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My inspiring tour of the Balkans

Posted by Barbara Shaw Debbie Zuberi on

I am fortunate in that my passion is my work. I live and breath design and art. I feel a bit of a charlatan in that I myself am not an artist, but I do have the privilege and delight to work with such fine and talented people. It is a circle and of joy. When I work in the store and meet people who make purchases and enjoy the products. I know what I was put on the earth to do. Modest as it may be. People often ask where I get ideas from. Travel is a way.

I am constantly looking for inspiration. Naturally my Jewish roots, are my spring board. Recently I was so fortunate to join a wonderful tour JEWISH LIFE IN THE BALKANS, Jewish Sights and Sites in Bosnia and Croatia (June 25-July 5, 2018). Through Jewish historical Seminars, led by the totally wonderful Debbie Zuberi.

I was particularly interested in this tour as my mother Rella Oser Z'L and her family had roots in Belgrade and Sarajevo. I felt the tour gave me a stronger understanding of her. I recall her speaking Ladino and Serbian. She cooked many Serbian dishes. The memories fill me up and inspire me to go forward.

We started the tour in the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo with our hotel being located in the restored historical center of the city with an architectural mixture of Ottoman, Yugoslav and Austro-Hungarian buildings. We visited the local sites including the Old Serbian Orthodox Church, the Gazi Husref Bey’s Mosque, the Kurshumli Madrassa and the beautiful City Hall of Sarajevo. Continuing, we visited several synagogues: the Ashkenazi Synagogue which is presently a Jewish Community Center; the Cal Nuevo and the Cal Viejo built in 1563 and today a beautiful Museum of the Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We were also in Sarajevo on June 28th, the anniversary of the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that sparked World War I and we visited the site where this took place. Our lecturer on tour, Dr. Eliezer Papo who is originally from Sarajevo tried to teach us all this complicated history of the whole area.

A big highlight of the tour was listening to a fascinating lecture given by our art historian, Prof. Shalom Sabar on the famous 14th century Catalan Sarajevo Haggadah with its intriguing history and many details. After the lecture accompanied by many wonderful slides, we were able to view the original Sarajevo Haggadah in the National Museum. We were met there by the director of the museum, Dr. Mirsad Sijarić.

We also visited the Sarajevo Jewish cemetery, with its style of distinctive tombstones that look like lions about to pounce. Should I admit I really like to go to cemeteries. I try and read the names and the stones , and feel even if I don't know the people it honors their memory to be there.

We left Sarajevo to travel to Blagai, to visit Tekke, A Dervish lodge from the 17th century and to Stolac to see the burial place of Rabbi Moshe Danon, an outstanding leader of Sarajevo Jewry. We continued to the breathtaking town of Mostar, centured around its famous Stari Most bridge, a reconstructed medieval arched bridge over the Neretva River. It was magical to see the town in the afternoon/early evening light.

The next day we traveled from Bosnia to Croatia to arrive in the beautiful city of Split, home of Diocletian’s Palace, a Unesco World Heritage site. We spent Shabbat, with our own service in the synagogue from the 16th century. One of the members of the community spoke of the community. And while we had a stirring shabat service the reality is these small communities are dying.

We walked and visited what was the Jewish Ghetto as well as a special visit to the underground cellars of Diocletian’s Palace where we were able to see many menorot engraved in the walls, evidence of Jewish presence.

The tour continued on the breathtaking coastal road of Croatia to the beautiful city of Dubrovnik, known for its distinctive Old Town, encircled with massive stone walls completed in the 16th century. We toured the local sites of the Franciscan Monastery with Europe’s third oldest pharmacy, the Cathedral, the Dominican Monastery established as early as 1225 and the Rector’s Palace. We walked through the old Jewish quarter and visited the synagogue and Jewish Museum, housed in a 12th century building. And of course  we went to the cemetery.

Another highlight on the tour was an early 3 km. morning guided walk all along the ancient ramparts of the old city of Dubrovnik. The walls are considered to be one of the most grandiose fortification monuments in Europe with stunning views at various points – really breathtaking! Please visit our website to view some photos from this past tour: