Malta, Part 5

Shabbat descended on Malta. We had had our frozen meals heated in the microwave just before I lit the candles and my husband brought them up to our room. We enjoyed a restful evening. We got up early in the morning and made our way to the synagogue.

Malta has a small Jewish community. There is one family that is primarily involved in keeping the synagogue going. Mr. Avraham Ohayon is the president of the congregation and one of his sons, Reuben, serves as the shaliach tzibor. Their extended family comprises a good portion of the Malta Jewish community. There are about 80-100 Jews in Malta.

We walked along the seaside and then veered to the right and a couple of blocks later, the synagogue was on the left. The synagogue is located in an apartment building. There is no indication on the outside of the building that there is a synagogue inside. We worried that we wouldn’t be able to get in because without a key, one would have to buzz to enter. That is one of the reasons we made sure to come early. As it happened, just as we got to the building, a woman was going into it via the front door and we followed her in. We walked up to the apartment which was located on the first floor above ground level. We knocked on the door, but no one else had arrived yet.

After a few minutes, Mr. Reuben Ohayon and some other people arrived. The apartment in which the synagogue is located is very large and the area was very pleasantly planned. The men’s section was long and thin with the ark at one end and the reader’s desk in the center. The men’s chairs were located on either long side of the room facing the center. The women’s section was at the back separated by a tasteful curtain. The room used for the kiddush was off to the side.

The service started at about 10 a.m. and the service followed the Ashkenazi (European) ritual even though the majority of Maltese Jews originally lived in northern Africa. There were two sifrei torah, one Sefardi and one Ashkenazi. About 25 men and about 10 women showed up as well as a number of children including the famous quadruplets, two boys and two girls who are now in their teens. During the torah service, the wimple (the long piece of fabric that is wrapped around the torah as is done in German synagogues) was given to the women to coil and it was passed from one woman to another and each held it and said a prayer. After the torah service, they said a prayer for the government of Malta, just as Jews in every land pray for the well-being of their government. Then they said a prayer for the members of the Israel Defense Forces. The service was very beautiful and very moving.

After the service, the very warm, welcoming congregation gathered for a lovely kiddush serving products mostly imported from Israel. A mixture of English, Maltese, and Hebrew was spoken. It was lovely meeting these people and with the increased number of Israelis visiting Malta these days, perhaps the community will gain strength.

Jews visiting Malta over shabbat should take advantage of the opportunity to visit the synagogue and meet this community. Since hotels are scattered throughout Malta, it would be a very good idea to locate the synagogue on a map and then find a hotel that is nearby. The synagogue is on Enrico Mizzi Street which appears on the map as Enrico Street in Ta’Xbiex. As a basis of judging distance, we stayed at the Park Hotel in Sliema and the walk was between 30 and 40 minutes.

Enjoy Malta, and when you get to the synagogue, be sure to give the people there my warmest regards!

Malta, Part 4

The next day was a Friday and since we had swung far afield the previous two days, we left Friday for Valletta. Valletta is Malta’s largest city and also its capital. We had once before been to Valletta and were excited about having the time to walk through the quaint older part of the city.

We took one of Malta’s very famous buses to the city. Malta has a collection of buses from everywhere they drive on the left side of the street. All of the buses are painted the same colors and for years, they have been a favorite feature of Malta visits. As of July 3 this year, the old buses will be retired and a new modern transportation system will be implemented. So, we were happy to have the opportunity to ride an old Malta bus while they still are in service.

While walking in the pedestrian mall, we stumbled upon an archaeological museum. My husband suggested that we go and see it, and I reluctantly agreed. Since I am pretty ignorant in the field of archaeology, I don’t really enjoy seeing ancient artifacts, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had an exhibit of Alphonse Mucha’s work at the museum. It was a wonderful exhibit that included a documentary on his life. It was just beautiful. After seeing that exhibit, my husband spent a good deal of time in the regular exhibit and I spent a good deal of time in the gift shop. Unfortunately, there was nothing there that tempted me.

The center of town is lovely and we sat down nearby to have the lunch we had packed. Then we got up and walked on further. We came to a shop that was selling cosmetic products from the Dead Sea, apparently relabeled for sale in other countries. The product was described as from “The Holy Land, Israel.” The man selling the items was, of course, Israeli.

We passed by the seat of government and watched the guards walking their posts. We enjoyed seeing the inscriptions on the wall that were taken from letters received in Malta during World War II. Malta withstood the war with honor.

