AACI Kosher and Friendly Trip to Budapest May 2013

Thanks to Board Member & Traveler, Diane Greenberg and our Staffer, Elayna Weisel for providing this travelogue for the AACI blog.

A short trip to Budapest, but packed with lots of memorable moments…Enjoy!

Budapest group at Heroes Square

Budapest group at Heroes Square

Early in the morning, 40 bleary-eyed members of the AACI travel group arrived in Budapest for a 4 – day intensive tour of this amazing city. This is the 2nd city in a specially designed series by AACI of the great cities of Europe. All tours are kosher and put an emphasis on both the general and Jewish history of these cities all in a warm English speaking group. Once safely on our bus, we were soon wide awake, listening to our Israeli and Hungarian guides discuss the history of the Jews in Budapest as they pointed out the sights.  We stopped in Heroes Square, saw the elegant Andrassy Avenue, the Opera House and the House of Parliament.  Despite spectacular development, Budapest has preserved its old charm and magic.

Hungarian Parliament-AACI Kosher travel

Hungarian Parliament in Budapest

Dohany synagogue-Budapest-AACI Kosher Travel

Inside the beautiful Dohany Synagogue, 3rd largest synagogue in the world.

One of the highlights of our second day was a visit to the Dohany Synagogue, the 3rd largest in the world,
which in recent years has been renovated, after tremendous damage during World War II.  Behind the Synagogue stands a metallic weeping willow tree with names of victims of the Holocaust on each branch, and at the side lay mass graves of Jews killed by Hungarians at the end of the war.  Our group stood together to recite “Khal Harachamim” in memory of all of those killed.

Weeping willow memorial outside Dohany synagogue

Weeping Willow Memorial outside of Dohany Synagogue in Budapest.
Each leaf bears the name of a person killed in the Shoah

Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed a leisurely cruise on the Danube River, accompanied by an amusing and informative audiotape and free drinks.

Danube River

Danube River

The third day gave us a glimpse of times under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when we visited Godollo to tour the second largest Baroque Palace in the world.

Godollo-Budapest-AACI Kosher travel

Baroque Palace in Godollo

The afternoon was spent relaxing in the famous Gellert Thermal Baths.  The evening concluded with a lively performance by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble.

Our final day included a bus excursion through the stunning countryside just outside Budapest, stopping at several villages along the Danube Bend.  A very disturbing experience occurred in the village of Esztergom, once the home to 500 Jews who were deported and killed during WWII.  As we approached the front of the Synagogue to read the plaque identifying the building as a former Synagogue (now used as a cultural center), we were confronted with the ugly face of modern anti-Semitism in the form of graffiti “F— the Jews” and a swastika painted and etched into the front wall. Click here to view the disturbing photos of anti-Semitic vandalism.

Several members of our group marched angrily into the building and articulated our disgust and dismay to a staff member of the cultural center.  During our week in Budapest we had heard about and had seen signs of the hatred towards Jews during WWII, yet this repulsive action of someone who that very week had expressed this kind of hatred was devastating.  The staff person joined us outside and as she expressed her anger and shame at this act of her fellow Hungarians and apologized and hugged us, many of us were moved to tears.

We cannot end without a few words about the delicious food we enjoyed throughout the tour.  From the private buffet breakfasts in the hotel, to the boxed lunches we received each day on the road (eaten in a beautiful park), to the glatt kosher, Hungarian style four-course dinners, to a special treat of cappuccino and apple strudel, we were well fed and satiated.

