Kashering Skills For Residential Vacations

Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers returning from the campaign: This is the rule God commanded Moses:

As far as the gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead are concerned, whatever was used over fire must be brought over fire and purged, and then purified with the sprinkling water.

However, that which was not used over fire need only be emmersed in a Mikvah.  (Parasha Matos 31:21-23)

The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

The Jewish Toolbox

Backpacking and living on your wits in the backwaters of civilization as a Kosher-observing Jew means that you need to be familiar with the basics of Kashering kitchen utensils wherever you go.  Of course you can carry around a few things like a pot and pan or you can buy new stuff (and immerse them in a Mikvah) at each stop, but sometimes you’ll need a broader Jewish toolbox, including some Kashering skills.

Kosher for Airbnb

Kashering skillsLets say you decide to find lodgings through Airbnb (airbnb.com). For those not familiar with Airbnb, they describe the company as follows:

    Airbnb is a global community marketplace that connects travelers seeking authentic, high-quality accommodations with hosts who offer unique places to stay.

It sounds like a great idea for those who prefer to stay in a vacated unique private residence rather than in a regular hotel. For a Jew though, it means you’ll need to Kasher some basic kitchen equipment, at the very least.

Kashering Skills

I did some searching and found a very comprehensive online guide for Kashering a complete kitchen. The Star-K Pessach Kitchen Guide by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, is focused of course on…Pessach, but what’s effective for Pessach will be effective also for Kashering a non-Kosher kitchen.

Star-K Pessach Kitchen Guide

For those who prefer an audio-visual explanation:

So next time you decide to rent an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Kasher the kitchen first and have a great time!

Overcoming the Culture Shock of Coming Home

Home Sweet Home?

How marvelous to return home after a long trip! Your own bed, your favorite chair, the foods you’ve always loved and of course the family and friends you missed so badly. Coming home from the outposts of society, from the other side of Mars, where you had to struggle with a language barrier, weird customs and challenging new situations every moment of the day, is truly bliss. Heaven on earth.

But is this REALLY so?

Of course many of us miss the familiar surroundings back home, but does returning home resolve all the issues or does it create new challenges that we didn’t know existed before leaving?

Honi Ha-M’agel

culture shock of coming homeIt reminds me of the Talmudic story of Honi ha-M’agel who fell asleep for seventy years and when he woke the world had moved on. People died and were born. Nobody knew him as he was now (though his scholarship was still revered). Reality was different from what he remembered. He couldn’t cope with the changes and preferred to leave the world permanently.

Similarly, when you go away on a long trip, you change. You grow and develop, learn and progress. The person who went on the journey can be intrinsically different then the one who had left weeks or months before. At the same time, those who remained behind at home, who hadn’t gone through the growth of travel, seem to be the same as before. They might not connect at all to your travel experiences. This gap creates stress and a feeling of not belonging anymore.

Homecoming Difficulties

One of my favorite travel writers, Rolf Potts, beautifully summarizes the experience of homecoming, in his book “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”:

Of all the adventures and challenges that wait on the vagabonding road, the most difficult can be the act of coming home.

On a certain level, coming home will be a drag because it signals the end of all the fun, freedom, and serendipity that you enjoyed on the road. But on a less tangible level, returning home after a vivid experience overseas can be just plain weird and unsettling. Every aspect of home will look more or less like it did when you left, but it will feel completely different.

In trying to make sense of this homecoming experience, people often quote T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

As inspiring as this sounds, however, “knowing” your home for the first time means that you’ll feel like a stranger in a place that should feel familiar (Chapter 11).

Culture Shock of Coming Home

culture shock of coming homeHere are a few suggestions for coping with the culture shock of coming home, which I picked up here and there:

  • Accept that you will feel different when you return home. Its normal.
  • Realize that the people who know you will probably not see more than basic changes in you on your return. Only you understand the difference.
  • Expect both change and no change in those you left at home. They’ve moved on too, though physically remaining in the same place in your absence.
  • Give yourself time to adjust.

In addition, you can also expect some of the following things to occur after you arrive:

  • Mild Travel Depression – give yourself a few days to hide out when you get home till you get over it.
  • Not everyone wants to hear your stories – most people only want to hear the micro-short version. Don’t blab on endlessly about your experiences. K.I.S.S. Keep It Short and Simple.
  • People will have moved on with their lives without you – just like you’ve changed, so have they.

Here are a few links on the topic I’d recommend for coping with your homecoming.

Jewish Homecoming

I’ll conclude with a Jewish take on homecoming which I believe helps ease you back into the local reality.

There is a tradition that one who returns home from abroad should get an Aliyah to the Torah Reading on the Shabbos following his arrival. I always assumed that this is to be able to say Birkas Hagomel, which is recited upon crossing the sea or dessert or coming out of danger.

It occurs to me that there is an additional and deeper idea in giving an Aliyah to a returning traveler. As much as Jews are one People and one Nation they are also as diverse as can be. It’s not only that “two Jews have three opinions”, but rather that Jews can be extremely different culturally from each other. For example, Sefardim and Ashkenazim differ in prayer text, pronunciation, traditional foods. Hasidim differ from Modern Orthodox in dress code, religious philosophy and more.

Nevertheless there is one common denominator among all (traditional) Jews – the Torah. After thousands of years of dispersion and persecution, our Torah remains identical wherever we go. The same text, the same Laws in Yemen as in Paris. In Hawaii as in Jerusalem.

When one returns home after a long journey abroad and gets an Aliyah, remember the following – I’ve seen the world and its vast diversity of culture and traditions, codes of behavior and foods.  Nevertheless as a Jew I share a common bond of Torah with every other Jew and especially with those back home. Despite the changes and differences in other countries and cultures, there’s more to bond us together than to set us apart. Time will pass and so will the culture shock.

Welcome back.

Every Trip Has Two Goals – Yours and God’s

Travel Disappointments

When traveling abroad, whether for family, community, business or pleasure you probably go with a list of hopes and expectations. If it’s for family you hope to meet someone, improve or repair a relationship or just enjoy their company.

When it’s for business, you hope to meet your contact, close the deal or make some money for yourself or your company. If you go for pleasure then you hope to see the sights, relax, meet people, enjoy the company of your spouse or whatever you have planned.

Whatever reason you travel and even when you’re completely open to new and unexpected situations, there’s always a chance you’ll be disappointed and not get what you wanted. Maybe you missed the plane or your contact wasn’t where you expected. Maybe your family member wasn’t so excited to see you after all and you got into a fight. Maybe the trip didn’t improve your marriage or you didn’t make any money. Whatever it was, at times nothing goes as planned and you return after a long and expensive trip totally devastated and disappointed.

Every Trip Has Two GoalsWhat’s the Jewish take on the post-trip blues? That every trip has two goals, at least. Yours and God’s. Consider it like a Co-operative Travel…

Co-operative Travel

I came across a fascinating piece of inspiration and encouragement in the book Ahalech Be’amitecha (I Will Walk in Your Truth) by the late Rabbi Betzalel Stern. This book deals entirely with the Jewish laws and perspectives on travel. It’s a small-sized book with over 500 packed pages of information and I’m constantly picking up some new and interesting tidbits on Jewish travel.

In the opening pages, Rabbi Stern makes the following remarks:

Every traveler should know that all routes that a person walks or travels on, are decreed from heaven and they are an expression of the Divine Will for a lofty and hidden purpose. And He the Almighty arouses within an individual the will and the heart’s desire to walk or travel on a particular route.

When one is faced with the need to travel, one shouldn’t insist on blocking it from coming to pass.

In other words, every trip comes with two sets of goals; our goals for the trip and God’s goals.

In the footnotes on the second paragraph, Rabbi Stern quotes the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Sichot HaRan 85:

Every person, however simple they are, repairs something in every place they go. After all, they pray there, they eat and bless on the food, and commit acts of holiness wherever they are.

Later on in the book (Ahalech Be’Amitecha Ch. 27:26) Rabbi Stern adds the following words:

If one went on a trip for a specific purpose and despite great effort, work and expense, they didn’t fulfill their goal, they shouldn’t regret the trip nor be depressed. This is because the true purpose of a trip is hidden and it could be that this Divine purpose was fully achieved.

I find these words a comfort and inspiration before leaving on a trip, because no matter what happens, whether you feel your goals were accomplished or not, you can rest assured that there was a deeper meaning to the traveling. Even if its to influence or assist a stranger on the way, there’s always something to make your trip significant.

Rabbi Mordechai Gifter and Travel

The following inspirational travel story happened to the Rosh Yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland, Ohio, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter.

Every Trip Has Two Goals
Rav Mordechai Gifter

One winter day, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, was at the airport about to embark on a trip to New York. One of his close students was getting married and had sent nine airplane tickets inside the invitation to his wedding. Rabbi Gifter and eight of his students were going to attend the event.

They boarded the aircraft, and just after settling in their seats, the pilot announced over the loudspeakers, that due to a blizzard in New York, they would not be able to land at Kennedy Airport. They would be heading towards Washington National Airport instead, and make their way to New York when they were able to. When they arrived at the Washington airport, Rav Gifter and his students soon realized that they were not going to make it to New York in time for the wedding.

When it was time to pray Maariv, they searched for a private place, and asked a worker who was mopping the floor if he knew of a quiet place for them to pray. The man’s reaction startled them, because he dropped his mop in alarm and it clattered to the floor. He stared at them, and then directed them to a storage room where they could pray undisturbed.

The group commenced their prayers, but instead of leaving, the cleaner stood silently at the door, watching them with a dazed expression on his face. When they had finished, they were astonished to hear him ask, “Why don’t you say Kaddish?” One of the boys explained, “We need a minyan of ten men for Kaddish, and we’re missing one man.” To their surprise, the cleaner responded, “I am a Jew. I can join your group to complete the minyan. Please,” he asked, “let me say the Kaddish.”

Rabbi Gifter helped the man recite the unfamiliar words, and after he had finished, the worker took a deep breath and said, “As you can see, I wasn’t brought up as a practicing Jew, and I barely know anything about Judaism. My father passed away several years ago, and last night he appeared to me in a dream. He said, ‘Tomorrow night is my Yahrtzeit, please say Kaddish for my soul with a minyan of ten Jewish men!’ I cried out, ‘How can I say Kaddish?! I barely know how to say the words! And how will I find a minyan?’ My father said, ‘Don’t worry, I will arrange it for you’.

Now, here you are, exactly nine of you,” continued the worker, his voice full of emotion, “Sent from Heaven so that I can say Kaddish for the benefit of my father’s departed soul!”

Rabbi Gifter then told him their side of the story, how they had only arrived there due to a snow storm in New York. Rav Gifter said, “Look how Hashem runs the world! See how He orchestrated our meeting together? Nine invitations to a wedding, a blizzard in New York, the airplane’s rerouting to Washington National Airport, and missing the wedding— all this happened so that you could say Kaddish for your father!”

No trip goes to waste !

A Jewish Solution to Jet Lag

‘If you find it hard to sleep, stop counting sheep and talk to the shepherd.’  (author unknown)

Jewish Solution to Jet LagGetting enough quality sleep at the right times helps you function well throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. So when flying long distances through many time-zones, getting an effective rest is critical to be able to function when you land (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute).

The are many tricks to getting a good rest in transit (and I’ve collected a few for you below), but as Jews there are also religious aspects to sleeping on the plane. Combining Halacha with the practical approach is the best Jewish Solution to Jet Lag.

Jewish Solution to Jet Lag

Halacha of Snoozing on Cloud Nine

  • Dozing off and waking every few minutes is not only stressful, it’s also not called sleep by Halachic definition. Only if you sleep 30-45 minutes straight can it be considered sleep (also called “power-naps“). Therefor if you intend to sleep on the plane for more than 30 minutes, it’s nighttime and the stewardesses have extinguished the lights, you can recite Kriyat Shema for the night and also the blessing of Hamapil.
  • If the plane will be landing within the next hour or two and they haven’t extinguished the lights, than its better not to say the blessing of Hamapil, since in anticipation of landing, you might not fall asleep.
  • If you were awake all night and take-off time is after dawn and you intend to go to sleep during daytime, recite the Shema but not Hamapil. Similarly if you went to sleep before nightfall and intend to sleep into the night, you don’t recite Hamapil.
  • If you recited Hamapil before sleep and something disturbed you from dozing off, repeat the Hamapil blessing later on when you go to sleep a second time.
  • In general when you sleep in a bed, you should remove your shoes. The Talmud (Tractate Yuma 78b) states that wearing shoes while sleeping is akin to experiencing the “taste of death” AND  it makes one forget their Torah knowledge. Nevertheless, when sleeping on a plane in a reclining position, there is no need to remove shoes, since this is not normative sleep. If you fly first class though, and have a full-length bed, you should definitely remove your shoes (otherwise why pay so much for you ticket if you’re getting a “lethal doze”).
  • If you were awake all night, you should wash Netilas Yadayim in the morning without a blessing. If you go to the bathroom before morning prayers – you may recite the blessing.
  • If you slept less than 30-45 consecutive minutes you are exempt from washing Netilas Yadayim.
  • It is preferable to wash Netilas Yadayim upon waking, in the kitchenette and not in the bathroom. If only a bathroom faucet is available for washing, then lower the toilet seat before washing and make the blessing outside.
  • When sleeping on an airplane, one normally does not remove their Tallis Kotton. Therefore, when one wakes up no blessing is recited on the Tallis Kotton.
  • If you are sitting at the window or aisle, be careful not to wake your fellow passengers (whether they are Jewish or not). Of course if you need the bathroom or some other urgent need, then you may wake your seat-mate to pass through.

Now that you’ve got the spiritual aspects on target, how do you get enough sleep to enjoy your trip?

Practicalities of Snoozing on Cloud Nine

Working out your on-plane sleeping strategy generally requires a bit of trial and error: Some people happily pop a pill as soon as they take off, and others relish the chance to work for hours on end without interruption. Assuming you’re not keen to get medicinal and you do plan to rest at some point, here’s some strategies.

Plan your Sleep Schedule Based on your Destination

You need to sleep on the plane at the same time you’d be asleep at your destination. If your flight arrives first thing in the morning at your destination, you need to sleep up until you land (or as near as you can manage). If it arrives in the evening, you should avoid sleeping at all. And once you arrive, you need to resist falling to sleep before the proper local time.

Choose the Right Seat

Aim for a window seat or one of the two middle seats in a block of four, since these don’t need anyone else to climb over you when nature calls. The trade-off? As a courtesy, you should try to time your own bathroom trips for when your seatmates are awake.

Try to sit in front of the engines for a quieter flight, as jet noise is sometimes louder next to and behind the engines. Be sure to sit as far away from the bathrooms as possible. Sitting near the lavatory makes you more likely to be woken up by slamming doors, lights, unpleasant odors, and other passengers jostling your seat as they wait in line.

Don’t have too much Luggage under the Seat

Have just the absolute essentials (reading material, wallet) in a cloth bag, with everything else stowed overhead. Keeping a bag under your feet might disturb your sleep.

Can’t sleep? Keep your eyes shut

Even if you can’t sleep, you can rest – leave your eyes shut and lay back. As often as not, you’ll get at least some sleep. Even if you don’t, you’ll be more rested than if you remained fully alert.

Dress Comfortably

Will your flight be hot or cold? It’s impossible to predict, so wear layers. Don’t wear anything tight, as that can restrict your circulation (which is already at risk in a tight airplane seat).

Use a Pillow and Pick it Carefully

Prop a pillow against your back or the wall of the plane; you’ll feel more supported. Not everyone sleeps the same way, though. Are you a stomach, side, or back sleeper? Pick a travel pillow that allows you to most closely copy your normal sleeping style.

Wear An Eye Mask

Invest in a mask that blocks all light but still gives your eyes room to move around during REM cycles.

Wear Noise-Canceling Headphones or Earplugs

Did you know that the absence of noise can prevent you from falling asleep just as much as loud noises can? So, if you always listen to the radio or television as you drift off, try to do the same on a plane. If you prefer to sleep in silence, download a white-noise track to your iPod and invest in some noise-canceling headphones. If you hate sleeping with headphones, earplugs are the way to go.

Listen, don’t Watch

It’s tempting to drown out the noise of other passengers by watching a film or television program. Not a good idea. The blue lights of a TV can affect the quality of sleep (and your soul…). Audio is better than video. If you need a distraction to relax, listen to an audio book or a radio program.

Eat Light and Simple

Eating a big meal can interfere with a good night’s rest. Also, if you’ve ordered a custom meal (like Kosher…), flight attendants will often wake you up to deliver it. Once your meal is there, the trash and leftover food will take up space on your tray table until the attendants come around to collect it.

Skip Caffeine (and Alcohol)

You’ll find it harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins, especially on a daytime flight. Skip the temptation to have a cup of coffee or Coke before boarding, and stick to water or juice during the flight.

Minimize consumption of alcohol as it has a greater effect on the body while flying than it does when on the ground.

Free your Feet

Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.

Whatever you prefer, wear clean socks. Bare feet don’t offend; stinky feet do. Wear shoes you can slip on and off easily. This way you’re not pulling at shoelaces and flinging elbows mid-flight. On overseas flights, some airlines give you socks that will keep you warm and encourage circulation in your feet.

Buckle Up and on Top

The key is to buckle your seat belt over your blanket or sweater, not under it. That way, the flight attendant can see that you’re buckled up and won’t bug you if there’s turbulence.

Sleep well !

Halachic Sources

  • Ahalech Be’amisecha Ch. 12
  • Vayehi Binsoa Ch. 3
  • Toras Haderech Ch. 13

The Need For Privacy on the Go – Parashat Balaak

The Need For Privacy

The need for privacy is hardwired into every human being, though how one expresses this need is very individualistic.

I know people who when eating in a restaurant, unconsciously put a hand over their mouth. It’s obvious that they’ll never ever walk down the street munching on a pizza. They feel too exposed.

need for privacySome people speak softly in public and you can hardly hear them even when they speaking directly to you, because they refuse to have strangers overhear the conversation. That goes even when the topic is about the news headlines and not only about some horrific scandal in the family. These people are often the type who you can trust with your deepest and darkest secrets. Concerning their own skeletons in the closet, you’ll never hear about them no matter how close you are. Privacy is king.

On the other hand you know the type who shares everything with everyone; whether they are having a tête-à-tête with a friend in person or whether they are carrying on this intimate discussion in a booming voice over their smart-phone while sitting in a crowded bus. Sharing their entire life over Facebook is obvious.

Some people like to live in remote areas closed off by 20 foot stone walls and heavy drapes on every window. Others do just about everything on their front lawn opposite the street or in the living room with all drapes and windows wide open. There isn’t anything that they won’t put on display (I mean nearly anything of course…). Each to their own.

Balaam and Privacy

The Torah puts great value into personal privacy. In this week’s Parasha – Balak, the wicked prophet Balaam is amazed by the extent that the Jewish People protect and respect the privacy of their neighbors.

“When Balaam raised his eyes and saw Israel dwelling at peace by tribes, God’s spirit was on him”. (Bamidbar 24:2)

The biblical commentator Rashi explains the words “by tribes” as meaning that the doorways of different families didn’t face each other so that the inhabitants of one tent would not look into their neighbor’s tent. Even to the unholy Balaam, this simple act of respecting the privacy of other families, made the Jews worthy of Divine blessing.

The Shulchan Aruch, Responsa literature and commentaries are replete with discussions and laws on the topic of “Hezek Re’iya” (visual damage) caused by visually invading the privacy of neighbors. The Rabbis analyze what exactly is considered invasion of privacy and how to create physical barriers between properties to avoid being on the wrong side of Jewish law.

Rabbenu Gershom and Privacy

Furthermore, Rabbenu Gershom Me’or HaGolah made a religious ban on reading another person’s private mail. Over a thousand years later, Rabbenu Gershom’s decrees are still binding on all of Ashkenazic Jewry.

Need For Privacy

Nevertheless and despite so many religious and legal laws, as technology advances it become more and more difficult to protect one’s privacy. All your data; your school records, your medical records, your bank accounts and even where and what you ate last night is all recorded somewhere in a database, visible to those privileged by law to get access to it (or to hackers who take the privilege without asking).

NSA and Privacy

After the WikiLeaks scandal,  we discovered vast amounts of information about covert governmental activities. The real crunch came when Edward Snowden leaked to the public how much the National Security Agency carries out mass surveillance on private individuals and corporations in the US and abroad; much of it under the general category of the Patriot Law.

Check out 16 disturbing things Snowden has taught us (so far)  to get some perspective on the topic.

Smartphones and Privacy

If the idea of the NSA keeping tracks on you isn’t disturbing because you don’t feel important enough to be considered a threat to national security, then be aware that your mobile phone carrier also keeps tabs on you. Not only who you call, the text messages you send and receive, but also where you are at any moment (as long as you are carrying your phone – and most of us do). I suggest watching this short video from TED Talks on how much your phone company tracks you every day.

OK, so it’s a bit difficult to protect yourself from the NSA or even the phone company, unless you’re willing to go off the grid and get rid of every electronic device you’ve got. But there is a small way to at least protect yourself in public places, buses and planes, when people blatantly look over your shoulder to watch and read what you are doing on your device. Whether you are texting or writing a business report or just watching a cute video of your kids, it can be quite unnerving to have someone sharing in the experience…

Privacy Screens

Here’s what the 3M company invented a few years ago to protect your viewing privacy. It won’t protect you from the NSA, but at least it gives you a semblance of privacy on the go.

Protecting Privacy is an Obligation – Not a Right

Like every Mitsvah in the Torah, the responsibility to respect the privacy of others is yours. There aren’t 613 “rights” in the Torah but rather 613 “obligations”. In theory, you don’t necessarily have a right to privacy, but rather an obligation to respect the privacy of others. When the day comes that each one of us will be committed to the needs of others, then privacy issues will fall away. Until that time, we’ll need to do our best to fight for our privacy on our own.

How to Be Welcome Wherever You Go

Hosting is Like Gambling

Welcome Wherever You GoTaking in foreign house-guests is like gambling. You may meet wonderful people from the other side of the globe arriving with a bottle of your favorite wine and flowers. As a bonus they’ll even keep you entertained with inspiring life stories.

On the other hand, your guests could be sullen, irritable people with no manners and plenty of B.O. If that isn’t enough you’ll discover to your chagrin that a few silver pieces from the closet have gone AWOL. It’s all a matter of luck and of being a good reader of people.

Jewish tradition strongly encourages inviting guests (Hachnasas Orchim) to your home. In fact the Midrash states that “Greater is the act of receiving guests, than of receiving the Divine Presence”. There are astonishing tales about how far the Torah Sages went to receive guests.

Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, the Chozeh of Lublin, kept an open house. He himself served his guests, who were from all walks of life. One day a poor man came to the house and the Rabbi served him a meal. When the guest was finished his meal, the Rabbi cleared the table and brought the empty plate and utensils into the kitchen.

The poor man was astounded and said, “Rebbe, I understand that the Rabbi occupies himself with Hachnasas Orchim to fulfill the Mitzvah. But why does the Rabbi clear the table himself? Doesn’t he have servants in the house? The Rabbi replied, “Taking out the pan of ashes from the Holy of Holies in the Temple on Yom Kippur was part of the tasks of the High Priest.  Am I more important than the High Priest?”.

Welcome Wherever You GoOn another occasion, a guest arrived in middle of the night. The Rabbi tended to him himself, serving him a meal and preparing his bed. The guest was unrefined and his strong smell indicated that he had neglected to bathe in the recent past.

The next morning, the servants in the house wanted to send him on his way due to his odor. The Rabbi rebuked the servants and responded, “Don’t wake him; let him sleep until he wakes up on his own. God provided me with the opportunity for Hachnasas Orchim, and you want to ruin it and snatch it away from me?” (Niflaos Harebbi, Ch. 90)

Being Welcome Wherever You Go

After reading stories such as these I can get the mistaken impression that when backpacking through Europe and arriving at a Jewish community for Shabbos, I can expect unconditional love and care without any obligations on my part as a guest. Don’t make that mistake! A guest has far more obligations to his host then the host has towards him.

Welcome Wherever You Go

Here’s a list of common Don’ts and Do’s in order so that you’ll be welcome wherever you go:


  • Don’t invade your host’s privacy. Don’t read her mail, (snail-mail or Gmail), walk into his bedroom or ask personal unsolicited questions.
  • Don’t smoke in their home (or even outside near their windows) if they are non-smokers
  • Don’t get drunk at their table.
  • Don’t talk non-stop or stay silent throughout your stay. Balance is the key.
  • Don’t sit on their couch all day long whether you are watching TV or just spacing out.
  • Don’t criticize your host; not about their kids, marriage, cooking or political opinions.
  • Don’t use their electrical appliances or equipment without permission.
  • Don’t take food from the fridge, freezer or pantry if you weren’t offered.
  • Don’t show up without notice.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome (better leave before the first subtle hint).
  • Don’t live your dirty clothes or any other belongings strewn about the house.
  • Don’t feed their kids or pets without getting the green light. They might be allergic or on a special diet.
  • Don’t bring in other guests uninvited.
  • Don’t expect the household to suddenly revolve around you.You need to adopt their customs and not the other way around.
  • Don’t take anything from the house (even a roll of toilet paper) without permission.


