In Hurricane Matthew aftermath, Jewish groups lend a hand

As the death toll from Hurricane Matthew continued to rise, Jewish groups were working to help victims in the United States and the Caribbean.

The storm, which the National Hurricane Center downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday, has killed at least 19 people in the U.S., including in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, according to NBC.

In the Caribbean, much of the damage was concentrated in Haiti, where the death toll was said to have reached 1,000, Reuters reported.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was focusing its efforts on Haiti, where it was working with relief group Heart to Heart International to provide hygiene kits, water purification tablets and other aid to those on the island’s highly affected southern part.

Also in Haiti, the World Jewish Relief was providing emergency assistance, including food, water, shelter and hygiene kits. The American Jewish World Service was sending relief funds to aid groups in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The Mexican Jewish humanitarian group Cadena dispatched volunteers to Haiti to help with search-and-rescue efforts and relief work there.

Chabad emissaries in U.S. states helped provide assistance to victims, including by using their houses to provide shelter and distributing Shabbat meals and care packages over the weekend to students and residents in Florida.

The Jewish Federations of North America was opening an emergency fund to collect money to mobilize humanitarian support and provide relief to Jewish communities in the path of the hurricane.

Israel closing five consulates, including Philadelphia

In a budget-cutting move, Israel is closing five of its diplomatic offices around the world.

The affected consulates are in Philadelphia, Belarus, El Salvador and Marseilles, France, along with a “roving ambassador” to the Caribbean, The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the saved money will go toward existing consulates and embassies.

The Philadelphia consulate was initially scheduled to be shut down two years ago, but was left standing after the local Jewish community and local politicians objected, according to the Post.

In addition to its embassy in Washington and the Philadelphia consulate, Israel has consulates in eight other U.S. cities: New York, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Mayan Riviera: Mayan ruins, shining sea

Gazing at the expansive turquoise seas and white sands of the Mayan Riviera, it’s easy to imagine the infamous pirates of the Caribbean who once dominated these waters. This is where the notorious Captain William Kidd, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and John “Calico Jack” Rackham wreaked havoc, larceny, murder and mayhem.

The late Edward Kritzler, author of “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean,” suggests many of these legendary bad guys and their cohorts were actually members of the tribe. Among the most successful was Moses Cohen Henriques, who ran a massive 1628 raid against the Spanish fleet. According to Kritzler, these Jewish refugees of the Spanish Inquisition were mavericks on a mission. They were driven, in part, by their fierce passion to sabotage the Spanish crown’s strongholds in the New World and to pursue religious freedom.

The Jewish presence in these parts today is far less provocative, as the only visible remnants of once prosperous cultures here are not of pirates, but pyramids. The massive ruined ancient Mayan cities, with their staggering structures, massive sport courts and other stone remains, are among the most popular sites of the beautiful Riviera Maya, located on the eastern end of the Yucatan Peninsula. 

One premiere place to explore is the ancient coastal village of Tulum, which faces the sea about 80 miles south of Cancun. This massive stretch of dramatic real estate is laced with the remains of a variety of Mayan structures dating back to the 13th century: ruined palaces, pyramids, presumed altars and more. 

Another major site worth exploring nearby is Coba. Shrouded by a forest, wide dirt paths open up to mysterious Mayan buildings from a time gone by. Some pyramids stand so high, towering over nearby treetops, that climbing is at your own risk. 

The descendants of the indigenous Mayans who created these once thriving villages have long dwindled. Elements of their cultures can still be easily observed at authentic villages, however, such as Tres Reyes, where visitors can tour homes and workplaces. 

Villagers still sleep in hammocks strung in bare huts with little if any other furniture and no decorations. They make tortillas from corn they grind by hand in a stone mortar, and they cook on a plain piece of metal over hot coals. They also keep small farm animals and fertile fruit and vegetable gardens in this tropical climate while maintaining their authentic off-the-grid lifestyle — no running water, electricity or appliances. 

This way of life — definitely on the wane — continues only because tour guides pay fees for each visit, covering the costs of much-needed goods and services that are no longer available for barter. Grown children typically leave the village for education, jobs and mainstream life.

