Category Archives: Festivals

Keeping the Jewish Festivals while on the go

Tisha B’Av in Six Minutes

This month I’m super busy with academic finals and am studying day and night for tests, so I’ll make it very short this time:

How is this Tisha B’Av Different?

Tisha B'Av in Six MinutesTonight and tomorrow, Friday and Shabbat is Tisha B’Av (9th Av) and in principle we should be eating the Seuda Mafseket (the meal before the fast) right now and start fasting on Shabbat. Since this fast is only a Rabbinical Decree (unlike Yom Kippur), the fast is delayed until Saturday night (10th Av).

This means there are a few differences on how we prepare for the fast. Continue reading Tisha B’Av in Six Minutes

World Travel and the Night of Shavuot

The Night of Shavuot

What’s the connection between world travel and the night of Shavuot? (hint: It depends on your location on the globe…).

A bit of background first:

World Travel and the Night of ShavuotOn the first night of Shavuot (this year, Saturday night, May 23, 2015), Jews throughout the world observe the centuries-old custom of conducting an all-night vigil dedicated to Torah learning and preparation for receiving the Torah anew the next morning. One explanation for this tradition is that the Jewish people did not rise early on the day G‑d gave the Torah, and it was necessary for G‑d Himself to awaken them. To compensate for their behavior, Jews have accepted upon themselves the custom of remaining awake all night.

Source: Learning on Shavuot night – Shavuot

World Travel and the Night of Shavuot

When I was a teenager in Yeshiva staying awake and learning all night was something one did every Shavuot. Never mind that most of us slept during the day before the festival to prepare for the all-night learning. In the morning too we went back to sleep for another few hours following Kiddush and (cheese) cake at 8 AM . This meant that in total we probably slept just as much on Shavuot (if not more) as on any other Shabbat…

The idea of global location affecting Torah study occurred to me during the years I studied in Amsterdam (Holland, not New York). I was accustomed to finishing the evening meal around 10 PM and studying till dawn at 4-4:30 AM, making a nice 6-hour block of focused intense Torah study.

Endless Night or A Moment in Time?

In my first year in the Netherlands I discovered something different. Nightfall (when 3 stars were visible) was close to 10:30 PM. Even if we finished in Shul by 11 PM and gobbled down a delicious Milchig meal in 90 minutes, we didn’t open a book till at least 12:30-1:00 AM. That left only ONE HOUR till dawn at 1:30-1:40 AM ! Of course we could continue learning another hour or two till morning prayers, but the feeling was that the night was over in a flash.

I’m curious about how things are in other places so I checked out the potential learning schedules for two extremes; Stockholm, Sweden and Johannesburg, South Africa. I could have checked out Norilsk, Siberia or Ushuaia, Argentina in South America, but they don’t have a significant Jewish population and probably none of their possible Jews would be up all night trying to decipher a page of Gemara…

In Stockholm, nightfall this year is at 10:42 PM and dawn at 12:45 AM, leaving 45 minutes less time to learn then in Amsterdam; barely a “Moment in Time”.

In South Africa on the other hand, where they don’t use Daylight Savings Time,  nightfall in Johannesburg on Shavuot is 5:51 PM and dawn is 5:15 AM, leaving 9-10 hours of study after a slow leisurely meal, which for some might feel like an “Endless Night”.

Study Smart

World Travel and the Night of ShavuotHow does one occupy themselves during the night of Shavuot? Personally I’ve gone through many stages. When I was younger with a regular Chavruta (study partner) we’d review whatever the Yeshiva was into that month or studied for a major test in Gemara. Those nights passed quickly because we spent the hours standing in front of our Shtenders (study lectern) discussing and arguing the major points.

Later on I usually chose a topic which interested me at the moment (often in the world of Halacha) and hopefully that would keep me going till dawn (with a few blackouts as time went by).

This is great for someone with a bit of Yeshiva background, but what does one do during an “Endless Night” if they haven’t any serious Torah-study experience? In most Shuls there are classes throughout the night, though you have to choose wisely to get an interesting and dynamic speaker. Otherwise you’ll doze off and snore despite frequent pit-stops at the coffee and cake…

Chabad has some great ideas for nocturnal study topics in their article –  9 Mind-Expanding Themes to Keep You Up All Night This Shavuot. They have weird and wonderful titles from “Let the People Speak!” to “That’s ‘Rabbi Doctor’ to You!” to “A Little Bit of Everything”.

