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The Lilith Blog

April 13, 2020 by

Making Jewish Life in 15th Century Spain Come Alive for Kids

Loma—short for Paloma—is a Jewish girl living in 15th century Spain and the clear hero of this middle-grade historical novel, (A Ceiling Made of Eggshells, HarperCollins, $17.99).  Clever with words and even more clever with numbers, Loma captures the attention of Belo, her stern and commanding grandfather.  To her surprise, he decides that she will accompany him on his travels and she discovers she has an important role to play in determining the future of her people. Newberry award-winning author Gail Carson Levine talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about bringing significant episodes in Jewish history to life again. 

Yona Zeldis McDonough: What sparked your interest in this period in Jewish history and what kind of research did you do?

Gail Carson Levine: My father is the culprit! Soon after his death, because I missed him so much, I wrote my first and only other historical novel (so far), Dave at Night, which is loosely based on his childhood in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York City. A Ceiling Made of Eggshells comes indirectly from that orphanage experience, too, because it separated him from his Sephardic roots.

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The Lilith Blog

February 19, 2019 by

The Thrill—and the Pain—of Exploring Córdoba’s Lost Jewish Treasures

Arriving in Córdoba last month with my study-abroad cohort, I felt like I’d landed in a Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 1.36.03 PMmedieval fairy tale. As my classmates and I walked across the bridge separating the main road from the town, we passed a castle, a swamp, and a bustling market full of people dressed in full Renaissance garb. After years of studying the literature and philosophy of the Jews of Córdoba, I couldn’t believe that I was finally seeing the city in real life. Walking down the streets, I snapped photo after photo of the white-painted buildings, getting increasingly excited as we moved through the judería towards the old synagogue, noticing landmarks that until then I’d only been able to imagine. It felt like the books I’d studied had come to life in front of me. Soon, we found ourselves in front of a small gate, blocked by a guard who waved our tour group into the synagogue area. 

But when I walked into the small chapel, seeing the partially destroyed verses from the Psalms on the walls and the tiny gold menorah in the entrance, my giddy excitement turned to anger. Anger that this small room was almost all that was left of a massive and influential Jewish community. Anger at our tour guide for glossing over the history of the Inquisition and Expulsion, and for not mentioning why one wall of the synagogue had a giant cross painted over it. And anger that, in the minds of the countless tourists who passed through Córdoba each day, the Jewish community would be reduced to a destroyed synagogue and a single statue of Maimonides. As we exited the building into the blazing sun, Córdoba seemed more like a place of disillusionment than the culmination of my studies I’d hoped for.

 

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