When it comes to natural phenomenon, there’s also plenty that captivates, such as the limestone caverns known as cenotes, prevalent throughout the peninsula. Formed 65 million years ago, these natural sinkholes are striking blue and green in color and contain freshwater pools that resemble something out of the film “Avatar.” Water drips from cave walls overhead, bats and birds circle, and their chirping and winging fill the space. 

In addition to the region’s cultural and natural gems, there is, of course, the commercial side of life here. Playa del Carmen, situated between the airport in Cancun and the ruins at Tulum, is a renowned scuba destination that is also host to a vast number of resorts and vacation getaways. 

Among them is the magnificent five-star resort Mayakoba. Set on a nature preserve, the Mayakoba enclave is home to three luxury hotels — Rosewood, Fairmont and the Banyan Tree — occupying 1,600 acres. Each is accessible via a boat ride through canals that connect the three properties. The properties also share a white sand beach easily accessible by foot, though the distance is so far from each respective reception desk that the staff offers golf carts to deliver guests to and fro. With the extensive mangrove, the body of the water and the coast, myriad exotic migratory birds call the preserve home.

It’s not uncommon for Jewish communities in nearby areas to arrange for celebratory events at Mayakoba, which is well versed in catering to kosher guests, Passover programs and large wedding parties. The wine selection includes kosher varietals, and kosher catering is also available from Chabad of Cancun (, which provides certified kosher meal service to any hotel in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. 

It’s a short distance into town to the commercial heart of Playa del Carmen. This city center will easily satisfy your fix for retail therapy, gifts, beachwear and souvenirs. A long and charming strip of shops offers everything from local organic honey to lamps of all sizes adorned with gorgeous seashells. Naturally, Israeli merchants are in the mix, as are Jewish visitors to the local Chabad House (

Depending on your outlook, the closest thing to pirates in these parts today may be the local shopkeepers. Naturally, they charge top dollar for beautiful Mexican silver pieces or the region’s ubiquitous liquid gold — high end, often certified kosher, tequila. Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of Leyenda del Milagro!

Curacao shul offers venue with Caribbean flavor

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Buzzy Gordon is a travel writer who writes frequently about Jewish communities around the world.

Barbados’ Nidhe Israel: Torah on a tropical isle

When I tell people that we are members of Congregation Nidhe Israel, the Jewish community in Barbados, I get the most incredulous stares.

Barbados is, of course, well known as a “sun, sand and sea” island in the Caribbean, but it has many more attractions than these. Jewish visitors, in particular, are drawn to downtown Bridgetown, the island’s capital city, to visit the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

Unlike most Caribbean islands, Barbados is more than a mere resort. It is a parliamentary democracy patterned on the British Westminster system. While it was “discovered” and named by the Portuguese, it was settled by the British in 1625 and remained a Crown colony until Nov. 30, 1966, when it became an independent member of the British Commonwealth, a status similar to that of Canada. Today, its principal industry is tourism, although it also has a vibrant industrial sector, particularly in the area of information technology, due largely to its high education standards.

Barbados is the easternmost island in the Caribbean, some 1,600 miles from Miami. It is pear-shaped, just 21 miles long and 14 miles or, as it said in one of its ads, “a smile wide.” English is the primary language among 300,000 of the warmest, most welcoming people we have found anywhere.

The island receives close to 1 million visitors annually, about half of whom arrive by cruise ship and spend just a few hours there. Of the rest, about 50 percent are British and Irish. Americans and Canadians make up the majority of the rest, although there is a goodly smattering of Continental Europeans and residents of neighboring Caribbean islands.

Accommodations in Barbados run the gamut from super-luxurious resort hotels to modest bed and breakfasts, and there are also a vast number of villas and condominiums available for long- and short-term rental. Possibly the best known of the hotels is Sandy Lane with daily rates starting at more than $1,000 per day. Other leading hotels include the intimate 40-suite Cobblers Cove, Treasure Beach, which has a reputation for attracting famous writers, and the ubiquitous Hilton, with extensive facilities for meetings and conventions.

In addition to every imaginable water sport, the island offers several world-class golf courses, tennis, polo, horseback riding, hiking trails and biking, as well as the national passion, cricket. In fact, its brand new, state-of-the-art stadium hosted the 2007 Cricket World Cup finals.

