If you are an American, when you think of traveling to Europe, you typically think first of visiting Paris, Rome and London. If you live in Israel, you have the luxury of contemplating a very different kind of European vacation. Sarah and I like to divide our vacations between town and country; i.e., we spend the weekend in a city (where we hope to have some kind of Shabbat experience, usually with help from Chabad), and then we rent a car and travel a few hours to stay in a rural B & B and hike in the area. Cities that we have visited include Turin (Italy), Lubliana (Slovenia), Bratislava (Slovakia), and Budapest (Hungary). Below are some travel notes that I hope you will find useful.
Food: We have friends who feel that part of the travel experience entails partaking in all kinds of local food, and so while they keep a kosher kitchen when they are home, when they are abroad anything goes. At the other end of the spectrum, we have friends who will not eat any cooked or processed food item without being certain that the item is under kosher supervision. Sarah and I take a middle position. We observe all the well known kosher rules but we do not feel that everything we put into our mouths has to be rabbinically supervised.
Hunting for a world that is no more: Our kids make fun of us by saying that we turn every vacation into a “March of the Living.” We’re not as fixated as all that, but the truth is that you would be surprised (and depressed) at how many times you can pull into a European town that you had never heard of and discover that there is a decent-sized synagogue. If the synagogue has been refurbished, it may now be an art gallery or something more prosaic like a furniture store. When you come to these towns, like Gyongyos, Hungary and Trencin, Slovakia, towns that once had thriving Jewish life but now do not contain a single Jew, you want to ask an elderly local: Don’t you miss the Jews?
Fun: Because a European vacation for an Israeli is not such a weighty proposition as it is for an American, having fun is more permissible. Rowing a boat for a few hours on Lake Bohinj (Slovenia) might be more boating than official European culture, but so what? The scenery is gorgeous and you are having fun and you are on vacation. I guess that’s a key difference. For Americans, Europe often means a list of cities to be ticked off in a methodical, workmanlike way; for Israelis, Europe can just be a vacation.
So here’s an idea for you: the next time you visit Israel, why not extend your time abroad with a European stopover. You can then experience Europe as vacation—just don’t dwell too long on the fate of the local Jewish population.
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.