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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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Kosher Airline Meals and What Makes a Good Kosher Airline Meal?

Having flown on some 300 flights in my life so far, I have tasted a fair share of kosher airline meals. Some have been fantastic, balanced, and well thought out, while others could have used some work.
Once, my regular kosher meal did not make it onto the plane. However, a first-class passenger had ordered a kosher meal but did not show up. So I was given the extra first-class kosher meal. The tray was too big even to fit on the tray holder in front of me and it came with real dishes and cutlery! All the other passengers were staring and asking what kind of meal I ordered, which came with a variety of very nice courses. I told them I ordered a kosher meal – boy, they might have been disappointed on their next trip!
On my recent trip to the United States from Australia, I flew with Japan Airlines which coded shared with American Airlines. On the Japan Airline flights I had three meals, two of which were wonderful fish meals, with rice and various side dishes. The third meal was three large pieces of while fruit, which I found interesting. The fruit was wrapped in plastic and had a KSML sticker on it. I tried communicating with one of the air hostess, wanting to understand how they arrived at this unique kosher meal. I explained that the meal was indeed kosher, and I being a fruit lover, I enjoyed the meal. But many other kosher passengers would not be happy with such a meal. I never did get a good explanation.

On the way back with American Airlines I received three meat meals. One was some sort of gooey dried out chicken nuggets, another was frozen meat balls, and the third a pastrami sandwich. My wife, who does not eat meat, would not have enjoyed these meals at all. I guess that is why she always makes sure to pack enough food for an army when she flies somewhere. Once we nearly missed our flight because she was cooking a huge meal to bring with us!

Now those who know me, would be aware that I don’t eat a lot of meat, though I still enjoy a good quality fleishig meal. None of the meals were good, and three meat meals on a twelve hour flight I feel is over doing it. But Americans do like their meat I guess, and Japanese like fish, so the airlines order similar types of kosher airline meals to what they think the passengers would enjoy. Whoever is making those kosher airline meals for American Airlines, I think there is a lot of room for improvement. I’ve had some fantastic kosher airline meals, but sadly yours have not made the list.

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Parshas Behar: G-d is in Your Backpack

Parshas Behar: G-d is in Your Backpack

As observant Jews, we have a lot of items to carry around with us when we travel.  We carry pots to cook kosher food. We carry a siddur to pray. We carry tallis and tefillin and shabbat candles.  We have a lot of things in our backpacks that add to our weight and our bulk.

But no matter where we travel or how, there is one thing that never takes up space and never weighs us down: G-d.

In this week’s parsha, we are commanded, “Do not make gods for yourselves, and do not set up an image or a memorial stone or put up a marker anywhere in your land to cast yourselves down upon it.”  G-d is telling us that we don’t need reminders of Him. We don’t need huge monuments, sculptures, or little idols on our car dashboards.  We don’t need paintings or pictures to remember Him.

Instead, G-d has given us a precious gift: his Sabbath.  By keeping Shabbat and the commandments, by doing what is right and good, we remember Him.  We remember Him through something much more potent and meaningful than simply looking at a picture.

In fact, a picture or a sculpture is easy to overlook.  Look around the room you are in right now.  Are there photographs or artwork on the walls or on your desk? How often do you really notice them. How often do you sit and really look at them? Most of the time, we look through them or past them. We know they are there; our brains do not need to register their presence.  The same thing happens with paintings, drawings, pictures, sculptures, or monuments of idols.

But if we remember G-d through our actions then we truly cannot forget Him. We can’t look around or through our actions.  Even if some things, like negelvasser in the morning, become habit, the majority of our actions are conscious decisions we make.  We decide to do an act of chessed for someone else.  We spend hours upon hours of our time preparing to make the Sabbath beautiful… and if we are spending so much time doing it each week, it cannot be out of habit.  By keeping the Sabbath, by doing the mitzvot Hashem has given us, we remember Him and know He is with us and watching over us.

So when we travel, we may have to worry about packing a few extra things, but there is one thing we will never need to worry we’ve forgotten: G-d.  Because no matter where we are in the world, He is with us.  Even if we travel with no bags at all, even if we travel with nothing, G-d is still with us, as long as we keep Shabbat and do His mitzvot to the best of our ability.