AACI Kosher and Friendly Budapest Travel Group

Close up of Budapest Group

Future AACI tours include Russia in June and July, 4 Night Kosher Cruise in August, Italy in September, China in October and Southern Spain in November.  For complete information call 02-566-1181 or check out our website www.aaci.org.il (straight to travel information http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=43)


Canadian, Eh? Some Important Information on Passport Application from Israel

Your Canadian Passport

Summertime, and the Anglos are traveling. But if you’re an Anglo of the Israeli-Canadian persuasion, it’s important to prepare early if you are planning to travel out of the country this summer. Applying for a Canadian passport has become quite involved, with a number of new requirements, especially if your old passport expired more than a year ago. NOTE: Please see the bottom of this article for more information about office hours and requirements for processing your Canadian passport.*

I just visited the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv. The first thing you should know is that if you’re coming from Jerusalem, the embassy is very easy to get to. Take the 405 from the capital, and get off at the LaGuardia Interchange (the stop before the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station). From there, it is a five minute walk to Beit Canada; you do not have to transfer to a Tel Aviv city bus – or pay 40 shekels for a taxi the way I did the first time I went there as a new olah!

Inside, the passport office is a clean and pleasant place. Be aware that you will not be permitted to use your laptop, cell phone or iPad, but instead will have to check your electronic device with the security guard. You are also not allowed to bring in large packages or luggage items, or to eat or drink in the office. There is a water dispenser for your convenience.

I had left my home in Jerusalem at 6:30 in the morning to get to the embassy soon after it opened at 8:00 AM. There were just two people ahead of me, so I only had to wait about fifteen minutes. Apparently the passport office does get quite crowded later in the morning, though, and it is especially busy on Fridays.

Although I had checked the passport application requirements in advance with the embassy website, I was a little nervous, afraid that I had missed some detail. A friendly fellow Canadian who had arrived after me (but just to pick up passports that were ready – lucky her!) went over the list with me. She seemed impressed that I had brought a certified check rather than cash, and that I had gotten an acceptable guarantor.

When it was my turn to meet with the passport clerk, I felt fairly self-confident. She looked over my application. Proper form? Check. Filled out in black ink, all in capital letters? Check. Proof of citizenship? Check. Professional photos taken within the last 6 months, of the right dimensions and with the proper facial expression? Check. Payment? Check – and a certified one, at that.

Canadian Passport Photo Specs

However, if an applicant’s Canadian passport has expired more than a year ago, as mine had, an additional form of official identification, with signature, is required. I had my slightly – ok, very – battered Canadian social insurance card in addition to my old passport, but apparently that was not sufficient. The clerk asked for my Israeli passport or driver’s license (an Israeli “teudat zehut” is not acceptable). I don’t drive, and my Israeli passport had also expired. In fact, updating that was the next errand on my list.

Although the clerk was sympathetic and took the time to double check with her supervisor, my ID was just not good enough. So I’m off to renew my Israeli passport and then to head back to the Canadian embassy to prove that I am who I think I am.

Oh well … at least I got a walk on the beach out of the whole excursion.


The Canadian embassy in Israel is at 3 Nirim, Tel Aviv. Passport applications and renewals are accepted 8:00 to noon, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, except on Israeli and Canadian holidays.

Tel: (011 972 3) 636-3300

Fax: (011 972 3) 636-3380

Email: taviv@international.gc.ca

If you are living in Israel, you will need to complete and submit the correct form for a Canadian applying from abroad – simplified renewal (if your passport is still valid or expired less than one year ago), adult application or child application. See http://www.ppt.gc.ca/info/ for detailed information and to download the form needed in your case.

For an application, the form must be signed by an acceptable guarantor (judge, lawyer, physician or signing officer of a bank) after you yourself have completed and signed it. In addition, you will need to submit:

  • Acceptable proof of citizenship or immigration status
  • Acceptable proof of identity
  • Names & contact details of 2 references
  • 2 photos according to the specifications in the passport instructions. (Read them carefully and make sure the photographer is familiar with them as well.) One of these photos must be verified and signed by your guarantor. IMPORTANT NEWS FOR MANY ISRAEL RESIDENTS: In the past, photographs which showed the applicant wearing a head covering were not allowed; now they are permitted if the person wears a head covering every day for religious or medical reasons. According the requirements: “your full face must be clearly visible and the head covering must not cast any shadows on your face.”
  • For both application and simplified renewal:
  • The current fee in either Canadian Dollars or New Israeli Shekels, in the form of a certified check (“check bankayit”) or postal money order only, payable to “Canadian Embassy Tel Aviv.” THE EMBASSY DOES NOT ACCEPT PERSONAL CHECKS, CREDIT CARDS, DEBIT CARDS OR CASH IN ANY CURRENCY.

