Planning a vacation can involve many considerations. Do you want to go to a typical tourist spot, or somewhere exotic? Will you travel to a hot climate, or somewhere cold? What mode of transportation will you use to get to the destination and how will you get around once you’re there? What about accommodations, sightseeing, activities and so forth? Sometimes you need a vacation just to recuperate from all the preparations.
The Orthodox traveller has even more considerations. What to do, for example, about kosher food? In some places, it’s a no-brainer. Israel is an obvious example. So are many major U.S. cities. In Florida, from South Beach to Boca Raton, kosher restaurants and food purveyors abound. Likewise, I was surprised to learn recently that Panama City has 24 kosher eateries.
Other destinations have little or no kosher products available, other than fresh fruits and vegetables. This presents a challenge, unless you’re ready to start a diet or become a vegan. A few years ago, my wife and I vacationed on a Caribbean island. We brought two suitcases with us, one filled with our clothes and the other stuffed with homemade delicacies. In such situations, a hotel fridge is a must, if you don’t want to have to consume a lot of entrees on the first night.
Observing Shabbat away from home presents its own challenges, the solutions for which cannot be packed in your luggage. Many hotels have electronic keys and automatic doors all over the place. Getting from one place to another – or even out of your hotel room – can involve meticulous, and sometimes very creative, planning.
The religious vacationer also has to make decisions about shul. Not all destinations have a synagogue. And even if there is one, it may not hold regular services. Some people who normally go to daily minyan will forgo that routine while away. Contrast that with a friend of mine who makes every effort to travel at times and to places where he will not have to miss a morning or evening service. He credits the Almighty with giving him the means and opportunity to get away. Going to shul while on vacation is his way of expressing his gratitude.
Even in a place with a small, or nonexistent, Jewish community, there is likely a Chabad rabbi who can assist with your religious needs. You may have heard it said that there are two things you can find everywhere in the world, Chabad and Coca-Cola, to which I would add, and not always Coke. The island vacation I referred to earlier was arranged only after finding out that a Chabad rabbi had set up shop there and we would be able to keep Shabbat properly and in a spiritual atmosphere.
Of course, it is not only the Orthodox who follow Jewish traditions. Many other Jews also observe Shabbat and keep kosher, to a greater or lesser extent. For all of us, what we do while we’re travelling is a litmus test of the depth of our Jewishness. Is it an essential part of who we are, or something that we can take a break from? For the committed Jew, a vacation is an opportunity to experience our Judaism, while seeing the world and recharging our batteries, rather than leaving it at home.