Very effective if you are backpacking in South Africa or Argentina or Australia.

On the other hand if you find yourself in  Scandinavia  or Juneau, Alaska where the short night ends right after it begins, what can you learn? By the time you find a comfortable spot to study, prepare yourself with a shot of caffeine and sugar and open the book, it’s already time for morning prayers at sunrise.

The key is preparation and study smart. Even a short study period is effective if you choose an interesting topic in advance. For those who want a ready-made study program to learn on their own in English when you’re South of the equator or just want to get a small taste of Shavuot night, try the YU program of Shavuot To-Go. They put out a new PDF booklet every year with a detailed table of contents so you can pick and choose according to your flavor of the month. Just go into their site, choose, click and download. And, make sure to print it out in advance! 🙂

Chag Sameach and have an enjoyable night of Torah study!

Ultimate Bug-out Bag For a Jewish Traveler

Bug-Out Bags

bug-out bagIf you plan to travel around the world without stopping in any Jewish communities, you’ll need to be prepared with a Jewish version of a Bug-out Bag.

I first learned about Bug-out Bags from books on surviving disasters and disappearing from your past (see my post – If Jason Bourne Was Jewish).

To quote Wikipedia:

“A Bug-out Bag is a portable kit that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy-two hours, when evacuating from a disaster. The kits are also popular in the survivalism and prepper subcultures. Other names for such a bag are a BOB, 72-hour kit, a grab bag, a battle box, a Personal Emergency Relocation Kits (PERK), a go bag, a GOOD bag (Get Out Of Dodge) or INCHbag (I’m Never Coming Home).”

It occurred to me that every Jew who takes to the road, whether for business, vacation, a disaster G-d forbid, or just to escape for a while from the daily grind, needs a “Jewish Bug-out Bag”. I’m not talking about Kosher food (see my post on eating Kosher anywhere), but about all the other ingredients needed to keep a Jewish lifestyle anywhere you go.

bug-out bag
Jewish Chaplain’s Kit

With a bit of research and experience in the military, I compiled a list of all the materials, products and equipment you’ll need for keeping the Tradition throughout the year. Many of them (like apples and honey for the Rosh Hashanah, a boiled egg for the Seder Plate or even the raw materials for a Succah) aren’t inherently Jewish and you can get them anywhere on the globe.  Some of the list, though (like Tefillin or a Mezuza) need to be purchased at a reliable Jewish supplier.

For your convenience you can download the list as a two page PDF for printing on one double-sided page –  The Ultimate Jewish Traveler’s Checklist. Obviously you won’t need them all for every trip. Just check it out before you leave, compare it to your itinerary and the Jewish calendar, get what won’t be available later and you’re good to go.