Processing time is approximately 15 working days.

Bon voyage!






AACI Trip to Portugal part 2

Once more, thanks to Jack Cohen as roving reporter, for sharing the interesting details of his recent trip to Portugal with the AACI. This is Part Two.

Click Here to view Part One

Sunday we drove north-east from Lisbon, arriving at the small town of Castelo de Vida (Castle of vines) around noon.  The main reason for visiting this town is that it has a recognized and partially restored synagogue.  We were met by the former Mayor Mr, Carolino, who was the Mayor during the revolution of 1974.

He was able to trace his family origins back to 1320 from Toledo in Spain. The family business was metal working and they continued that in Castelo de Vida, and he showed us their working shop with some original tools. Because he was the Mayor and because he was a Bnei Anusim he bought and renovated a small partly hidden synagogue in the Juderia, which he took us to see.  Where the Juderia starts there are Magen David in the stone pavements.  The synagogue is a small museum and has a memorial wall with the names of 400 Converso Jews who were taken from there and murdered by the Inquisition in Lisbon.

After lunch we drove further towards the Spanish border and at a place called Portagem there is an intact Roman bridge over the river Sever that separated Portugal from Spain. Next to it is a Roman tower that used to be the customs post in the 15th century.  It was here that a large portion of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 paid to cross into Portugal.  Altogether there were ca 100 – 200,000 Jews who entered Portugal and because there were so many of them they were distributed around all the towns and villages in the region.  The total population of Portugal was then only ca. 1 million so the Jews were a large and influential group. On the wall of the tower was a plaque commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Jews expulsion from Spain.

We then drove to the highest point locally at Marvao where there is a small village adjacent to a huge Moorish castle.  The name of the Moorish General was Marwan, so it is named after him, and he had his headquarters there with a magnificent view over this area of Portugal.
From there we drove to Trancoso where we are staying while we visit the Jewish areas there and in nearby Belmonte.  At dinner we were addressed by Jose (Yosef) Levy Domingos, a journalist by profession, but a leader of the Jewish community in Belmonte and by the local Rabbi Elisha Salas, who originally came from Chile and is now an emissary of Shavei Israel to the Crypto-Jews.

The visit to Trancoso and Belmonte represents the core of our reason to be in Portugal and our interest in the Secret Jews.  We drove about an hour from Trancoso to Belmonte, where we were met by Yosef.  He took us on a walking tour of the extensive Jewish quarter (Juderia) and pointed out specific items of interest.  For example, it was always known where the Juderia started and now there is a magen David in the pavement to indicate the location.  He showed us crosses carved into the stone lintels to show where the Inquisition had confiscated Jewish houses.  Then he took us to the impressive new synagogue Beit Eliahu that he was involved in planning and building in 1996.  It has 32 families (300 members) that have returned to Judaism, and there are many more who retain their secret Jewish status even today.

It is estimated that ca. 40,000 New Christians (Secret Jews) were murdered by the Inquisition from 1536 – 1821, when it was finally abolished.  Of those, about 1,200 were burnt in autos da fe, mostly in Lisbon and Evora.  But, even after the Inquisition the Secret Jews were not safe.  During the 48 years of the Salazar dictatorship no Jewish practices were allowed in Portugal.  It was only after the 1974 revolution that religious practises other than Catholicism were allowed.  Still even today many Bnei Anusim will not openly declare that they are Jewish, but many will confess this confidentially. It is impossible to estimate the actual number of Secret Jews.