Barbados has a wealth of historic attractions, including the recently renovated plantation great house, St. Nicholas Abbey, built in 1650 and one of only three Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere (a second, Drax Hall, is also in Barbados; the third is in South Carolina). For Jewish visitors, however, the Bridgetown Synagogue and the surrounding cemetery is of supreme interest.

Jews first arrived in Barbados in the 1654 as refugees from the Inquisition in Brazil.

They introduced sugar to the island, and their community soon grew and prospered. Their first synagogue was destroyed by a hurricane in 1831, and a new synagogue was subsequently built on the same site. Due to intermarriage, a devastating hurricane and emigration, the original Sephardic community dwindled and had died out by 1929, after which the synagogue building was sold and used for a variety of purposes, lastly as a warehouse.

Jews began to arrive in Barbados once again as the situation in Europe deteriorated prior to World War II. The first of today’s Ashkenazic community to arrive was Moses Altman, who came from Poland in 1931. He was followed by his son, Henry, who today, at age 94, is the senior member of the island’s small but influential Jewish community of some 30 families numbering more than 100 permanent residents. They built their first synagogue and community center, Shaare Tzedek, in a residential neighborhood. That building, which is air-conditioned and has a kitchen, continues to be used during the warmer summer months for Shabbat services and throughout the year for holiday celebrations.

When it became known in 1983 that the abandoned synagogue in Bridgetown was to be demolished, Henry’s son, Paul, who was born in Barbados and is one of the island’s most prominent businessmen, approached then-Prime Minister Tom Adams and persuaded him to allow the Jewish community to restore the building and consecrate it once again as a synagogue.

After a major fundraising drive and with the assistance of architects and historians from England, the Bridgetown Synagogue was restored to its former glory. Friday night services, conducted by local lay leaders, are held there throughout the winter months. During major holidays they attract as many as 100 worshippers from the world over. The synagogue is patterned after the famous Bevis Marks Sephardic synagogue in London, with a magnificent ark, a reader’s table in the center and superb reproductions of the exquisite chandeliers and locally crafted mahogany benches. The synagogue’s Tablets of the Law and a large wall clock are originals.

The surrounding cemetery contains the graves of many of the original Jewish settlers, with inscriptions in both Hebrew and Ladino. An adjoining historic building is currently being renovated and will be used as a museum highlighting the history of the Jews in Barbados.

In the early 1990s, Barbados’ government issued a set of postage stamps to commemorate the re-dedication of the synagogue, and in 2004 it issued a commemorative $100 gold coin to mark the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish community in Barbados.

Of the many tourists we have met there, Ben Omessi, a recent visitor from Northridge, summed up the reactions typical of most describing the Bridgetown Synagogue, calling it “yofi m’od.”

Rainbow-haired couturier takes fashion fun seriously

Her natural hair color is brown, but Nony Tochterman hasn’t shown her roots in about 20 years. These days it’s a bubblegum pink, and in the past she’s tressed herself in Skittles hues, including green, blonde, orange, purple, fuchsia and lavender.
Color, after all, is a lot of what the 40-year-old fashion designer is about. Her line is called House of Petro Zillia. Named after the Hebrew word for parsley, it is a perfect moniker for her design aesthetic, which takes fun seriously.

“I’m a colorful person,” Tochterman said. “I like color; I like texture; I like mixing things together. I think my customer is a sophisticated, ageless, confident woman.”

Such women have found Tochterman’s clothing in upscale boutiques since the company’s inception in 1996, but Tochterman says a store of her own “has been in my head for years.” This month, she and her husband and business partner, Yosi Drori, celebrate the grand opening of a flagship store in the trendy strip of West Third Street, between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

“The store is not just about my clothes,” Tochterman said, “but about everything that I love — furniture, knickknacks.”
Tochterman is known in the industry for her whimsical feminine pieces, bold designs and unexpected color combinations, as well as a penchant for knits and vintage-inspired looks. The fashion of Petro Zillia is eclectic. It encompasses a retro sky blue cashmere sweater, with a rainbow and hearts on the front, but also a subtler, but still quirky navy silk wrap dress trimmed with pompoms, and a serious gray tweed flare skirt.