The Ultimate Jewish Traveler’s Checklist

Kosher Eating
  • Meat / Milk / Parve stickers
  • Blue/Red/Yellow permanent markers
  • Laws of Kashrut
  • Disposable dishes
  • Flour sifter
  • Magnifying Glass (for bugs)
  • Kosher Symbols List
  • Cup for washing before bread
Prayer, Blessings & Torah Study
  • Siddur (Prayer book)
  • Chumash (Pentateuch)
  • Tefillin
  • Tallit
  • Tallit Katan
  • Tsitsit (spare fringes)
  • Kippa (for men)
  • Snood/hair-covering (for women)
  • Torah Scroll (if there’s a Minyan)
  • Halachic Time Charts (MyZmanim.com)
  • Compass for locating Jerusalem
  • Book of Tehillim (Psalms)
  • Traveler’s Prayer
  • Blessing for candle lighting
  • Birkon (prayer after meals)
  • Jewish Daily Laws & Customs
Shabbat & Festivals
  • Laws of Shabbat
  • Laws of Festivals
  • Candlesticks
  • Candles / oil / wicks
  • Blessing for candle lighting
  • Matches
  • Kiddush / Havdallah cup
  • Wine / Grape juice
  • Challah
  • Challah cover
  • Challah cutting board
  • Challah knife
  • Salt
  • Shabbat hot plate / “Blech”
  • Shabbat “Key Belt”
  • Havdalah spices
  • Havdallah candle
Rosh Hashanah
  • Book of Selichot
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Shofar
  • Honey / Apple / Dates
  • Fish head / Pomegranate
  • New fruit for Blessing
  • Yahrzeit candle
Yom Kippur
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Rubber / cloth shoes
  • Kittel
  • Shofar
  • Yahrzeit candle
Pessach
  • Bedikat Chametz Kit
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Seder Plate
  • Egg / Shank bone / Celery / Potato
  • Marror /Lettuce
  • Charoset (apple /cinnamon/ginger/nuts/wine)
  • Matsah (hand-made)
  • Matsah (machine-made)
  • Kittel
  • Cup for washing at Karpas
  • Yahrzeit candle
Succot
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Lulav / Etrog / Hadas / Arava
  • “Koishiklach” (leaves for tying)
  • Holder for 4 Minim
  • Succah (+ decorations)
  • Aravot for Hoshanah Rabba
  • Yahrzeit candle
Simchat Torah
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Torah Scroll for dancing
  • Flags (for kids)
  • Yahrzeit candle
Shavuot
  • Machzor (Prayerbook)
  • Tikun Shavuot
  • Cheese Cake
  • Yahrzeit candle
Channukah
  • Channukah candelabra
  • Channukah candles (oil + wicks)
  • Blessing on candles
  • Ma’oz Tsur Song
  • “Latkes” / “Sufganiot”
Purim
  • Megilat Esther (parchment / printed)
  • “Grogger” (noise-maker)
  • Wine (for festive meal)
  • Hamentaschen (Oznei Haman)
Fast of 9th Av
  • Kinot for 9th Av
  • Rubber / cloth shoes
  • Low chair
House
  • Mezuzah(s)
Sitting Shiva (Mourning)
  • Laws of Mourning
  • Spare shirt/blouse for tearing
  • Rubber / cloth shoes
  • Low chair
  • Yahrzeit candle

Click here for the PDF of The Ultimate Jewish Traveler’s Checklist.

Be prepared!

Jewish Airbnb? Not on Pessach!

Jewish Airbnb?

Jewish AirbnbI recently got an email inquiring if there is a Jewish version of Airbnb.

For the uninitiated, Airbnb is a site for finding vacation rentals and travel accommodations in private homes worldwide. They claim to have arranged lodgings for over 25 million people in 190 countries in private homes and even in 600 castles.

The question about a Jewish version of this service is valid for any time of the year, but I find it especially meaningful during Pessach.

Whoever is hungry – come eat with us!

In the early sections of the Pessach Haggadah, we recite the phrase כל דכפין יתי ויכול “Whoever is hungry – come eat with us!”. We don’t say this on any other Holiday; only on Pessach.

Pessach is known as a family festival even in the least traditional circles. We gather together; family, friends and casual guests, to recite the Haggadah, eat Matsah, Marror, feast on a delicious meal and sing the traditional songs. This isn’t a random ethnic development but rather a central part of how the festival is celebrated  since we came out of Egypt over 3300 years ago. From the first Pessach Seder till today we eat as a family group. Not alone. Hospitality is a priority on Pessach.

There is nothing foreign about Jews renting out accommodations for vacation. Just check out how many hotels there are in Israel and in prime Jewish vacation spots like Davos, Switzerland, the Catskills and everywhere else. Private people rent out their homes too. But there’s nothing distinctly “Jewish” about it. It’s pure business. For some reason I don’t connect with the idea of a Jewish Airbnb. The Jewish model of hospitality from the time of Abraham, is central to our collective identity more than any business model.

Here are a few examples:

Jewish Hospitality

Chabad: They have a comprehensive search engine to find nearly every Chabad House on the globe. I write “nearly” because I discovered one Chabad House somewhere that wasn’t publicized on their site for security reasons, but when you contact the administrators about specific locations, they’ll tell you. Meals are usually free on Shabbos and Yom Tov. They only charge during the week to cover costs. Check out their site at Chabad-Lubavitch Centers – Advanced Search.

Jeff Seidel: He has a comprehensive worldwide listing of contacts and places to stay at his Online Jewish Travel Guide.

Shabbat.com: This site is very similar in design to the Airbnb site but you are hosted for free. To quote their site:

Shabbat.com was established as a Jewish social network to allow people to connect and meet in a safe and friendly environment. Perfect for those traveling for business, backpacking across the country, studying abroad, or simply looking for a little inspiration.