What makes Malta so picturesque is that the sea seems to be everywhere.

We walked along another street and bought some huge delicious bananas and we heard someone playing some well-known Israeli songs on a guitar. It seemed appropriate for a Friday afternoon!
We were almost feeling completely free of the worries of the day when we were reminded that there are lots of problems in the world still to be solved.

It reads “Association of Libyans, resident in Malta”

We returned to our hotel happy and relaxed and awaited our shabbat adventure!

Malta, Part 3

We were lucky enough to buy this package to Malta for a low price. As with all tours that are sold in this manner, once we arrived in Malta we were met by a representative who pointed us in the direction of our ground transportation. Once on the van or bus, a company representative outlined which tours and activities we could purchase, if desired. Our tour of the island of Malta that we took on our second day was one of the offerings. This day we also took a tour, this time to Gozo.

It was another bright, sunny day with mild temperatures. We boarded the bus and went on to gather other Israelis who had also purchased this tour from their hotels which were scattered along the northern coast of the island. Among the Israelis were a number of Israeli Arabs who were part of the group. Characterizations of Israelis as racist are not only offensive, but untrue. What Israelis don’t like is people who want to kill us. Fellow travelers out to have a good time were just that, fellow travelers.

We reached the northwesternmost point of Malta and waited for a ferry to take us to Gozo, the second in size of Malta’s three islands.

Our tour took us to Calypso Cave first. What a disappointment! It turned out that it was a small cave which one entered and exited from the same place. Most of us stayed above ground and enjoyed the beautiful view of the sea and the flowers that were blooming in the area.

I especially loved this beautiful wild plant.

We proceeded to Victoria, the largest city on the island. The entire island has a population of something over 40,000, so even the big city was not so big. This day, March 31, was Freedom Day, the anniversary of the withdrawal of British troops and the Royal Navy from Malta in 1979. The central square of the town was filled with people who were listening to a performance by the police band and several very talented singers who played and sang songs that surprisingly, we were familiar with.

Here is what the rest of the street looked like.

We walked up to the top of the hill for a very beautiful view.

Of course the most prominent feature of the landscape was the church in the distance.

When we left there we went via Fontana where there was a factory that sold sweaters and lace items to the beautiful harbor of Xlendi (pronounced “Shlendi”). It was a glorious day with bright sunshine and people sat outdoors eating lunch. We had, of course, packed our lunches and so we bought drinks and walked along the water’s edge.

We were happy to see one of the picturesque boats that we had seen the day before.

It was a beautiful day.

My husband and I always enjoy traveling and we enjoy seeing new places. So, for us, it was a great day. In terms of a satisfying tour, not so much. It lacked information about the history and culture of the area. While we were walking along the water’s edge in Xlendi, the rest of the people from our bus were in a crowded restaurant waiting for service because our guide, who admittedly was brand new in Malta, advised them that that was the place to eat lunch if they wanted a great meal. When our departure time didn’t leave them any time to even walk to the water’s edge to see the inlet, people were annoyed.

But it was a beautiful, relaxing day filled with lovely sights and new experiences. All too soon, we returned to the ferry dock and left Gozo.

Malta, part 2

Having landed in Malta after a sleepless night, our first night’s sleep at our hotel was particularly long and satisfying.

By nine in the morning of our second day we were outside on the main street where we waited for the bus to pick us up for a tour of the island. Our first stop was at a craft village where they manufactured a number of different craft items including filigree objects, mostly in silver, pottery, and very attractive decorative glass items.
Our next stop was in the town of Mosta which is proud of having the third largest unsupported dome in the world. We visited the church there which is very impressive from the outside.

and just as impressive inside. The church was the site of a miracle. During World War II, a Nazi plane passed over the church and dropped three bombs. Two bounced off the outside of the dome. The third came through the roof into the church when 300 people were present. The bomb did not explode and no one was hurt. For this reason, this church is a popular place for the people of Malta to pray. After all, if the church was capable of this miracle, then why not others?
In this picture, on the right hand side, just below the center, you can see where the dome was repaired.

Our next stop was Mdina, pronounced em-Dina. Mdina is a walled city and it is well preserved. Walking through Mdina was really lovely, and from one area there is a most beautiful view of the island.

The treat was seeing the dome of the church in Mosta from far in the distance, as we did here.
Of course, if one did not want to walk through the streets of Mdina, one could hire a friendly horse to help out.

or one could just start up a conversation with him.

From there we went to see the Blue Grotto. First we got on a boat.