Her new store’s interior reflects this point of view. Shoppers enter into an open space subtly divided into three sections.
Up front, the feel is midcentury, with walls decked in mod orange and green wallpaper. Through the center, the mood changes to neoromantic. Tripartite walls are painted crackle pink on top, lime green in a center ribbon trimmed with gold-gilt molding and papered in a blue floral on the bottom. From the ceiling hangs a sizable chandelier that Tochterman says her husband found at “like a JCC donation center or something.” (Drori is responsible for most of the interior design.) In the back is a shift to ’70s psychedelic, complete with facing lime green loveseats: one tweed, one plastic.

Tochterman and Drori hope to make the location a hangout, in addition to a shopping destination. There are plans for a garden in the back under a big magnolia tree left by the previous tenant, the Shambhala Meditation Center. Next door to the store is a space the couple is converting into Tochterman’s design studio — one arena that has never felt foreign to her.
Tochterman grew up in Tel Aviv with a fashion pedigree. Her mother had a chic boutique, and Tochterman said, “I used to go to her studio, and she allowed me to work on the overlock machine.” By the time she was 7, Tochterman had learned how to knit, sew and cut fabric, and she eventually sold some of her pieces in her mom’s store.

At 14, Tochterman moved to Los Angeles with her parents and siblings, but she had trouble adjusting and moved back to Israel after a year and a half, living with her grandmother while she finished school there.

She returned to Los Angeles after she graduated. Soon after, she moved to New York to work in the fashion industry. Capitalizing on a huge late ’80s trend by making clip-on button covers, Tochterman founded a successful accessories line, Nony New York, with Drori in 1986.

They made the most of it while it lasted, but the trend was dead by 1995, and they closed the business. They traveled, had a brief stint as owners of a Caribbean hotel on Saint Martin and eventually found themselves back in Los Angeles with their infant son, Etai, living with Tochterman’s parents.

Petro Zillia was born soon after — an accessories line that quickly morphed into a full ready-to-wear collection. Some 10 years later, her designs have been featured in Vogue and W Magazine and worn by trendsetters like Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Madonna.

Tochterman and Drori continue to work together on the business and personal life they share. The birth of Etai was followed four years later by a girl, Romie. The kids are now 11 and 7 years old, and in February the couple will celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Tochterman’s open personality translates into her life as well as her work. In her identity, she feels herself more American than Israeli. But she’s still “Eema” to the kids, and Drori is “Abba.”

Religion, too, is a relaxed thing. They celebrate Jewish holidays with the extended family but do not observe much at home. In terms of religious school, Tochterman and Drori have not made it a priority. The kids attend a secular private school in Santa Monica, where they live.

One could say her diverse fashion sense applies to her worldview, as well.

“The way we see it, we want to raise good people, religion blind, color blind, sexual-orientation blind — citizens of the world,” Tochterman said. “I like looking at the spectrum of their friends. Indian, Jewish, Italian — it represents the world better.”

Ahoy, mateys ! Thar be Jewish pirates!

There’s no arrr-guing that pirates are in.

As of last weekend, Disney had plundered $1 billion worldwide with “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” and International Talk Like a Pirate Day — that’s Sept. 19, for you landlubbers — has gone from an inside joke between two friends to a mock holiday celebrated in more than 40 countries.

Yet tales of Jewish piracy, which stretch back thousands of years, aren’t in the public’s consciousness, and Hollywood even has been known to remove a pirate’s Jewish background. As a result, we’re stuck with portrayals of pirates as wayward English seamen on a murderous rampage.

But now a forthcoming book hopes to change that image by focusing on Ladino-speaking Jews whose piracy grew out of the Inquisition.
“The Jewish pirates were Sephardic. Once they were kicked out of Spain [in 1492], the more adventurous Jews went to the New World,” said Ed Kritzler, whose yet-untitled book on Jewish pirates will be published by Doubleday in spring 2007.

Jewish piracy has been around since well before the Barbary pirates first preyed on ships during the Crusades. In the time of the Second Temple, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records that Hyrcanus accussed Aristobulus of “acts of piracy at sea.”

Kritzler has studied pirates for 40 years, and said that the public is fascinated with them because they’re “rugged individuals in a world of conformity. They carved their own identity, independent of the rules and strictures of society.”

But determining the exact number of Jewish pirates is difficult, Kritzler said, because many of them traveled as Conversos, or converts to Christianity, and practiced their Judaism in secret.