JewGether: Jewgether was started by Israeli students, not necessarily religious Jews, with a mission in mind. To quote their website:

Jewgether is a social network that connects Jewish people from all over the world, allowing them to host or be hosted by one another. Jewgether’s mission is to encourage Jews all over the world to open their homes, hearts and minds to each other. No matter what kind of Jew one is, Jewgether offers an opportunity to get acquainted with and to learn from one another.”.

I’m not personally familiar with their service but the idea is wonderful.

In summary, renting out a place to stay is perfectly legit, but for it to be considered an authentically Jewish act, hospitality is closer to the mark.

BTW, those utilizing the authentic Airbnb services, see my post on Kashering Skills For Residential Vacations.

Chag Sameach!

The Three Days Yom Tov Challenges

Three Days Yom Tov Challenges

As I was sitting with my kids in the Sukkah on the first day Yom Tov, they remarked that having two days of Rosh Hashanah followed by Shabbos, was difficult enough. How in the world does the rest of world Jewry (outside of Israel) cope with three sets of Three Days Yom Tov [3DYT]  including first day Sukkos and Shmini Atseres/Simchas Torah?

Three Days Yom TovI did some research and collected all the problems and challenges I could find about 3DYT.

Food: Planning interesting menus and cooking for seven meals, heating and reheating, leaving on fires, setting timers and of course having enough fridge and freezer space.

Dishes & Table Setting: When you have a houseful of guests and very few in-house unofficial dishwashers and table setters, that is a sticky issue. “Again it’s my turn??? But I washed the dishes/set up the table yesterday!! Why can’t ______ do it this time???”.

You know what I mean. The usual chorus…and that’s just the beginning… Continue reading The Three Days Yom Tov Challenges

The Halacha of Sukkot On The Go

It’s Tuesday night before Sukkos, 2:00 AM and I’m trying to get another post launched. I could delay writing till Chol Hamoed but I’d prefer not to deal with my blog during the festival. And besides, this is post #50 and it feels good to get it done on time…

Sukkos is my favorite festival; more than Pessach or Purim. Even more then SimchasTorah. There’s something really special about living inside a Sukkah for seven days and nights, where I can fulfill a biblical commandment every single moment without lifting a finger. Whether I eat, drink, study, sleep or just shmooz with family and friends, every second chalks up another Mitsvah. Something like passive income on a rising stock portfolio… As far as I’m concerned I can sit inside for seven days straight with occasional exits to attend the dancing of Simchas Beis Hasho’eva at the local Shuls.

Not everyone is like that. For some, Sukkos is a great time to travel. The weather is moderate, they’re on vacation and they love the outdoors. Of course one gets into the challenges of finding a Sukkah away from home or just eating outside a Sukkah a “I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”. Continue reading The Halacha of Sukkot On The Go

Sukkot Travel Guidelines

Sukkot Travel GuidelinesLiving in a religious neighborhood in Israel I take it for granted that on Sukkot everyone will be walking around and traveling with their Arba’as HaMinim. When you are crossing international borders, though, or even flying within continental USA, you might come in contact with officials who are less sympathetic to your strange agricultural products.

First of all security-wise you might have a weapon or drugs stashed away inside the Esrog (I’m not trying to give anyone bad ideas…)  and at the very least you’re attempting to cross a border with an unidentified agricultural product which may spread disease or infestation. Continue reading Sukkot Travel Guidelines

Uman Rosh Hashanah – Not For Me

Uman Rosh Hashanah

Uman Rosh HashanahEvery year before Rosh Hashanah, tens of thousands of Jews make an annual pilgrimage to the grave-site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine. Not only Breslov Chasiddim make the trip but also Jews from all walks of life, devoutly religious along with traditionalists, Chassidim and Misnagdim, Sefardim and Ashkenazim. The words “Uman Rosh Hashanah” have become a password, a symbol and a call for action before the High Holy Days.

It might seem so, but not everyone agrees with that assumption. Continue reading Uman Rosh Hashanah – Not For Me

Why Two Days Rosh Hashana Worldwide?

It’s been a heavy week. On one hand, my regular workload. On the other hand, I came down with a bout of pneumonia. And that meant I’ve been going to sleep earlier every night to have the strength to cope with work the next day (I know that I should have stayed in bed, but…). And that meant no time for writing.

