2011-03-09 / Columns

Escape the winter chill with travel books highlighting Jewish sites


After a long, snowy winter, it’s time to get out of the house—or maybe the country! We gathered recently to discuss books about “Jewish” travel. Whether your destination is Israel, Europe, the Caribbean, or virtually anywhere, books about the Jewish-interest sites in these locations can enhance your travel experience.

JUDY: There are lots of guidebooks about Israel; many are standards such as “Fodor’s,” “Insight,” “Dorling Kindersley,” etc., that are excellent for hotels, restaurants, and the like. But there are others that can add so much to your trip if you do a little reading before you go. One of the favorites in my library is “Israel Past and Present.” It is published by “Frommer’s.” It’s most unusual for a travel guide; it has lots of information and excellent photos of Israel’s greatest sites, but what sets it apart is the fact that the photos, which are contemporary, are accompanied by mylar overlays that take you back in time to show you how the sites appeared in ancient days.

AMY: Before heading to Israel, travelers might want to browse “The Jerusalem Anthology” by Reuven Hammer. Not strictly speaking a travel guide, this is a literary guide; it is a compilation of material from Biblical times to the present written by people who love(d) Jerusalem. For example, writing in 1898, Theodor Herzl expressed dismay with the condition of the city: “musty deposits of two thousand years of inhumanity, intolerance, and foulness lie in reeking alleys…If Jerusalem is ever ours, and if I were still able to do anything about it, I would begin by cleaning it up.” Imagine what Herzl would write today about this holy city!

ANNE: In keeping with the theme of unusual guidebooks, Michal Strutin’s “Discovering Natural Israel” is a naturelover’s delight. She describes coral reefs, desert canyons, hyenas, and otters, in a land where nature and people have interacted since the dawn of civilization. Wonderful pictures and maps add to this unique tribute to Israel’s geography. Another look at Israel’s geography is presented in Martin Fletcher’s “Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation.” Fletcher, a TV war correspondent, has written a fascinating travelogue and personal memoir. He thought he knew Israel from all the years he spent there, but discovered more than he imagined when he walked Israel’s entire coast.

JUDY: To travel in another direction, “A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America” by Ben Frank describes the roots of Jewish culture in the New World. Jews established themselves in the Americas as early as 1654 and many of the communities are still vibrant throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Travelers may be familiar with the synagogue in Curacao, but might not know about the three synagogues in Havana, the Israeli café in Cuzco, Peru near Machu Picchu, and other Jewish sites from Buenos Aires to Mexico City. The book also includes general travel information and tips.

AMY: For people traveling closer to home, there’s Oscar Israelowitz’s “United States Jewish Travel Guide.” The author gives a one- or two-page history of each state and points out Jewish places of interest. There’s not a lot of detail, but at least it’s enough to get you started.

ANNE: Moving on to Europe, Toni L. Kamins’ “Complete Jewish Guide to Britain and Ireland” and her “Complete Jewish Guide to France” offer in-depth information about these popular destinations. In addition to describing well-known sites and little-known treasures, she also provides nearly 1,000 years of related history of the countries.

JUDY: No discussion of Jewish travel is complete without a look at Mitteleuropa, where so much Jewish history—both good and bad—took place. The cities of Prague, Warsaw, Vilna, Krakow, and Budapest all bring to mind a rich past worth revisiting. One resource for those planning to visit this area is “The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe: A Travel Guide and Resource Book” by Eli Valley. It has detailed maps and comprehensive histories as well as countless legends, anecdotes and customs related to each city.

AMY: We’ve just scratched the surface of the many Jewish travel books in our libraries. Of course, we should point out that these books are great for background reading and trip preparation, but travelers should of course check hotel rates, current hours of opera- tion for sites of interest, and other specific information on the Internet.

Bon Voyage!

For more information and to borrow these and many more travel books, please contact us: Judy Brookover at Temple Beth Sholom (judy.brookover@gmail.com); Anne Bressman at the JCC and Temple Emanuel (abressman@jfedsnj.org) and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). .

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