Then, once on the water, we saw the caves.

Our boat darted into and out of the series of caves, but the most astounding part of the tour was when we saw the neon blue water.

The water actually looked as if it were lit from below. The water was very clear. Even at a depth of 10 meters, one could see the bottom of the sea.

After that, we had our last stop of the day. It was a fishing town called Marsaxlokk (pronounced Marsa-shlock). It was very picturesque, from the boats

to the fishermen themselves, fixing their nets.

It was a beautiful, full day!

Tomorrow: Gozo!

Malta, part 1

One nice side benefit of living in Israel is that there are so many foreign countries within only 3 or 4 hours flight distance. Israelis love to travel. We often notice that in the most far-flung places we are likely to find Israelis. In fact, although there are only 7.5 million Israelis, we are far more likely to see Israelis than Americans when we travel abroad, whether it’s in Europe or Asia or South America.

Israeli travel agencies offer tour deals that are nothing short of amazing. If one wants a tour for 3 or 4 nights, one can find very inexpensive tours to a large number of European locations, frequently for under $400, many times under $300, which includes airfare, transfers, and hotels. We have traveled on these sort of deals to Crete, to Varna (Bulgaria), to Rhodes, and now, to Malta.

Malta is a very small country. Even compared to Israel, Malta is tiny. Malta occupies about 316 square kilometers or 121 square miles. Israel is over 20,000 square kilometers or over 8000 square miles! Malta is an archipelago which is located in the Mediterranean 93 kilometers south of Sicily. It is made up of three islands and several outcroppings. The largest island is named Malta and the second is Gozo. The third, Comino, is much smaller than the other two and is almost unoccupied. There are a couple of farmers who live there during the year and in the summer, there is a hotel which is open to tourists. People visit Comino to take hikes through its unspoiled countryside. The population of Malta is about 410,000.

Malta has numerous natural harbors and has many beaches. People there speak Maltese, a combination of Arabic, Italian, French, and other languages, including Hebrew. However, Malta has two official languages with the second being English. Maltese children all begin learning English as soon as they enter school. All signs are in English. The bookstores there are filled with English books. Virtually everyone on the island speaks English. That makes it a wonderful place for English speakers to visit. The British, in particular, enjoy visiting Malta for its beautiful landscapes and feel at home with the traffic following British road rules, driving on the left.

We arrived at the airport in Israel at about 3 a.m. for our flight. The airport was packed. It appeared that several groups of Israeli students had just returned from trips, probably to Poland, and they were very enthusiastic, dancing and joyful. It was a great way to begin our holiday!

When we finally arrived in Malta, we were treated to almost perfect weather which lasted during our entire visit except for one cloudburst that occurred while we were indoors for a few minutes.

Once we were settled into our hotel in a small city called Sliema, we decided to go exploring. Both of us like just walking through the streets of new places and this walk was mostly along the sea side, so it was beautiful and relaxing.

We knew that there was a small Jewish community in Malta, and so we made contact with the community leader who told me where the synagogue was located and when services were. We chose a hotel within walking distance, but we were not going to rely on fate to walk there in shabbat morning without having walked the route once with a map.

It took us about 45 minutes to find the building where the synagogue was located. The hardest part was finding the right building once we were within a block of it. There was not an address, only the name of the building. This seems to be the Maltese way since everywhere we saw signs on buildings with their names. Here are two examples of some of the nicer homes we saw. These homes had street numbers too. Unfortunately, the building that the synagogue occupied did not.

We tried asking people who lived within a block of it where the building was. No one knew. Finally, my husband said that we’d been told it was across from the old bowling alley. Someone pointed us in the right direction. Here is the building from down the block.

and here is the building up close.

Yes, its only address is “Florida Mansions.”

The synagogue is in an apartment converted for use as a synagogue. It is actually very nice. Unfortunately, I have no pictures, as we were not able to go inside then and the only time we were there was shabbat. But I will describe it when I talk about our shabbat in Malta.

We walked back to the hotel where we sat and waited for our dinners to be delivered. There is a man in Malta who supplies kosher meals to travelers. They are not inexpensive, but it was very nice being able to eat real warm meals. We ordered meals for all four dinners to be delivered frozen to our hotel at the same time since there was a 5 Euro delivery charge. We put the meals in their sealed plastic containers into our thermal bag, and the hotel stored them in the freezer and then heated them for us, sealed, in their microwave, each evening.

We looked forward to the next day: a tour of the island of Malta. Join us!

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