  • Nail down the dates of the visit before you arrive — and stick to them. Let your plans be known, especially if you intend to be absent in the middle and will be coming and going at odd hours.
  • Be clear about who’ll be joining you (including your significant other, kids, pets or traveling companions).
  • Welcome Wherever You GoPack smart, so you won’t need too much space nor will you need to borrow clothes from your hosts.
  • Keep tabs on your stuff. You’re not staying in a hotel, so don’t treat your friend’s home like one. A good rule of thumb: When you’re not in your room, it should look like it did when you arrived. Put your clothes away, hang up your towel and straighten the bed every morning.
  • Follow the house rules. If they take off their shoes at the door and wear slippers (like in Korea), respect and follow their lead.If they lock the doors at all times, do the same.
  • Keep your kids in check. Just because you are on vacation, doesn’t mean your kids can go berserk in the house. Your kids are your responsibility.
  • Help out with the chores. Even little things like clearing the table are meaningful to your host.
  • Bring or send a thank-you gift and follow-up with a note. When you get home, send a quick note to let them know how much you enjoyed your stay. It’s the thought that count.
  • If you use it, replace it. Borrowing toothpaste or sunscreen is fine. But if you end up using it up, devouring an entire box of cookies or polishing off the last bottle of milk, it’s time to go to the store and replenish the things you’ve used. Be generous and considerate, and not someone who eats their friends out of house and home.
  • Be reasonable about sharing a household bathroom. If the house only has one bathroom, ask when it is convenient for you to use it and don’t stay in the shower for an hour.
  • Be careful about Internet and phone usage. If you need to use the Internet or phone at your hosts’ home, rather than assuming you can use their facilities, make sure you ask them first if this is okay with them – even if they have an unlimited plan.
  • Do your own laundry.
  • Entertain yourself. It’s not the job of the hosts to occupy you.
  • Be ready to catch public transportation and taxis. Your host isn’t your chauffeur.
  • A short stay is a pleasant stay and leaves everyone feeling good about each other. As Ben Franklin once said, “Fish and visitors stink after three days.”
  • Keep yourself neat and clean and brush your teeth regularly (whether you do so at home or not).
  • Be appreciative. Thank them regularly for the food, the company and whatever they do for you. Don’t wait till you leave to say a short thanks.
  • Do bless the host. In fact there is a special blessing for the hosts to be recited at Birkas Hamazon.

The Talmud (Tractate Berachos pg. 58A) states it succinctly:

A good guest says; “Look how much the hosts did for me. All the meat and wine they brought was for me. All the cakes they brought were for me. Everything the host did was for my benefit”.

But a bad guest says; “What did the host do for me at all? I ate only one slice of bread. I had only a piece of meat and I only drank one cupful. Everything the host did was for himself and his family”.

Be a good guest and the doors will always be open to you.

When in Rome, do as the Jewish Romans do

Shabbat or Shabbos?

Last week I reviewed a solution for weekends on the road in the post Shabbat Travel Kit, but the issue which bugged me most while writing, was whether I should write “Shabbat” or “Shabbos”?

Personally I’m more comfortable with Shabbos, also known as the Askenazic pronunciation. That’s what I grew up with and use till today for prayer and Torah study. For day-to-day speech in Israel, I use the Sefardic pronunciation, which is ubiquitous in the country. But when I write posts in English for the English speaker, I’m in a quandary what pronunciation to use.

This past post really put the issue to a test. The product I reviewed is named “The Shabbat Collection”. I can’t change the name of the product, but I personally prefer Shabbos, so I ended off with a mishmash, including writing Shabbat in the post title and Shabbos in the body of the post.

One day I’ll make a firm policy for my posts but in the meantime pardon me if I occasionally switch allegiance from time to time. If you have any advice for me, please write.

when in rome
Beth-El Synagogue in Casablanca

This issue brings me to the topic of today’s post. Lets say you follow the Askenazic version and pronunciation and you’re now at the Beth-El Synagogue in Casablanca, Morocco. All the locals are praying Sefardic. What about you?

Or lets say you hail from a very traditional Yemenite family and find yourself praying in the Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Munich, Germany. What about you?

when in rome
Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Munich

Which tradition do you follow with the pronunciation and the Nusach (version)? Is there a difference if you are praying as one of the congregation in silence or if you are saying Kaddish out loud and they hear you? If you are honored by being the Chazzan (cantor) do you follow your own tradition or the local one?

There are two main opposing factors to take in consideration:

  1. According to the Zohar there are twelve gates (or windows) in Heaven; one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the prayers of each tribe passes through its own distinct gate. This idea implies that there is no “one size fits all” but rather each tribe or group has their own unique style of prayer. In addition, the verse “V’Al Titosh Torat Imecha” (translation: Do not abandon the Torah of your mother) implies that you may not abandon the traditions of your family.
  2. The verse “Lo Titgodedu” (translation: Do not make factions). This refers to the prohibition of creating factions among Jews when some practice one law or tradition and others follow a different one, in the same location. The implication is that you must follow local custom for the sake of unity among Jews.

When you pray in a synagogue with a different tradition than yours, you need to balance these two opposing principles of maintaining your own tradition while refraining from negatively impacting Jewish unity.

The Sages from Talmudic times up till the modern age discuss the issue extensively. I’m not sufficiently scholarly to write the Unified Theory for Cross Cultural Prayer, but here are a few simple guidelines to keep you out of trouble on your trip:


  • When reciting the silent Shmoneh Esrei, say it according to your own tradition.
  • When you are responding to Kedusha, say it according to the local custom.
  • If you are asked to be the Chazzan, say the silent Shemoneh Esrei according to your tradition but when you repeat the Shemoneh Esrei out loud do it according to the locals.


  • Stick the pronunciation you are used to whether you are praying as a congregant or as a Chazzan. Unless you have a lot of practice switching, it will confuse you and make a mishmash of words.

As a footnote, according to the online Encyclopedia Britannica, Ashkenazim constitute more than 80 percent of all the Jews in the world, vastly outnumbering Sephardic Jews. In the late 20th century, Ashkenazic Jews numbered more than 11 million. In Israel the numbers of Ashkenazim and Sephardim are roughly equal, and the chief rabbinate has both an Ashkenazic and a Sephardic chief rabbi on equal footing.

So the next time you go synagogue hopping with a different tradition, remember – When in Rome, do as the Jewish Romans do (at least in public).

