A great power rose up and reigned with terror. No lamb’s blood over the door frame could save you if you were caught. If you were accused.
In the Alcázar de los reyes cristianos, is also the tower that held the inquisition headquarters (this is usually capitalized, but I am not capitalizing). Knowing this I made a pilgrimage. I walked in with a measure of comfort at my ear – I was chatting with my mom and smiling and laughing.
I walked through the cold stone and out into a highly manicured garden. As I sat and chatted with her, a couple sat down across from me on the other side of the circle. They smiled and sat close to each other, their hands clasped whispering. Then the guy reaches into his backpack and pulls out a small box. Leaning close he hands it to her and asks her to marry him. Her face lights up, they talk low, unheard by anyone, and she puts the ring on her slender, brown, French-manicured finger. They sit and talk and laugh more for quite a while. Eventually, they get up and wander further into the garden.
This place has been transformed into a benign, pretty place to visit and spend an afternoon with friends and learn a little history if you’re a tourist.
My friend Marta, who is from Barcelona, once told me that Montjuïc was used as a prison and torture camp during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s reign. Since then it has been turned into a place of joy. There is a beautiful carousel and the Magic Water Fountain with its choreographed water and light show that rivals the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The people took this place of horror and reclaimed it. Is this a form of geographical Teshuva?
There have been tens of thousands of people who have wandered through this Castle of the christian monarchs, and from what I can see, it holds very little binding to its past.
But I cannot bring myself to turn this place around for myself. It’s not my job in this scenario. The inquisition headquarters? Really…? The nerve center for that institution of cruelty? I have other business to attend to here.
First, I climbed the steep, stone stairs of the tower opposite my target. And when in view, I pulled out a Passover Hagaddah (the book that leads you through the Passover experience, called the seder). And I took a photo with it. I am here – I am walking freely in your house.
מיר װעלן זײ איבערלעבן
Mir veln zey iberlebn ~ We will outlive them
Try to destroy us – our beliefs, our traditions, our bodies – through terror and genocide. You will not succeed.
**Thank you to my boss, Rabbi Patrick, for suggesting this saying for the occasion**
I am here – in your house. I exist here. I am alive now. I have luxuries you could only wish for and also ones you couldn’t dream of. Heating (and cooling) whenever I want to the perfect temperature for me. A refrigerator and freezer in my kitchen. Airplanes and trains. Penicillin and ibuprofin. Timberland hiking boots that fit my feet like gloves. Shakira, Harry Styles, and podcasts. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s Wounds into Wisdom and Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands to help us learn and grow from intergenerational trauma.
After taking this photo, I entered the beautiful garden and found a shaded bench under an orange tree. I opened the file on my phone to the Shabbat mincha service (afternoon prayer service for the Sabbath). It’s a short and sweet prayer service, but I rarely do this so it took me a while to say everything in Hebrew, which felt important.
I spoke every prayer in that courtyard. Quietly and to myself, but still in public. I raised onto my toes at each “kadosh kadosh kadosh”. I read (in English) the Torah portion (Yitro) and the accompanying Haftarah (a reading from a book of the Prophets). I sang Aleinu out loud, and swayed as is tradition for the Mourner’s Kaddish. I said this prayer in honor of every person terrorized or murdered by the inquisition, Jewish or not.
When done, I was exhausted, hungry, and starting to feel like I’d worn out my welcome.
The complex suddenly felt like a maze closed around me with no apparent exit. I tried to get out the way I entered, but was denied. I walked amongst the placid strollers with increased panic. I remembered this is ultimately a fortress – it’s made to be difficult to pass through its thick walls. After darting back and forth I stopped in place and opened my eyes.
I scanned the wall, watched which way people were walking, spotted a security guard. I walked in that direction and through a comparatively small opening in the wall, I left.
I ran across the street to face the river. Leaned over the low wall barrier by the promenade, drank in the brown water with my eyes, and watched a cormorant sunning itself. Reminded myself that I am here now. I left. I can walk home.
I walked home. And slept.