The Synagogues of Spain

In the old synagogues of Spain,
no one is praying,
no melodies of Sephardim
echo in the arches.
Dodging purse-snatchers in Seville,
we lost our way three times
before finding the unmarked building
named on the dog-eared guidebook.
The doors were closed to our questions.

And in Toledo,
we had to wonder at the name:
Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca.
We learned of its various uses
as arsenal and warehouse
but doubted the truth of the claim
that it had been refurbished
to “its former glory.”
No matter how well restored
the Moorish plaster cast
of capitals, the gilded shells
upon four pendentives
that hold the central chapel dome;
no matter that in the Synagogue
of the Transito, Samuel Levi,
“treasurer and friend of Pedro the Cruel,”
once voiced the Hebrew still held
today in friezes and turned his head
away, perhaps, from the women’s galleries —
these places are at best museums.

In scores of churches and cathedrals
the hum of worship greets the visitor
and sounds the spirit of a culture,
but in these synagogues
the voices of the guides rehearse
some dusty facts; the racks
of postcards spin; the Jews
of Spain who didn’t burn
remain long silent.

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