Earlier this week, Sami Rohr Prize Choice Award Winner Dr. Abigail Green wrote about the making of a good biography. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
For the past 10 years I’ve been travelling the world in Moses Montefiore’s footsteps. This was a man who spent much of his (long) life on the road: Besides the usual round of European tourist destinations (Paris, Florence, Rome, Frankfurt and Berlin), he visited Jerusalem seven times in total and passed through innumerable Jewish communities as he embarked on politically motivated missions to places like St. Petersburg, Istanbul, Marrakesh and Bucharest.
But what does it mean to travel in the footsteps of a man who’s been dead for over 120 years, and why bother? After all, it’s impossible to recreate the 19th-century travel experience in our world of cars, planes and high-speed trains. (I once met a Reform Rabbi who followed the Montefiores’ route during their first trip abroad; apparently it was very scenic, involving only minor roads.) More to the point, most of the places Montefiore visited have changed beyond all recognition. It’s not just that Bucharest is full of shabby, Ceausescu high-rise flats, or that a whole quarter of Marrakesh is devoted to glitzy hotels. The real problem is more fundamental. The shifting currents of world history mean that places that were once heartlands of the Diaspora are now barely Jewish places at all.