Incidentally, Rabbi Ben has a book called “G-d is in My Backpack” coming out very soon.  Watch this space for it!  In it you will be able to read many amazing incidents that show just how true it is that no matter where you go, G-d is always with you.

Shabbat shalom!

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The Jewish Bucket List

The Jewish Bucket List

Hey all, I’ve been inspired to create a Jewish bucket list for my readers on Traveling Rabbi.

Would love to hear your ideas, maybe comment here or send them to me so I can compile them all together.

100 Things for your Jewish Bucket List…

100 things to do in Israel…

100 kosher Foods to try before you die…

100 Jewish rituals to observe…

100 Synagogues to visit…


Here is an Idea of my Jewish Bucket list so far in no particular order:

  1. Visit The Western Wall
  2. Go on an all-inclusive Pesach retreat
  3. Make the perfect bowl of Chicken soup
  4. Tefilin Challenge for 30 days
  5. Tiffilin challenge for one year
  6. Charity Challenge: give every day for 30 days
  7. Charity challenge for one year
  8. Be president of some organization: WIZO, B’nei Brith, JNF etc.
  9. Re-learn Bar Mitzvah Haftorah
  10. Light Shabbat Candles for one year every Friday
  11. Visit the great Synagogue in Sydney
  12. Enjoy a service in the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem
  13. Eat a felafel on the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv
  14. Snorkel or Scuba dive in the Red Sea
  15. Float in the Dead Sea
  16. Throw a Chanukah party with homemade jelly doughnuts and latkas
  17. Bake your own hamentachen on Purim and send to at least ten people
  18. Convince your Rabbi to let you give a Saturday morning Sermon
  19. Visit the oldest Synagogue in your country, State, Province, continent, world
  20. Raise 10,000- 50k or 100k for your favourite Jewish Charity
  21. Serves on a board of something you believe in: Synagogue, School, etc.
  22. Write a Jewish Cook book with all your Bubes, mother, friends, and your own favourite kosher recipes
  23. Write a Jewish book, on anything
  24. Go on a kosher cruise
  25. Meet your favourite Jewish Author, Rabbi, Sports personality, Singer
  26. Host a Friday night dinner
  27. Fast the whole Yom Kippur (no cheating)
  28. Complete all 5 fast days during the year (start with no food then no water)
  29. Study a tractate of Talmud
  30. Learn to sing 5 Shabbat songs
  31. Learn to blow the shofar and blow it every day for the month of Ellul
  32. Pray at the burial site of some famous Rabbi or great Jewish leader you admire
  33. Don’t talk for the entire Yom Kippur
  34. Break your Yom Kippur fast with your best friend or family member with a l’chaim on a whisky or down a beer (consult your doctor first)
  35. Build a Sukkah
  36. Decorate a Sukkah
  37. Make a blessing in the Sukkah on each day of Sukkot
  38. Be the last one dancing on Simchat Torah
  39. Go to the hospital/orphanage etc. and give Chanukah gelt (money) and chocolates
  40. Get dressed up on Purim as your favourite superhero, movie character etc.
  41. Host  a Purim Hamentachen swap
  42. Learn to chant the Meggilat Esther
  43. Participate in a Passover Seder that goes until 5:00am or later…(this way no one will have out done you!)
  44. Bake your own matzah
  45. Host your own Seder
  46. Learn to recite the mansihtana in a foreign language. Make it extreme, maybe in Swahili or Urdu…something unique!
  47. Develop perfect vocal sound effects for the ‘chad gadya’ song: a cat, dog, Angel of death…
  48. Eat the right amount of Matzah according to the Rabbi. Not just a bitsy piece…go on eat three whole Maztahs!
  49. Count the Omer every day until Shavout
  50. Do something special for Yom Hashoah: ideas
  51. Visit Auschwitz
  52. Send flowers, cookies, to some Israeli soldiers with a card telling them how much you love them, on Yom Hazikaron
  53. Learn Israeli dancing
  54. Make your own falafel balls
  55. Walk the National Israel Trail. All of it or part of it
  56. Study in depth the history of Israel. Read a few books
  57. Stay up and study the whole night of Shavout
  58. Bake your own cheesecake, blintzes and lasagne. Make your own ice cream
  59. Volunteer for a month in Israel, on a kibbutz, Magen David Adom, in a hospital, study centre..
  60. Successfully make a shiduch (match a couple who get married)
  61. Go on the ‘March of The Living’
  62. Learn to speak, read, write Hebrew
  63. Learn to read and speak Yiddish
  64. Visit the death camps in Poland
  65. Start a Jewish Charity for something you believe in
  66. Visit one hundred Chabbad houses around the world
  67. Fly first class on El Al (is it any better?)
  68. ???
  69. ??
  70. ?
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The Hmong New Year: What the Jews Can Learn from the Hmong People

