Of the many ancient tales Tiberias has to tell, perhaps only one spans as many continents, faiths and cultures as the story of a determined woman named Dona Gracia. Her story comes to life at the hotel that bears her name, tucked away in downtown Tiberias, perhaps the only boutique hotel in the world with a lobby that doubles as a museum exhibit. From it, you’ll learn about the long road, both metaphorical and geographical, that led Dona Gracia from Lisbon to Lake Kinneret.
Dona Gracia was born in Lisbon 1510 during the Inquisition. Her family, wealthy traders in Far Eastern pepper, became "secret Jews," those that hid their Jewish identity and pretended to be Catholic. Fleeing Lisbon for Antwerp and then Venice, Dona Gracia became a shipping magnate thanks to her wise management of her late husband’s fortune.
Due to family intrigues, however, her Judaism was discovered and she was arrested. Only after her nephew, Don Yosef Nasi intervened on her behalf with the sultan, who warned the Venetians not to harm her, was Dona Gracia free to leave Venice for Greece and then Constantinople along with a wave of Jewish refugees.
In Constantinople, her devotion to her people took an astounding turn when the sultan granted her a franchise to establish a Jewish mini-state around Tiberias with Don Yosef (now the husband of her only daughter). In those days, Tiberias was so deep in the doldrums that the ancient version of “yeah, that’ll happen” was “when Tiberias rises from its ruins.”
But Dona Gracia brought hope of change, attracting Jews from across the Mediterranean who raised mulberry trees for silk and bees for honey on the lakeside slopes. Sadly, with much work still unfinished, Dona Gracia died in Istanbul in 1569. The family fortunes dwindled and the rebirth of Tiberias was a forgotten dream until modern times.
The hotel offers tours of the museum and special cultural programs based on Dona Gracia’s intercultural-interreligious life and times.
www.donagracia.comFor tours in English, call Irit Ahdoot, at 054-2454053 (book ahead at least one day).