IN PLAIN LANGUAGE: Jews and cruise

I contemplate both how small and powerless we humans are... yet how far Man can go in captivating and controlling our world

‘I HAVE always been amazed at the large number of Jews who frequent cruise ship (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘I HAVE always been amazed at the large number of Jews who frequent cruise ship
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
I’m writing these lines looking out over the wide and wonderful sea, leading a kosher cruise – some thing I have had the pleasure of doing on a regular basis for the last two decades.
The cruise business has grown exponentially over that time; today more than 20 million people board cruises each year to destinations all over the world, from the Amazon to Antarctica, from St. Petersburg to Sicily. Each year, more and larger cruise ships are launched; the newest mega-vessels are mini-cities of their own, and hold as many as 7,000 passengers! There are many attractions to a cruise.
The No. 1 feature, of course, is the food and drink; over-the-top dining is the hallmark of the industry. But there are other attractions as well: the desire to see exotic and exciting places; the chance to meet new people; and the opportunity to be pampered for a bit and leave behind the day-to-day pressures that assault us from every direction.
There are specialized cruises, too: music cruises, educational cruises, bridge cruises, even cruises designed for the under-10 crowd. The amenities of cruise ships range from golf courses to gigantic pools to bowling alleys at sea.
I have always been amazed at the large number of Jews who frequent cruise ships (there must be some cosmic connection between “Jews” and “cruise”!).
More and more Israelis are joining this trend, too – though political and security concerns have severely limited the ability to embark or disembark in Haifa or Ashdod. For Israelis, cruises are a combination of “escaping from” and “escaping to.” We are a people of wonder and wanderlust, perpetually on the move. The famous story is told about the Russian Jew who keeps traveling from Minsk to Pinsk and back again.
Finally, one of his friends asks him, “If you don’t like Minsk, or Pinsk, what do you like?” “The road in between!” he answers.
I fnd that one of the greatest features of a cruise is the ability to disconnect.
In past years, it was the norm to be virtually incommunicado on cruises; no phones, no news, no interruptions. Today, technology has allowed the wider world to creep back in, but it is still possible to engage in sensory deprivation if you desire.
Judaism has always believed in the virtue of spending some time in the course of our lives in exquisite isolation.
The prophets did it by retreating to the desert or to mountains; Moses and King David were lonely shepherds; hassidim promoted the concept of hitbodedut – being alone with yourself in order to contemplate nature and the greater meaning of life.
David, in Psalm 104 (“Bless My Soul”), vividly describes the inspiration he receives by watching the sea, noting the small and great creatures residing there, and expressing with overflowing appreciation what a wise and wonderful world the Creator bestowed upon us.
As my mind drifts along with the rhythmic movement of the waves, I contemplate both how small and powerless we humans are, compared to the immensity of the mighty oceans, yet how far man can go in captivating and controlling our world, as evidenced by these fantastic sailing machines that dot the waters.
And I recall a sign I once saw: “When all is said and done, a human being will be remembered by the family he creates, the home he builds, the book he writes and the name he leaves behind.” And I understand that this should not only be the mantra of every individual; it is also the mission statement of each country and religion.
For Israel and Judaism, then, the mandate becomes as clear as the crystal waters before me: We must unite, and grow, our extended Jewish family. We must build the fnest possible home, in our precious homeland, a miraculous opportunity divinely given to us after 2,000 years of homelessness. We must study, revere and yet continue writing that essential book of Torah that guides us in our path. And most of all, we must contribute, each in our own way, to glorifying the name “Israel,” so that it is pronounced with respect and honor by all the world.
The seas do not change; they are eternal, immense, immortal. They can wait with unending patience as they ebb and flow. We mortals, however, are finite and limited. And so, rather than just drift along on cruise control, we must use the time and gifts we have been given to effect a sea change, to move history along to a much, much better place.
The writer, director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana, leads kosher cruises and tours to various places on the planet;