Shabbat Travel Kit

Shabbat Travel KitShabbos on the road in a Jewish community or at least a Chabad House can be a lovely experience. You’ll get invited out and won’t need to take care of all the pesky details of Shabbos. But when you travel to the Jewish backwaters, even in North America or Western Europe,  you’ll need preparation.

Lets say you got wine or grape-juice, a few rolls or Challah and enough food. What else?

Lets see. Shabbos candles? I can use two tea-lights.

A Kiddush cup? I’m sure the hotel will have a clean glass cup in the room. At worst, I’ll get a disposable cup.

A cover for the Challah when I make Kiddush? I’ll use a disposable napkin.

Shabbat Travel KitHow about the Havdala candle? Use another two tea-lights? It’s not easy sticking the lit wicks together to make it a valid candle for Havdala. OK, I’ll put two matches together.

Bsamim (spices) for Havdala? I’m sure I’ll find a lavender bush somewhere in the street  or something like it.

Done. All’s good.

Not exactly….

Ze Eli V’Anvehu

In Exodus 15:2 are the following words “Ze Eli V’Anvehu” – This is my God and I will glorify (or beautify) Him. The sages interpet these words to mean that a Mitsvah must be performed in a way which beautifies the act. So one should invest in making the object of the Mitsvah as nice as possible.

When you buy the Arba’at HaMinim, invest some money and get a nice set. Don’t just pick up the cheapest one (even if it happens to be Kosher). When you buy a set of Tefillin for your son (or yourself), get a quality set, as much as you can afford. After all we beautify our homes and get nice furniture. We buy pretty clothes and not only off-the-rack jeans and T-shirts, and so forth. We should treat our Mitsvos with the same investment into quality and beauty, not less than what we invest into our person needs.

Shabbat Travel KitA disposable cup for Kiddish, a napkin for the Challa and two matches for the Havdala candle are Halachically valid but aren’t exactly beautifying the Shabbos experience. Unless we’re unexpectedly stuck in the Sahara Desert and that’s the only thing available.

Shabbat Travel Kit

I discovered a very cute Shabbat Travel Kit called The Shabbat Collection. It’s a handy compact bag with all the equipment you need for Shabbos on the road.

  • Candlesticks
  • Matchbox
  • Folding Kiddush Cup
  • Wine flask
  • Mini salt shaker
  • Challah cover
  • Birkon (Bentcher)
  • Candle for Havdala
  • Spices for Havdala
  • Kipa

I’ve never seen it personally but it looks nice and for $59.95 seems reasonable too, if you’re on the road a lot.  BTW the Kiddush cup is 4.8oz (141 ml), which is sufficiently large for the lenient Rabbinical opinion ( 86ml Rabbi Chaim Na’eh), though a bit smaller than the more stringent (150ml Chazon Ish)

Shabbat Shalom / Gut Shabbos !

A Lonely Prayer

Lonely Prayer at the Summit

lonely prayer
Prayer on Kilimanjaro

Dawn was breaking in Tanzania as the Goldsteins reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain on earth reaching up to 5,895 meters (19,341 ft) above sea-level. Months of planning, training and preparation had gone into this trip and it was well-worth the effort.

As Yossi Goldstein looked to the breathtaking view beyond, he took his Talis and Tefillin out of the backpack and prepared for Shacharis (morning prayers).

Over a week had passed since he had last prayed with a Minyan just before takeoff at Heathrow Airport. It was a miracle that a group of Hassidim on the way to New York were there at the right time. It was Monday and they even had a Sefer Torah to read from.

Since then, Yossi prayed alone three times a day, all the way up the mountain. Shabbos was the hardest for him to pray on his own, though he discovered two more traditional Jews who camped next to him all Shabbos and joined him for Kabalat Shabbat on Friday night.

For a moment, a twinge of guilt swept through his heart. Maybe it was a mistake to miss praying with a Minyan for a whole week just for the thrill of climbing the mountain? No Kaddish, Kedusha, Borechu or Torah Reading in seven days.

On the other hand this was the first time the Goldsteins were on vacation in years as a couple without the kids and Rachel was a firm believer in couple activity. She emphatically claimed it would strengthen their marriage and help them through the challenging times they were undergoing lately, and she was probably right, as usual. Still, he had promised himself years ago when they got married that he would always attend Minyan no matter how hard he worked and now he wasn’t keeping his commitment.

lonely prayer
Tefillah on Mt. Sinai

The issue of praying alone without a Minyan, whether in a Synagogue or not, is discussed in depth in the Rabbinical literature. In fact there have been well-known Rabbinic figures who traveled the world collecting funds for their impoverished brethren or cataloging the Jewish communities en route to the Land of Israel to provide a guide where hospitality could be found for Jews traveling to the Holy Land (like Benjamin of Tudela). Some disseminated their books or taught in smaller outlying Jewish communities. There were even Sages who went on self-imposed exile for years for spiritual purification, like Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (The Vilna Gaon).

These Rabbi’s unquestionably prayed with a Minyan when possible, but travel time between stops was longer than today and they prayed alone at the roadside or at the local inns in between remote Jewish communities.