Returning to Trancoso we were taken on a tour of the extensive Juderia.  Here the houses are made of stone and all are grey.  The Jews, to show that they were converses, carved crosses on the lintels, but they modified the crosses with the letter shin at the ends and also added menoroth.   It was required that conversos move out of the Juderia and be replaced by Old Christians so that the conversos would be removed from Judaic influences.  It was a capital offense to “Judaize”, i.e. say or do anything about Judaism, including having Hebrew books.  Since the practice of Judaism was publicly banned and there were no Jewish institutions, the secret practise of Judaism continued underground, in the home.  This explains why so many of the victims of the Inquisition were women.
Yosef took us to the new modern Jewish Center that they have built there that is not yet officially opened.  He told us that although they have support from the local municipality, a priest complained to him that the JC was built too close to a church.  He replied that they built the Church on land confiscated from Jews, who they killed.  But, in general there is strong support for the return of Jewish worship and symbols as well as the open return of the Jews themselves.

watch this space for part 3 of 3 about the Portugal trip… click here for part one

here is a link to Jack’s blog. http://www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/castelo-de-vida.html

The AACI is your place for Kosher and Friendly travel. Always staffed by AACI personnel to insure your worry-free trip.Click here for upcoming trips.


AACI Trip to Portugal part 3

Once more, thanks to Jack Cohen as roving reporter, for sharing the interesting details of his recent trip to Portugal with the AACI. This is Part Three.

Click Here to view Part One   —   Click Here to view Part Two

Today we drove further north, stopping at two pleasant towns on the way to Coimbra.  Coimbra is not the third largest city in Portugal, but it is one of the most important culturally. It was the original capital when the Portuguese state was founded in 1180.  When the capital passed to Lisbon, Coimbra eventually retained the university, which is one of the oldest in Europe.  It was based on the Palace of the King in Coimbra, but greatly enlarged upon.

We were driven around the city with a guide and then visited the famous university.  We went to the university archive where the deputy director showed us the only mss (manuscripts) they retain from the Inquisition.  It was surprising that they only had 6 mss from that period, but he explained that all the Inquisition trial transcripts from around the country are collected in Lisbon.

From there we visited the magnificent baroque library dating from the mid 17th century.  It was very highly decorated in gold leaf and has 30,000 books on view all dating before 1750.  We were very lucky that Michael managed to arrange for the Director of the library to actually bring their most valuable book over for us to see, the so called “Abrabanel Bible.”   This has the complete Torah written on parchment by hand and dates from the 15th century.  He said it was by far their most valuable book.

We were impressed by Coimbra and the university and the cooperation of the archivist, who said that he might be of Jewish origin.  We stayed overnight in the huge magnificent old Curia Palace hotel.

We left the Curia Palace hotel near Coimbra and drove for about an hour to Tomar, a small city of ca. 20,000 inhabitants.  There the main attraction for us was the synagogue, the oldest one surviving in Portugal.  It was built before the edict of expulsion in Portugal in 1496 and survived, none were built after that until modern times.

It was rediscovered in the 1920s by the Polish Jewish engineer Shmuel Schwartz who pioneered studies of the Marranos (Bnei Anusim) in Portugal.  He cleared up the place after it had been used as a store room and bought it.  Then he restored it and donated it to the Portuguese State on condition that it be kept open as a museum or working synagogue. They estimate that there were perhaps 150 Jews in the town when it was built, but now there are only a few Jewish families left in Tomar.  The Synagogue, which originally had a secret door, now has a front door and is open to the public.  It has four high stone columns and a vaulted ceiling.  We were given an explanation by a member of the tourism office in Tomar and the lady who looks after the synagogue, who wore a large gold Magen David and has Jewish ancestry.

We then had our lunch in a nearby park and drove to Obeidos, a beautiful medieval town surrounded by a castle that has nothing Jewish about it, but was lovely to visit and had many shops for tourists.

Then we drove back a few hours to Lisbon. We had our last supper in the Jewish community hall and there were speeches and mock awards, some jokes and some singing.  We all had a great time, and it was very informative and educational. Michael and Miriam did an excellent job in organizing and running the tour and the driver was also excellent.  We are returning home to Israel with a lot to remember and think about.

