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A Monkey Stole My Talit

A Monkey Stole My Talit

20170507_171041A mother orang-utan and her baby shuffled slowly towards me. I took a few steps back. Mama reached out her hand and I gave her a banana.  We weren’t supposed to feed the wildlife, but it seemed like everyone was doing it.

I plucked off a leach that was half way up my leg and tossed it into the stream and then headed back for the campsite.

Salamat Pagi.” My cook said. He handed me a cup of tea.

Terimakasi,” I replied.  It was day five in a Sumatran jungle and I had picked up a few Indonesian words.  I needed to learn how to say, “Way to much sugar in the tea.”

Dan, my trekking partner, approached. “I go this for you.” He handed me a plastic bag containing my talit and siddur. “A monkey grabbed it from the shelter.”

I looked up. A large grey, monkey glared back.

“I chased him up the tree and he dropped the bag.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I should have packed it away when I finished praying.”

“I’ll pack it for you,” Dan said. “I’m heading to the shelter.”

As I sipped the tea I watched several monkeys battle with a couple of komodo dragons over some scraps of food.  The monkeys outnumbered the dragons ten to one and were clearly wining.

A girl came over and squatted on a rock next to me.  Her clothes were clean compared to mine, and she had nowhere near as many mosquito bites covering her arms and legs as I did.

We chatted about our travels. She was American and had been on the road for almost five months which included a trip to Israel. I did not want to ask her straight out if she was Jewish, in a country of nearly two hundred million Muslims I myself would be weary to say I was Jewish.

After a few more questions I worked out she had been on birthright and was obviously Jewish. When she realised I was Jewish, her face lit up. “Was that your talit that fell out of the tree?”

I laughed.


“Unless it has been raining talatot this morning, it was probably


“I saw a guy pick it up off the ground. He said it wasn’t his.” She laughed.  “Will you be in the jungle for Shabbat.”

I wiped the sweat from my forehead. “It’s been almost a week in this place. I would still like to see some snakes, but I’ve had it with the mosquitoes, leaches, mud, and rain. If you are going to be here for Shabbat remember to light Shabbat candles.”20170507_084956

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Kayaking Adventure in the Noosa Everglades, Queensland Australia

Kayak Noosa Everglades Queensland

Thirteen years ago I organized a canoe trip for teens from around Australia. We paddled for three days around the Noosa Everglades. I remember it being scorching hot and getting badly sunburnt. Aside from the sunburn, I have pleasant memories of, beautiful lakes, rivers, and birds.

My Friend Rob and I had been talking about doing a two week long canoe or kayak trip somewhere in Canada. I suggested we first try a three day kayaking trip and see how we go.Ben Kayak Noosa Everglades Queensland

We met in Brisbane, and with a rented car drove north, stopping at the Glasshouse Mountains for a walk. For both of us, it was our first time there, and we can see there are many more interesting trails worth exploring.

The next day we headed out from Boreen Point in a two person sea kayak. We had a weeks’ worth of food to last three days and we ate like kings. This was pleasant change for me. Usually, I would just take a few pieces of fruit, some energy bars, oatmeal, and pasta. However, Rob and I shopped together for the food, and because Rob likes good food, we had eggs, vegetables, and quinoa to name some of it.

The weather aside from being chilly at night (below 5c), was beautiful. We comfortably kayaked wearing long sleeved shirts. And at some points even wore lightweight jackets.

We met other people along the river mostly on the first and third day. But on the second day when we went further up, we sow no one. Both nights where we camped we were the only people and camping at night was peaceful: millions of stars, fresh crisp air, and the rustling of leaves.

Rob Kayak Noosa Everglades Queensland Rob being the adventurer he is, wanted to explore the river to its source, which we did. When we got to the point where we could go no further, Rob bush-bashed his way through the foliage while I relaxed on a sand patch.

I’m glad to say; aside from debating the most efficient timing the stroke and how it hits the water we got along well and are planning our next adventure.

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Ten Things I Learned in Antarctica with the Unstoppables

Ten Things I Learned in Antarctica with the Unstoppables


A l’chaim with some new friends

This past January-February, I was in Antarctica with over a hundred inspiring individuals. I went as part of the Unstoppables: a group of Entrepreneurial minded people dedicated to bettering the world. The trip was ten days of: learning, networking and collaborating. Here are ten things I learned on the trip:

  1. Spiritual Entrepreneurs:  I was surprised to find how many of the participants were interested in some form of spirituality.  Be it, meditation, religion, or even aliens. I found a lot of people to be looking for meaning in what they did. Many with money may enjoy spending it on physical pleasures, but they are seeking a deeper truth.
  2. Inspiration: I try to be inspired by everyone I meet. On the boat I was surrounded by people who were power- houses of inspiration. People who have done incredible things, not only in business, but in all areas of life.
  3. Humility: I enjoy meeting and surrounding myself with people who have done more than me. On the boat I met many individuals who have done things in certain areas well beyond where I am now, and it is humbling. With humility comes personal growth.
  4. Non-Judgmental: Amongst such a high caliber of people, I found a high tolerance for being non-judgmental and accepting. Some people live their lives with conflict and anger towards everyone and everything. To get to the top, you cannot waste energy fighting with others. Rather, through acceptance and understanding we can learn and grow from everyone and everything around us.