Guidelines for a Lonely Prayer

lonely prayer

According to my research the guidelines for praying without a Minyan during travel are as follows:

  • If you travel for business or health or any urgent personal need and there won’t be a Minyan on the plane, train or bus, then you may pray on your own while in transit.
  • If you are going on vacation purely for pleasure, then you should do your utmost to vacation at a site where there will be a regular Minyan, even if you won’t have a Minyan during the journey to your destination.
  • If you’re not sure if there’s a Minyan in your area, try GoDaven.com.
  • If you need the vacation for your health, whether physical or emotional, for your relationships or for any important personal need, you may pray on your own for as long as necessary.
  • If you don’t have a Synagogue at your present location but can reach a nearby Minyan within 18 minutes walk off your route (960-1152 meters according to different opinions), you should do so.
  • If you can reach a Minyan within 72 minutes walking in the direction you are anyways heading (approximately 4 kilometers), you should delay praying till you arrive there. This rule is valid only if you don’t pass the latest Halachic time of day for this particular prayer (morning, afternoon or night).
  • When you end off praying on your own, it is preferable to pray together with at least one more Jew, if possible. Some Rabbi’s say that one should try to pray with at least two more people as three people together are like a group prayer, which is definitely better than a solitary person praying alone.
  • When you pray on your own, it is a good idea to light a candle as it assists you to focus on the spiritual realm.
  • It’s advisable to give a coin to charity before prayer, as this helps the prayer being answered more positively.

In summary, Yossi is correct in making the trip up Kilimanjaro despite it being the cause of a lonely prayer, since the journey will be beneficial for his long-term relationship with Rachel. In addition it was also a good idea on Shabbos for him to say Kabalat Shabbat together with two more Jews.

I’d add to this general Halachic framework that according to an account I heard from an Orthodox Jew who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro a few years ago, praying at the summit was an awe-inspiring and uplifting experience for him. It was a prayer he will never forget as long as he lives.


  • Vayehi Binsoa (pg. 129, 150-152)

  • Responsa Shevet Halevi (part 6, chap. 21)

  • Responsa Tshuvot V’Hanhagot (vol, 2 chap. 63)

  • Responsa Afarkasta D’Ania (part 4 chap. 372)

Spirituality of an Earthquake

Korach and the Earthquake

Since the days of Korach, the mere thought of a major earthquake fills people with dread. Of course Korach’s untimely demise along with his rebellious followers was a unique divine punishment for trying to incite the Jewish people against Moshe’s leadership. A singularity. Hopefully never to occur again.

In the post-Korach era, I’m sure that no normal human being would deliberately be present at an earthquake, whether the earth opens up or not. I doubt that even the dedicated photographers of National Geographic would run after them.

Haiti Earthquake (2010)

Just to get some perspective on the experience, here’s part of a first person account from the horrific 2010 Haiti earthquake when the catastrophe struck millions.

I was four months pregnant, sitting at my desk in the United Nations office in Port-au-Prince, when my world changed. It was nearly 5 p.m., but I was in no rush to leave because my husband, Eduardo, was in Italy, training for a U.N. security job.

I heard a thunderous noise. Then the room was vibrating, and the walls were swinging. I wondered, “Should I hide under the desk? Run outside?” Everything around me was plunging — bookcases, computers. I tried desperately to shield my belly as I, too, fell to the floor and pieces of the ceiling crashed down around me. Then my office-mate grabbed me by the only thing he could reach, my ponytail, and dragged me down the front steps of the building.

Outside, I knelt on all fours on the pavement, which was still heaving. The sun was setting and the air was thick with dust, but I could see that the six-story U.N. building had collapsed. I realized I was listening to tens of thousands of people screaming. It sounded like Armageddon.

(“I Survived Haiti’s Earthquake, Pregnant” By Amelia Shaw as told to Nicole Caccavo Kear from “American Baby”)

Spirituality of an Earthquake
Shih Gang Earthquake

Earthquake Reality and Facts

Interestingly enough, earthquakes aren’t rare at all. It is estimated that there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world each year. 100,000 of those can be felt, and 100 of them cause damage. If you want to see exactly what’s going on with earthquakes worldwide, check out the U.S. Geological Survey site. They have loads of interesting facts and even a real-time tracker and map (link) for seismic activity. So far today, June 17th, there were 37 recorded quakes over 2.5 magnitude.

Earthquakes are definitely acts of God and mostly caused by rupture of geological faults. But man too shares in the responsibility of causing an earthquake by storing large amounts of water behind a dam (and possibly building an extremely heavy building), drilling and injecting liquid into wells, coal mining and oil drilling, and of course nuclear tests.

Spirituality of an Earthquake

OK, so how does all this relate to the Jewish traveler? What’s the religious perspective and practical to-do list if God forbid you get caught in an earthquake somewhere along one of the oceanic and continental plates where the risk is highest?

Spirituality of an Earthquake
Tectonic plates of the world

Earthquake Blessings

Upon witnessing the quake one should make a blessing:
Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam shekocho ugevurato malei olam.
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, whose power and might fill the world.

Some have the tradition to say a different blessing:
Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam osei ma’asei vereisheet.
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who reenacts the works of creation.

If one was in physical danger during the earthquake then one should also say Birkat HaGomel after the event, to thank Him for surviving.

When one later returns to the location of the event, them one should make an extra blessing: Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam She’asa Li Nes BaMakom Hazeh
translation: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has performed for me a miracle at this spot.

Experiencing an earthquake helps bring into focus how the forces of nature are all truly from God and expressions of His majesty. One merely needs to feel the ground shake a bit to know without doubt who is really in charge.

Japan 2011

Keep safe!

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