Watch this space more information about other AACI Kosher and Fun trips…

here is a link to Jack’s blog. http://www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/coimbra-and-back-to-lisbon.html

The AACI is your place for Kosher and Friendly travel. Always staffed by AACI personnel to insure your worry-free trip. Click here for upcoming trips.

www.aaci.org.il Call us in Jerusalem at 02-566-1181.

AACI Trip to Portugal part one

Special thanks to guest blogger, Jack Cohen who experienced this wonderful trip first hand and was kind enough to share his experience.

This is the first part of three installments. stay tuned for the next installment.

And watch for photos to come (I hope)

Our first day on the trip to Portugal was exhausting.  We flew overnight with a stop-over in Brussels, since there is no direct flight from Israel to Lisbon.  In the early morning we took a coach tour of Brussels and we saw some of the many grandiose buildings that King Leopold II had built. He had a huge personal fortune because he personally owned the Belgian Congo in Africa, and exploited the natives to produce rubber (for details see “King Leopold’s Ghost” by Adam Hochschild).  Then we hopped back aboard a plane and flew 2.5 hrs to Lisbon.

Our intrepid guide Michael Tuchfeld met us at the airport and we went off in our shiny coach.  We had a tour of Lisbon with our Portuguese guide and it is very beautiful, quite hilly and varied.  Although Lisbon had been settled by the Romans, who called it Lusitania, most of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 1775, so very little remains that is earlier.  We saw the medieval monument called the Belem Tower (Belem is derived from Bethlehem) and the relatively modern monument to the Portuguese discoveries of the world (from Brazil to Japan).  We went to the district of Alfama that used to include a Jewish quarter and we saw the street still called the Juderia.  There had been three Jewish quarters in Lisbon but nothing remains.

After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, about one third of those who left went to Portugal.  After King Manual I ascended to the throne he decided to keep the Jews but get rid of their Jewish identity, so he forbade the practise of Judaism and had the Jews forcibly converted, but he gave them a grace period of 20 years during which they would not be investigated.  In 1496 he wished his son to marry the daughter of the Catholic King of Spain, but they made a requirement that all Jews be expelled from Portugal.   Even though he issued an edict of expulsion, instead he forcibly converted those who remained practising Jews.  However, in 1506 there was a massacre of Jews in Russio Square in Lisbon, about 2,500 were murdered in the square outside one of the main Churches.  According to the history books, King Manuel did not intend this to happen so he arrested the perpetrators. We went to see the memorial stone with a Magen David carved into it that commemorates the massacre and nearby an inscribed apology from the Church.

While we were there, Michael told us that we were not ordinary tourists, like Japanese or Italians, but as Jews we had a particular connection to that spot and that history.  While we were gathered around this memorial some passers-by stopped to hear what was being said.  One man afterwards spoke to us and told us that his father had been Jewish but his mother was Catholic and although he was brought up Christian he thought of himself as partly Jewish and he said he liked Israel and said “shalom” to us when he left.   This was a very nice gesture.

On several occasions we were told that there is no anti-Semitism in Portugal.  There are no anti-Semitic parties like in Hungary or Greece and there are no groups of fascist thugs as there are in Britain and Germany. Indeed estimates of the proportion of Portuguese with Jewish antecedents vary from 20% to 50%.  We then climbed back aboard the bus and went to the venue where the Jewish community had arranged kosher meals for us during our stay in Lisbon and then finally after eating to the hotel Altis and a much needed sleep.

Day 2 and we drove to Evora about an hour’s drive from Lisbon.  On the way there we saw cork trees growing, for which Portugal is famous.  Evora is a beautiful old town that had an important role in Jewish history in Portugal.  In the 15th century it had the largest Jewish population in Portugal (ca. 4,000) and had a large Juderia.  Since the King liked to vacation in the town he was glad to have his many Jewish assistants live there. That was until he decided to force the Jews to give up Judaism and convert to Christianity.

The King’s brother became the Head of the Inquisition in Evora and was especially cruel in mistreating the conversos, Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. Passing the Roman remains we went to the main town square, Giraldo Square, where the headquarters of the Inquisition had been and where they burned the Jews at the auto-da-fe, where Jews were given the last chance to recant or be burnt alive. We sat there and ate our lunch, strange feeling, everything around was normal.  Both the Jewish victims and the hateful perpetrators would not have believed this outcome.