While some Jews, like Samuel Pallache, took up piracy in part to help make a better life for expelled Spanish Jews, Kritzler said others were motivated by revenge for the Inquisition.

One such pirate was Moses Cohen Henriques, who helped plan one of history’s largest heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques set sail with Dutch West India Co. Admiral Piet Hein, whose own hatred of Spain was fueled by four years spent as a galley slave aboard a Spanish ship. Henriques and Hein boarded Spanish ships off Cuba and seized shipments of New World gold and silver worth in today’s dollars about the same as Disney’s total box office for “Dead Man’s Chest.”

Henriques set up his own pirate island off the coast of Brazil afterward, and even though his role in the raid was disclosed during the Spanish Inquisition, he was never caught, Kritzler told The Journal.

Another Sephardic pirate played a pivotal role in American history.
In the book “Jews on the Frontier” (Rachelle Simon, 1991), Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman recounts the tale of Sephardic Jewish pirate Jean Lafitte, whose Conversos grandmother and mother fled Spain for France in 1765, after his maternal grandfather was put to death by the Inquisition for “Judaizing.”

Referred to as The Corsair, Lafitte went on to establish a pirate kingdom in the swamps of New Orleans, and led more than 1,000 men during the War of 1812.
After being run out of New Orleans in 1817, Lafitte re-established his kingdom on the island of Galveston, Texas, which was known as Campeche. During Mexico’s fight for independence, revolutionaries encouraged Lafitte to attack Spanish ships and keep the booty.

But in the 1958 film “The Buccaneer,” starring Yul Brynner as Lafitte, any mention of the pirate’s Jewish heritage was stripped away.


For more information on Talk Like a Pirate Day, visit

Click here for a pirate talk translation of this article

Top Ten Halachic Questions for a Jewish Pirate

Nevis’ Jewish Past a Tropical Treasure


Savvy travelers in need of a getaway come to the Caribbean island of Nevis to relax at restored sugar plantations, like the Montpelier Inn, or the opulent Four Seasons. Celebrity visitors have included Michael Douglas, Oprah Winfrey and Princess Diana, who immediately fled to the island to relax after her breakup with Prince Charles.

Tourists soak up the sun on the island’s beaches and watch for whales, snorkel in the crystal-clear turquoise sea and hike its lush hills listening to the chatter of green vervet monkeys. Nevis is home to 10,000 people, and charming Caribbean gingerbread-style buildings along downtown Charleston’s tiny main street evokes the feeling of “Gulliver’s Travels” as tourists visit area shops and restaurants.

This Leeward Island destination, known as the “Queen of the Caribbees,” was also once home to dozens of hard-working Jews whose story makes up a little-known chapter of Caribbean Jewish history. It’s been centuries since a Jewish community has called Nevis home, but references to the “Jews’ School” and the “Jewish Temple” remain a colorful part of island folklore.

“Nevis has a remarkable story to tell of a community that used to be,” said David Rollinson, a local historian who conducts Jewish tours of the island. “The cemetery is all that’s left now and it continues to give us valuable insight into the lives of the Jews of Nevis.”

Sitting southeast of Puerto Rico, Nevis is the smaller sister island to neighboring St. Kitts (a 20-minute ferry ride), which tends to be more rough and tumble. Nevis is nearly 7 miles in diameter and was first spotted by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Columbus called the island Nieves, the Spanish word for “snows,” because the islands volcanic peaks reminded him of the snow-capped Pyrenees.

By the mid-1600s, Nevis’ sugarcane industry made it a Caribbean powerhouse. Sephardic Jews expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese were drawn to the island. And by the early 1700s, one-quarter of the Caucasian population in Charleston were Jewish.

The Colonial period brought about a synagogue, but the exact date of its construction is unknown. A school followed, which was attended by the non-Jewish son of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, who was born on the island in 1757.

By the end of the 18th century, the sugar industry went bust and the Jewish families moved away in search of new jobs, leaving behind their stores and homes. The synagogue and school were closed. Today, the only visible reminders of that once-vibrant community are the 19 surviving grave markers in the Nevis Jewish Cemetery.

Scholars and archaeologists from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have long been fascinated with Nevis’ Jewish history. Funds from various organizations, like the Commonwealth Jewish Council, have been able to piece together a picture of what Jewish life was like from the clues in the cemetery.