The Hmong New Year: What the Jews Can Learn from the Hmong People

Last week, we went to a village near Chiang Mai in Thailand to join in the celebration of the Hmong (Mong) New Year.  The Hmong people are an ethnic minority, originally from Southern China, but beginning in the 18th century, they started moving south due to political unrest.

A Hmong woman doing traditional string weaving while carrying a basket on her back. She is dressed in traditional Hmong clothing.

A Hmong woman doing traditional string weaving while carrying a basket on her back. She is dressed in traditional Hmong clothing.

One thing really impressed me about the Hmong people when Rabbi Ben and I were at the Hmong New Year celebration last week.  That was how the vast majority of the Hmong still clung so steadfastly to their traditional ways.  Most of the Hmong were dressed in very traditional costumes, which they still make themselves, to this very day.  Most of the activities and competitions were traditional ones that would have been exactly the same hundreds (if not thousands) of years ago.  And most of the dances, songs, and performances were completely traditional.  Even the food was still cooked on the fire like it has been since time immemorial.

The Ba’al Shem Tov says that everything we see has a purpose and that Hashem shows us each and every detail because we must learn a lesson from it. So, what lesson can we learn from the Hmong people?

The Hmong hill tribes of Thailand are not assimilating.  They do incorporate certain useful tools from the modern world, such as trucks, phones, and microphones/speakers.  They even use washing machines! Yet, they do not change their fundamental culture.  They still keep to their traditions.  They dress differently from the rest of the people living in Thailand.  They still sew their own clothes; even though it would be simple just to mass-produce and sell them, their clothing is a way they demonstrate their skills and also their unique identities.  They still have their own language, spoken at home and in the village.

Rebbetzin Rachel dressed in traditional Hmong clothing, standing with a young Hmong villager.  She is dressed in traditional Hmong clothing. All the Hmong women, young and old, still sew their own ceremonial outfits, holding onto their tradition.

Rebbetzin Rachel dressed in traditional Hmong clothing, standing with a young Hmong villager. She is dressed in traditional Hmong clothing. All the Hmong women, young and old, still sew their own ceremonial outfits, holding onto their tradition.

We Jews also have our own culture and heritage.  Yes, we can take certain advantages from the modern world; there is nothing wrong with that.  Yet, we must cling to the vital parts of our traditions.  Unlike the Hmong people, we no longer need to sew our clothes; however, we must still make sure we are holding to our beliefs and dressing modestly, even if it makes us different.  We have certain foods that we must and must not eat; we should not assimilate with the world around us that eats anything and everything with no limits.  We have our own community… let’s not lose it. Like the Hmong people, let’s stick together!

So that is what I learned from the Hmong people when I attended their New Year’s celebration.  It was a beautiful experience and I am really glad I went.  I learned so much, both about them and about myself.

Happy Hmong New Year!

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Parshas Yisro: Keeping the Sabbath – Even While Traveling

Sunset behind Phewa Lake in Pokhara, Nepal

Sunset behind Phewa Lake in Pokhara, Nepal, taken from our guesthouse

I loved Pokhara.  It was a special place to me – peaceful, serene, beautiful.  We had a cute but spartan room with the most stunning view overlooking Phewa Lake.  Nothing but a green field of grazing water buffalo was there to obstruct our view.  Surrounding the lake we could see Himalayan peaks rising up, the tallest among them tipped in white.