In order to keep up a continuous pace on my site, here’s something for the upcoming festival of Rosh Hashana about why we keep two days even in Israel: Continue reading Why Two Days Rosh Hashana Worldwide?

Faxing to Shabbos Across Time Zones

shabbos across time zonesStaying in touch wherever we go is so ingrained into our psyche that if one is younger than their early twenties they probably can’t remember otherwise. Whether we send email or IM’s, post by Twitter or update our Facebook account, we accustomed to a continuous ubiquitous connection with the global village 24/7. Or at least 24/6 for those who keep Shabbos.

24/7 Connection

I still remember the time before email, working full-time far from home and not even owning a mobile phone (am I that old???). Today is different. We connect ALL THE TIME.

Being connected all the time, everywhere, has it’s benefits but a lot of drawbacks too. “They” expect you to be in touch all the time.

“Why didn’t you respond??? I sent you a text message over 3 minutes ago!”.  Don’t you read it???

This brings me to the 24/7 issue or rather the 24/6 issue, barring Shabbos. I’m referring to Shabbos Across Time Zones.

Let’s say you’re roaming around Thailand on vacation and spend a lovely Shabbos at the Chabad House in Phuket. Shabbos ends on an upbeat note and right after Havdolo you give in to the unbearable temptation of checking your work email from back home in Vancouver.

shabbos across time zonesYou discover a desperately urgent message from your Jewish boss sent just before Shabbos in Vancouver (there’s a 14 hour discrepancy between the two cities) that needs a response ASAP or the world will certainly come to an end. Without a second thought you type out a response by email and press SEND. Then you follow it with a written fax and your signature. A moment after sending it off you ask yourself if you did the right thing since the fax printed out into your boss’s office while it’s still Shabbos morning on the west coast of Canada.

Shabbos Across Time Zones

How do you handle email or faxes when you are in a different time zone than the person you need to send the message to and it’ll arrive on their Shabbos?

Let’s say all the systems of telecommunication and Internet service providers are not Jewish owned and they aren’t up-keeping the systems just for yours truly. But what is the Halocho if you send an email or fax to Israel when it’s still Shabbos over there? Somebody in Israel is possibly working on Shabbos to make sure all the systems are go.

Another problem could arise if your boss is not Shabbos observant and has the habit of dealing with all the leftover issues on Saturday. That means they’ll act on your post-Shabbos messages and do more work, all because of your dedication to work 24/6…

Rav Yehoshua Y. Neuwirth wrote that one may send a fax (before or after Shabbos) to a place where Shabbos is now observed, but the recipient may not read it on Shabbos (Shemirath Shabbath Kehilchata 31:28). Rav Neuwirth didn’t differentiate between if the telecommunication structure is run by Jews or not. I’m guessing that its because most of the electronic activity is automatic, though repairs and such are performed by Jews on Shabbos.

Ask The Rabbi of Ohr Sameach quotes a similar ruling by Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg permitting both faxes and email to a place where it’s still Shabbos.

Nevertheless, I’m certain that if you know that your boss or colleague will read or act upon the message during Shabbos then you must wait till Shabbos is over by them (or put a delay send on the message) so that you won’t cause them to desecrate the Shabbos because of you.

In conclusion, whether the act of sending off a fax or email after Shabbos to a different time zone where it’s still Shabbos is permissible or not, I have a fundamental question. If you’re on vacation in Thailand, why in the world are you still checking your work email? For that you spent thousands of dollars to go to the Far East? Think a moment.

Moreover, by the time you read the message and reply to it many hours have passed. I’m hoping your boss will read it only after Shabbos is over by them too. By then reality has changed and your boss probably succeeded in resolving the problem on their own. If it’s still urgent they’ll phone you (assuming you made the error of leaving them an emergency number while you’re on vacation).

Besides, if you respond to work issues on vacation you are teaching your boss or colleagues or workers that its alright to bother you on vacation. You’re showing them that its impossible to manage without you ever. Be sure they’ll use that fact to their advantage on your expense. So loosen up a bit. Enjoy your trip without work.

The 4-Hour Workweek

Shabbos Across Time ZonesFor practical guidance on how to detach from work and work-related emails on vacation I highly recommend reading Tim Ferriss’ best seller The 4-Hour WorkWeek. I’ve read it twice and listened also to the audio version. Ferriss has some far out ideas in that book, but there’s a lot to learn from it.

Shabbat Shalom!