Located on Government Road, a few minutes from the pier in Charleston, the cemetery stands in the middle of what once was the Jewish neighborhood. Grave markers, inscribed in Portuguese, Hebrew and English, date from 1650 to 1768 and bear names like Marache, Pinheiro, Mendez, Lobatto and Cohen. However, on some the writing is barely legible. Forty more burial sites, without markers, were identified some 20 years ago by a survey done on the grounds.

Rededicated in 1971 after a Philadelphia couple organized the cleanup and restorations of the gravestones, today the cemetery’s sacred grounds are carefully manicured by the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society.

“It’s a very emotional experience for people who come here,” said Rollinson, who watches as tourists quietly place stones on the above ground tombstones as a show of respect. “It’s an emotional experience for me, too.”

Across the street is a narrow vine-covered laneway the locals still call “Jews Walk” or “Jews Alley” which may have led to the Jewish school and kitty-corner from the cemetery is a typical Caribbean clapboard house that was built on the land where the synagogue once stood. Details about the school are sketchy but Dutch archives indicate the synagogue was built in 1684. Sadly, not an artifact has been recovered; historians believe the congregants took the valuables with them when they left the island.

Nevis’ library features some of the best local history books, including books on the area’s Jewish history, and offers the cheapest Internet connections on the island.

To the Nevisians, this area will always be “the Jewish neighborhood.” Some old-timers even remember their great-great-grandparents talking about the Jews who used to live there.

“It’s important none of us forget about those families all those years ago,” said T.C. Claxton, a British expat who has been driving a taxi on the island for 30 years. “Future generations have a lot to learn from this past.”

For more information about Nevis, visit

Roth’s ‘Kranky’ Little X-Mas

Tom Lehrer once noted that there were no American pop Chanukah tunes because Jewish composers were busy writing the nation’s sentimental Christmas and Easter favorites.

The observation came to mind when we talked to Joe Roth, about his movie “Christmas With the Kranks,” which opened Nov. 24.

Mr. and Mrs. Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) live on Hemlock Street, famed for its great annual Yuletide decorations. So when the empty-nester Kranks decide to skip the tradition and head for some balmy Caribbean island instead, the neighbors rise in indignation.

Roth, head of Revolution Studio and former chairman of the Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox studios, selected and directed the movie, based on the John Grisham novel, “Skipping Christmas.”

He is also one of Hollywood’s more prominent Jews, who was recently honored by the American Jewish Committee.

The first time he was in the news was as a 10-year-old boy whose parents sued his Long Island public school for requiring Joe and his brother to recite the daily prayer prescribed by the state Board of Regents.

“It was a traumatic experience,” Roth said. “We were ostracized and someone burned a cross on our lawn.”

However, the Christmas film, he maintained, has really nothing to do with religion.

“I see Christmas as a cultural and family holiday,” he said, while the movie itself carries two main messages. It’s first about the sense of family and community that supercedes any particular holiday. Secondly, it’s a satire on the over-commercialization of Christmas.”

Roth said the large Jewish presence in Hollywood makes little difference in what movies are made or how they’re presented.

“The major studios are owned by faceless conglomerates, which believe only in the bottom line,” he said.

“Remember, we make products for mass audiences, for the 97 percent of Americans and 99 percent plus of the world’s movie-goers who are not Jewish,” he added.

Then what accounts for the large number of movies dealing with the Holocaust and the Nazi era, his interviewer persisted. Would they be produced if most of Hollywood’s decision makers were, say, Albanians?

“I think they would,” Roth responded, “because they are simply compelling stories.”

Yet, Roth draws one line.

“I would never make a movie with the least hint of anti-Semitism,” he said. “The fact that I grew up in a Jewish home informs my entire outlook.”

Flying Solo This Winter? Head South

The leaves have turned, the days are shorter and Chag Urim, the Holiday of Lights, glimmers ahead. In the meantime, if you’re single or a student, and itching to plan a winter getaway, we’ve rounded up a pair of juicy possibilities. Singles might consider a luxury Caribbean cruise packed with excursions. And students looking to explore an exotic destination may decide to join the like-minded in Latin America. So read on, plan ahead and enjoy your first big escape of the new year. Or make a booking for a loved one and surprise him or her with an unexpected post-Chanukah adventure.