It was a perfect place to spend Shabbos.  And indeed, we ended up spending several Shabbosim there.  However, the first couple we spent there, the local Chabad House had not yet opened up.  We had been counting on it for our Shabbos meals and companionship.  That meant that, as with numerous other Shabbosim during our journeys, we were on our own.

Yet, the stunning surroundings in no way made preparing for Shabbat any easier.  To my surprise, I discovered that most of Nepal was on electricity rationing.  According to the schedules, we would only have about 7 hours or so of electricity on any given day, split between two sessions, one of which always seemed to fall in the middle of the night.  Preparing for Shabbat during travel can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but without electricity, we would be unable to boil the eggs and potatoes that were staple foods for us during our travels.

But that’s not all – after sunset on Friday night, there would be no electricity, no light to read by.  The Chabad House would have had a generator available, but not our guesthouse. The guesthouse’s policy on this was just that guests should use a candle or two, or a flashlight (in our case, a headlamp).  But after lighting Shabbos candles, we would be unable to light any further candles.  Once our Shabbos candles finished, we would be plunged into complete darkness and we wouldn’t be able to wear our headlamps either.

I think most people out there would find this a challenging situation to be in, week after week, during the entire month and a half that we spent in Nepal.  And it’s true, these situations did present challenges.  But I don’t think of it as anything particularly extraordinary.  After all, electricity is still a relatively recent invention.  We just take our modern living for granted.

In this week’s parsha, when we receive the 10 commandments, one of the most important is to keep the Sabbath.  The ancient Israelites did not have electricity as they spent 40 years traveling in the desert.  They would not have had to cook their own food, that is true (the manna that fell took on any taste they wanted), but they would still have had to sit around the Shabbos table.  They would have wanted light to see by during and after the meal and they wouldn’t have just been able to run to the store and pick up some extra candles.  They would probably have used clay or stone lamps filled with oil with a wick burning in them, rather than candles.  When the oil ran out, so did the light.

So Rabbi Ben and I took our small Shabbos meal (I did manage to boil some eggs and potatoes, and even steam some peas, during the few short hours of electricity – careful planning!) and we went to sit outside.  We watched as the springtime sun descended behind the lake, colors painting layers of rainbow behind the Himalayan peaks.  The guesthouse owner came by and gratuitously placed a single candle in front of us without us needing to ever say a word to him. (Asking a non-Jew to do this type of work on Shabbat could be very problematic, so we couldn’t ask him for it.)  We enjoyed our meal and the incredible scenery.  It was not hard to connect to Hashem in such surroundings.

When we returned to our room, my Shabbos candles were still burning.  We sat and read by their flickering light, enjoying them fully.  In our modern lives, we often fail to really appreciate and use the light cast by our Shabbos candles, as we truly are meant to.  But in this small town in Nepal, we were able to use our Shabbos candles for the purpose they were originally intended – to bring shalom bayis (“peace in the home”).

Keeping Kosher - How to Cook While Traveling

Boiling potatoes for dinner requires a lot of patience, especially when there is not often electricity

These Shabbosim we spent together in Pokhara are some of my most cherished moments.  I remember the feeling of warmth the Shabbos candles brought in our relationship. I remember the sight of those glorious mountains and the beautiful lake that Hashem Himself made for us to appreciate.  I remember how a simple salad of potatoes, or eggs, or fresh vegetables, seasoned with nothing more than oil and a pinch of salt, could taste so wonderful, could have the flavor of Shabbos.

This is what it truly means to keep Shabbos.  It means to put our worries and cares aside.  Not simply that we “shall not do any work” – but that we should not even think any work – even if we are in a place where it is challenging to keep Shabbos.  It is a time to reconnect, both with Hashem and with one another.

This week as we head into Shabbos, let us concentrate on this most important of commandments, on keeping it fully, on keeping it well, and – most of all – on really appreciating its beauty as a gift that Hashem has given especially to us.

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