We then visited the town library that had been a private scholarly library founded several hundred years ago.  In their vault they had an original volume of a book published in 1496 by Abraham Zacuto who was an advisor to the King and a famous mathematician.  He compiled tables of data that enabled many navigators to successfully expand the Portuguese empire.  But, even he had to flee to avoid forced conversion.  He escaped to N. Africa and then to Holland.  It was a privilege for us to see this original book, usually kept in a safe.

We returned to Lisbon and that night we went out to hear Fado music, the authentic voice of Portuguese culture, in an area known as the Bairro Alto.

Today we drove west from Lisbon to the farthest western point in continental Europe.  En route we stopped in the beautiful little city of Sintra, where we toured the former Royal Palace that was a vacation home to many Portuguese Kings.  On the very top of the hill, which we didn’t visit was the Moorish Castle from which the Arabs controlled the area for 300 years.

Then we drove to Cabo Roca (Rocky Cape) where many of the adventurous sailors went to pray as they stared across the Atlantic Ocean into the unknown.  It is a very remote and wild area with very high cliffs.  But driving a little along the coast from there we came to the wonderful little holiday resort of Cascais (pronounced Cashcaish), where we stopped to have lunch and sat in the sun by the beach.  By the way the weather has been perfect for touring, except the wind was very strong at Cabo Roca.

Then we continued along the coast to Estoril, past the famous casino, and along the Tegus River back to Lisbon.  Tonite is Shabbat, so we are walking to the kosher restaurant to have our Shabbat meal. The synagogue Shaare Tikvah is just around the corner from there.  It is quite large but very discrete.

watch this space for part 2 of 3 about the Portugal trip… click here for part two

here is a link to Jack’s blog. http://www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/trip-to-portugal.html

The AACI is your place for Kosher and Friendly travel. Always staffed by AACI personnel to insure your worry-free trip.Click here for upcoming trips.



10 glorious days of traveling in Iceland to places with unpronounceable names yet breathtaking beauty.

Sheer bliss in experiencing the natural elements and formations of different landscapes with a group of AACI members sharing their warmth, congeniality and spirit of camaraderie.  Enjoy our pictures on AACI’s facebook. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2207320349644.2132908.1446505548

Have You Considered Iceland?

AACI in conjunction with our official travel agency, Ophir Tours, is pleased to be offering a kosher tour of Iceland from June 13-24, 2011. 

Never heard of anyone you know visiting Iceland? Well, now is your chance to be the first one to know about a great thing. Iceland has long remained an enigma, a vague mix of Vikings and glaciers for the unitiated. However, tourism to Iceland has exploded in the past decade; last year’s eruption of Eyjafjallajokul volcano particularly put Iceland on the map for those people who did not realize that it is less than 5 hours flight from New York. (The New York Times recently rated it the 4th best place in the World to visit in 2011.)

Iceland is an incredible tourist destination, and a great way to get a break from Israel’s scorching-hot summers. First settled in 874 C.E. by Norwegian seafaring people, Iceland is a photographer’s dream land, with clean air, picturesque fishing villages, blue glaciers, fjords, and wildlife. The streets are clean, locals speak fluent English, and, with the downturn of the global economy in 2008, prices are better than ever.

Many people now stop over in Iceland on their way across the Atlantic, but AACI’s 10-day tour allows you  to see the entire expanse of the country with the peace of mind knowing that all aspects of the tour are kosher. Stops will include the famous Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik, Pingvellir (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and much more driving around the entire island.

For full details regarding the itinerary, please click here: http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=43#iceland

See this great video about Iceland

For questions, please call David at 02-566-1181 ext. 314.

To book, please call Livia Berman 09-777-7100.

$5990 USD per person for AACI Members

Single supplement: $950 USD
Non-AACI supplement: $75 USD

All photos courtesy of the Iceland Tourist Board.





thanks once again to Katie for this post.