Any Vacation Can be a Jewish Vacation
By Beri Kravitz, Jconnect webmaster
A popular Crowded House song says “Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you”. This is clearly not true, but everywhere you go, you can take Judaism with you. You can make any vacation a Jewish vacation. It can be intensely Jewish, peripherally Jewish, Jew-ish, and as creative as you care to make it. Some aspects may take a bit of planning and some can be improvised.
Before heading out, try googling “Jewish your destination”. You may be surprised that your destination has any kind of Jewish past or connection. You can build your own adventure by taking a walking tour (download to your phone or arrange a guide) and visiting the local synagogue or Jewish museum. Jewish Heritage Europe has a portal with news and resources for nearly 50 destinations in Europe. Please note that security is very strict in most European cities and you will have to inform the synagogue and provide your passport information before you visit. Hadassah Magazine has an archive of Jewish travel destinations that would take several lifetimes to experience. Chabad has a presence nearly everywhere (except most Middle Eastern countries) if you are looking to find a traditional Shabbat or holiday experience. The Reform movement has a listing of their congregations worldwide if you prefer a more liberal experience.
Another way to have a Jewish experience is to incorporate an act of tzedakah (charity) into your stay. It can have a specific Jewish component or not, depending on your schedule and interests. You can bring food to Holocaust survivors, help maintain/clean the Jewish cemetery, deliver Jewish books or help out in a local school or senior home. My son once insisted we donate our leftover groceries to a local food bank before returning home. For a more extended and intense volunteering experience in the developing world, see the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) programs.
Shabbat can be enjoyed by attending services with the local community, having a special meal, taking some time to slow down and absorb your surroundings or having a Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming Shabbat) ceremony wherever you happen to be. Sometimes you may need to get creative. When we were staying outside of one of the national parks in Utah we lit vanilla candles, drank whatever grape juice we could find and shared a baguette. (Finding wine in Utah is very challenging!). The important thing is kavanah (intention).
Traveling while Jewish has its own benefits and challenges. “Jewish Geography” is a fun game to play when meeting other Jewish travelers or when talking to those in the local Jewish community. This is the theme of the fun song, Wherever You Go There’s Always Someone Jewish. My daughter was crowned winner at a recent Seder she (attended arranged by Kahal) in Madrid when she ran into a former classmate and his family, a friend from camp and a classmate from her study abroad program in Denmark. She was surprised to meet one person she knew, let alone five. There are also shared experiences that bridge the language gap. Shabbat services are the easiest of these to find. The tunes may be different, but the basic framework is the same, worldwide. I happen to be an avid Israeli folk dancer. I can attend any dance session in the world and join the circle without speaking a word of the local language. However, keep in mind that antisemitism and anti-zionism are on the rise, especially in Europe and majority Muslim countries. It is not advisable to wear outwardly Jewish clothing or jewelry. Some locals who identify you as Jewish may ask questions because they are genuinely curious but tread lightly until you can determine their intentions. Lilit Marcus, a New York-based writer wrote a good article on striking this delicate balance.
Vacationing in a natural setting opens up lots of possibilities for creative Jewish expression. Natural beauty reminds us of a power greater than ourselves and the wonder of creation. Getting away from populated areas creates opportunities to take time to contemplate and discuss how nature inspires us. Traditional Jewish practice includes several blessings for seeing natural beauty and wonders. The “Shehecheyanu”, the prayer for doing something for the first time in a calendar year, or in your life, is almost always appropriate in these settings. Recite blessings that are meaningful to you or take them as a template to create your own.
When traveling it’s nice to take a piece of home with you and to find some souvenirs (tangible or experiential) that enrich your life. See what happens when these have a bit of Jewish content. You may be surprised by how much it enhances your travels.