    Antarctica Penguins

    Contemplating the meaning of life

  5. No Nonsense: On the boat, I said something I should not have said, and someone called me out on it. I appreciated the high level of openness and brutal honesty, more so then I’ve ever experienced amongst the general public. If someone liked your idea they said so. If they thought it was crap they said so. Most people cannot handle brutal honesty and prefer being lied to. But highly confident people who really want to get somewhere in life prefer hearing the truth.
  6. Network Power: My network is very important to me, but at times I can forget that I must keep working on it. Surrounding oneself with good people is critical to success and converting them into your network doubly so.
  7. Going Blindly: The founder: Julio De Laffitte said at one presentation, something like this: “what do I know to be true which I am failing to see.” We can go through life ignoring things we should see until they hit us smack in the face. I believe we all do this to some degree. I will make this one of my favorite sayings.
  8. Strange Beliefs: As an orthodox Jew, sometimes I think some of my practices are strange. But on the boat I learned, there are people I respect who have stranger beliefs and weirder ritual practices.  If a belief or practice helps us become a better person while not harming anyone else, then it is usually fine to do.
  9. Montreal is colder then Antarctica: I thought it was going to be cold, but it was usually pleasant provided the wind wasn’t blowing. We had zero degrees there while it was -20 in Montreal.
  10. Alcohol on the Rocks: Tastes better with thousand year old ice chipped of an iceberg!
  11. Penguin Poo Stinks: Penguins may be cute, but they make lots of noise, and their poo stinks. I will not get one as a pet. (Note: the drunken British tourists fined for stealing a penguin from Australia sea world 2012…)
    Crossing the Antarctic Circle

    Crossing the Antarctic Circle

    I'm the one in the yellow jacket!

    I’m the one in the yellow jacket!

    Black ice and other ice

    Dave displays the difference in black ice!

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Keeping Shabbat in Antarctica

Sunset Antarctica

The Jewish day starts at night and finishes the next night. The question is, when exactly does the night begin? Does one day end at sunset and lead into the next, or does the new day begin only once the stars have come out – or perhaps at some point in between?

The Jewish Sabbath commences Friday at sunset and finishes Saturday at nightfall making roughly a twenty-five hour cycle. The Sabbath begins at sunset which is the earliest time we can recognize one day to have finished and the next day to have begun. The Sabbath ends, when the stars have come out because this is the latest point that we can say one day has ended and a new day has begun.

Before I left to Antarctica, I was concerned when would there be a sunset. It is often thought that during the summer in Antarctica, the sun does not set and during the winter the sun does not rise. This however is only true at the actual south pole and perhaps only for a short period of time. Outside of this, during the summer, the sun will dip below the horizon be it for a few minutes or hours etc. It may not get completely dark, but by the sun setting a new day is marked.

Some of The Rabbis of long ago, talk about lands where the sun does not set or rise for a period of time. They knew that such places existed and they debated over when the Sabbath would be observed. There are various opinions of what to do in these circumstances and a Rabbi should be consulted as what to do.

For me it was not an issue. Where we were Friday night there was a sunset. It was around 10.30pm and Shabbat was over at around 11.30pm. Because the boat was moving, I checked with the captain who was able to give the correct times depending on our given location at the moment.

One challenge was not being able to camp in Antarctica. There were thirty camping spots available and more than sixty people who wanted them. The camping spots were raffled off. I won a place and held on to it in hope that the camping excursion would not be on Friday or Saturday night. It ended up on Friday, so I gave away my place. The actual camping would not be an issue; the problem would be getting on to the boat on Saturday morning. According to Halacha it is permissible to be on a ship over Shabbat, but not to get on or off.

Perhaps on my next trip to Antarctica I’ll be able to camp.

Antarctica Iceberg


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Keeping Kosher in Antarctica

Antarctica Kosher

Words cannot do justice for what Antarctica looks like. Even photographic images and film can only give an idea. The magnitude and magnificence of a world of, ice, rock, and snow, some of it can be captured in an image. But what of the wind that bites into you regardless of how many layers you may be wearing – as you stand on the deck late at night while the ship breaks through pack ice. You hear the ‘crunch, crunch, crunch,’ and deep down you know you are secretly thinking, what if?

Antarctica is not a place where humans belong. G-d did not intend for us to be there and it is virtually impossible to survive for any lengthy period of time without product and support form off the continent. Perhaps this is a good thing? Antarctica is an incredibly fragile place and it would not take long for man to destroy it. Thankfully, today as people visit, there are many protocols and practices in place to preserve Antarctica’s ecosystem.

Rabbi in AntarcticaI feel blessed to have had the opportunity to experience the grandeur of Antarctica with over hundred fascinating people. I was part of a group of mostly Australian Entrepreneurs who gathered together to converse in, ‘how to get to the future first.’ Together, we brain stormed ideas of what the future would look like and what we collectively, and individually, could, and would do about it.

