!

Jane described how her family’s values inspired her to do good in the world and how she rediscovered her Jewish roots (her parents were secular immigrants) in her 50s, after her daughter approached her about having a bat mitzvah.

Other interviewees included researcher and physician in geriatrics, women’s health and gender, Cara Tannenbaum, who grew up in my hometown of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, as well as Toronto-based recipients Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl and gallery owner Olga Korper.

Next up, an episode about Jewish nostalgia with Rachel B. Gross, an American academic who studied its evolution and wrote a book about it.

Ilana Zackon can be reached at [email protected] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

HEAR what else she has to say every week on Bonjour Chai

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