Provence in Jewish eyes

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400px-Marseille-synagogue

/ By Irit Rosenblum /

A travel route that follows the Jewish history in Provence, a new innovation in a type of tourism, launched recently by the Tourism Bureau of Provence who have issued a brochure and a proposed map in English and Hebrew.

Bruno James, director of the Provence tourist bureau who arrived in Israel for the launch of this route said that we are speaking of a unique project.  “This is the first time we are producing such documentation for a people”, he said, “because the presence of the Jews in Provence was very important even in the first century A.D. during the Roman period and even during the days of the establishment of Marseilles.”

In Marseille, the capital of Provence has 800 thousand residents, of which about 100 thousand are Jews.

Provence does not need sales promotion as it is a well known tourist attraction and much loved.  However, according to James the new route could create a new type of Provence tourism.  This in addition to its variety of landscapes, culture, nature and artists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne and others.

Of late additional air lines have been added to Marseille that enable one to hop over for a weekend holiday from Thursday to Sunday. “This is an excellent way to enter Provence via Marseille which this year serves as the cultural  capital of Europe, with three new museums and the renovation of the old port.”

Here are the stations on the route that follows the Jewish history in Provence:

  • Marseille- The route begins in Marseille, where it is suggested you join the prayer service in the elegant synagogue on Brutay St. built in the 19th century, or in one of among approximately 40 smaller ones.  It is also suggested that you view the statue called “Marseille” located on the seashore, a work that was donated to the city by the government of Israel.  An additional stop should be the grave of Rabbi Yona Weil in the Saint Pierre cemetery. It would be worth while finding time to visit one of the exhibitions that are offered in the Jewish cultural center named for the Peleg Rebbe.
  • Trets– While in Trets pass through the city gates which date to the middle ages located in the fortified historical center which is also in the Jewish quarter (Paul Bart St. today), a name placed on a building from the 12th century, whose name was many years ago “synagogue” according to the residents,   Archeological digs are taking place there right now to find the remains of a mikve (ritual bath).
  • Camp de Milles- this site from the 19th century was a factory for producing bricks and roof tiles.  In 1939 it was converted into a prison camp for Jews before their transport to the concentration camps of the Second World War.  A train for transporting livestock is currently on the tracks.  As of late the place has been renovated and has become a memorial site and center for training and study.
  • Aix-en-Provence- this city contains street signs that are several generations old in the Jewish quarter.  Jewish life today is centered on Jerusalem St., containing a synagogue built after the war and the communities and in close proximity to the cultural-social center built in memory of the famous composer who was born in this city-Darius Milhaud.
  • Tarascon- here it is possible to find street names such as “street of the Jews” as well as “rights of the Jews”, Jewish streets containing houses from the middle ages as well as a house from the 13th century which has been renovated .  Outside of the city, close to the Capella S. Gabriel (St. Gabriel) is found a tombstone upon which is engraved in Hebrew from 1196.  A stone monument embedded in a square tower that apparently was built of stones taken from one of the walls of the first Jewish cemetery.
  • Saint-Remy-de-Provence- In the ancient Jewish quarter of this city may be found the birth place of Nostradamus, an astrologer and doctor of Jewish extraction whose original name was Michael de Nostradus.  Despite the fact that the family had converted to Christianity generations previous they were still regarded with suspicion and forced to pay extremely high taxes unique to them.  This home may not be visited today.
  • Arles- in the Arles museum you can find articles of Jewish tradition hundred of years old.  You will discover tombstones with Hebrew writing from the middle ages as well as a carved monument from the 4th century A.D. that shows our father Abraham with a knife in his hand.  The Arles Museum displays Jewish religious articles and other displays.
  • Comtat Venaissin- an enclave that belonged to Apaporis like the city of Avignon and was an area of refuge for Jews escaping from France.
  • Carpentras- Here you will find the oldest synagogue in France built in the year 1367 and in which daily prayers are still said.
  • Avignon- in the 19th century a synagogue was built here in the style of a Greek temple; it was built on the ruins of a synagogue from the 14th century that was completely burn down.  In the basement you can still find an oven used to bake matzos that has survived since the 14th century.
  • Cavailon– the synagogue here is known by the name of “the young brother” of the synagogue in Carpenta.
  • Isle-sur-la-Sorge- in the local cathedral it is possible to discern a screen that divides the worshippers from the altar that was taken from a synagogue destroyed after the French revolution.  Similarly you may find in the city a tall building in the form of the letter U called the “Jewish house” located on “Jewish” square.  In addition the city has renovated the cemetery adjacent to the city and built protective walls around it.
  • Femesles-Fontaines- Here you will find a private mikve from the 16th century within a fortress at the Jewish square.  Today the building has been destroyed and sold to a Christian.

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