For me, one of my concerns prior to the trip was how I would keep kosher on the boat. I was sure there would be plenty of good food, but how much of it would I be able to eat. I brought along some energy bars, instant soups, oatmeal, as well as a box of matzo, just in case.

I figured I’d be able to sort something out with the chef when I got on the cruise. Nowadays, anyone working with sophisticated western tourists are usually inundated with all the diets and eating disorders we have: vegetarian, vegan, ovo- lacto-pesco phsycotarian, gluten free, Raw, paleo, low carb, diabetic, and in my case kosher. The challenge I find though with using the term kosher, is that I have come across countless interpretations of its meaning. The most common being, ‘kosher food is food blessed by a rabbi.’ Now I wish it was this simple. I being a rabbi, would never have a problem with food anywhere in the world and could happily order anything on the menu and bless it myself. However, kosher is far more complicated than this.

I don’t want to get into a long discourse now about what is, and what is not Kosher, instead, I prefer to speak about how I kept kosher on a boat in Antarctica. For starters, it was a lot easier then I had thought it would be. When I got on the boat and spoke with the head waiter Narandra, he seemed already versed in many aspects of kosher. He began showing me the kosher certifying symbols on many of the food products. Turns out, the company gets almost all their food in a container shipped from Miami. Anyone familiar with American kosher food products will know that a large percentage of available product is certified kosher. Things like peanut butter, jams, bolted milk, cereals, biscuits, and so on, are often kosher. Thus it was easy for me to find things to eat. Even the ice cream which was served every night was kosher. And strange as it were, and as cold as I was for some reason I still enjoyed eating the ice cream.


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Kokoda part 3, Preparing For My Solo Trek Along the Kokoda Trail.

Some people I met along the Kokoda Trail in PNG

When I arrived in Port Moresby I found a guy I met on couchsurfing who manages a chartered airline company. He graciously let me stay with him and showed me around town (not much to see). In the afternoon I went to the Kokoda Track office and paid my permit fee ($150). The office insisted that I’d need a guide with me and so I agreed. They teamed me up with a guy named Wilson Batia whose brother David would be my guide/porter. Their family lived in a village along the track, and David had not been home to see them in over a year. Because of this they accepted a nominal fee, enough to pay our transport to the start of the trail, food for David, and a bit extra. (a few hundred dollars total) I was also excited about the idea of staying with their family as was the plan.

Knowing that David would be carrying some of my stuff I took an extra 10kg worth, like an extra book, item of clothing, etc. When we set out the next morning, I had two weeks’ worth of food for myself and around nine days’ worth for David.

We met at the market/bus station area the next morning. While David worked out finding us transport, Wilson, who has excellent English skills, gave me an hour-long tour of the market and introduced me to all the new fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Many things I would have never tried if it were not for him pointing them out. For example, pocari nuts, something like a cross between coconuts and brazil nuts. Wilson also explained many aspects of the culture which fascinated me.

We got to the start of the Kokoda Trail, Owens Corner, late morning after taking a public bus (didn’t cost much). We were the only ones there. I prayed Shacharit in tallit and teffilin, ate some breakfast, and we headed off.

There was a cloud cover that blocked out the sun and made the temperature bearable. The first section of the trail is steep (though I quickly learned that everything is steep along the Kokoda!) I had read a number of Kokoda Trail reports on the internet, where many of the people mentioned how much they fell and slipped in the first hour. Some of them spoke about how they had to walk a few kilometres just to get to the start of the trail because their vehicles could not get through the mud. I guess I was lucky as the ground was dry as a bone, and easy to go down.

Two weeks later when I came back in the pouring rain, the trail leading up to Owens corner was a mud slide. I would take two steps up and slide one down. Thus I can full appreciate, should anyone have been on their way down from Owen Corner on that day, they would be guaranteed multiple slips and falls. This overall was my understanding of the Kokoda Trail, that the weather plays an important part. It can go from pleasant to miserable very quickly: it starts to rain, the sun comes out, it gets cold, your attacked by millions of bugs, or maybe you are lucky and there are no bugs!

I was carrying around 25kg which was okay for me. I’m used to carrying a pack along trails. David on the other hand, was obviously struggling and sweating profusely. He complained of a sharp pain in his ribs and was struggling to breathe. He said it was from an earlier injury when he fell a couple of years ago. We only made it to the first camp stop where we spent the night. The next morning after an hour of slow walking where I was far in the lead I suggested to David that he turn around and go home. He was not happy about the situation but realized he could not continue. I gave some of the extra food we now had to a villager along the way, and the rest for David to take back with him.

With no guide, no porter and a 30kg pack, I headed out alone along the Kokoda Trail.

Previous posts on the Kokoda Trail:

Post 1

Post 2

This is the famous war memorial commemorating the Australian diggers who fell along the Kokoda Trail. I am not yet up to this part in my story, though I post this picture in honor of today being ANZAC Day




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