Que Bueno

From Dec. 29, 2004 to Jan. 3, 2005, teens and young adults can explore Latin America through a seven-day educational program called Argentina Discovery. Sponsored by Israel-based Oranim Educational Initiatives, the trip brings together young Jews from around the world with their Argentine counterparts. The program includes touring urban Buenos Aires and the surrounding region. Oranim also offers an option to travel to Iguazu Falls, a natural wonder located on the border between Brazil and Argentina.

The Buenos Aires itinerary includes a tour of the city’s Historical Colonial Museum, La Boca, Palermo Park, Recoleta, and Jewish sites including the AMIA building and Tango Club. Friday night combines Kabbalat Shabbat at a local synagogue with a New Year’s Eve “Fiesta Gaucha” party with Argentine cowboys. For those who do not wish to travel on Shabbat to Iguazu, alternative programming will be offered in Buenos Aires. Those travelers opting for the Iguazu extension will explore both the Argentine and Brazilian sides of the falls and a enjoy a Macuco sailing safari.

Ground costs are $610 for the Buenos Aires program, based on three-star accommodations, double occupancy. (All rooms include air-conditioning and bath.) The option to travel to Iguazu Falls is an additional $200, which includes a two-night stay in Iguazu (three travelers per room) and round-trip domestic flights. Both prices include a $100 non-refundable registration fee. Daily breakfast and dinner, entrance fees to all sites, parties, events and English-speaking guides for all tours is included in the program price.

Costs do not cover international flight, lunch and tips. Travel insurance is available for an additional charge. Note: all rates are subject to change based on the fluctuations of the rates of exchange.

For more information, reservations and for assistance booking international flights, call (440) 720-0222 or (888) 281-1265, visit

Tropical Sailing

Celebrity Cruises is the luxurious venue for a kosher Caribbean cruise for singles Jan. 16-23, 2005 organized by Experienced cruisers will delight in the highly rated, five-star Millennium, a ship I personally recommend based on my experiences on its (general audience) maiden voyage of the Baltic Sea in 2000.

This upcoming kosher singles sailing features group parties, as well as the usual extravagant dining traditional to the cruise industry. In addition, special on-board guest Sheryl Giffis, a professional life coach, is offering a complimentary one-hour session to all singles cruise participants.

The ship departs from Ft. Lauderdale and includes several days at sea as well as international ports of call. These include Caso De Campo in the Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas. Guests can explore ports independently or book group excursions. Like all leading cruise ships, Millennium offers a staggering variety of options, including guided shopping, city tours, sightseeing, parties and sports. Most excursions are usually two to four hours in duration.

In Casa De Campo, the many possible shore excursions include a catamaran Sail & Snorkel ($54), skeet and trap shooting ($88), horseback riding ($60), a countryside tour ($45),a 4 x 4 Cane Adventure ($59) and a Water Eco Adventure ($64). The latter begins with a bus ride to a beach. There, speedboats shuttle guests to Palmilla, located at the entrance of Catuano channel. Aboard wooden boats, guests explore among the mangroves. These amazing structures grow amidst a rich variety of fauna. Wooden oars allow visitors to explore this home to red-breasted frigate birds and jellyfish.

Next up, guests depart via motorboat to a natural swimming pool, where guides dive to collect starfishes. A Dominican band serenades aboard while guests swim in shallow waters or relax with on deck with complimentary soft drinks, beer and rum.

The second port of call, San Juan, also offers a variety of excursions. Guests may opt for the Bioluminescent Bay Kayak Tour ($77) located at the Bioluminescent Lagoon of the Las Cabezas Preserve in Fajardo, about 90 minutes outside of San Juan. Kayaking here offers up close glimpses of wildlife, including the stunning, glowing effect of microorganisms.

These and other excursions are available for purchase online up to 10 days prior to departure. After that date, excursions may be purchased onboard.

For kosher cruises, Millennium’s dramatic two-story, white linen restaurant serves up ocean views with glatt kosher, cholov yisroel, award-winning gourmet cuisine prepared under the strict supervision of Maritime Kosher International under the guidance of world renowned master chef Michel Roux. An extensive breakfast buffet will be served in a special dining room area reserved especially for guests of And like any great sailing, the cruise also includes afternoon tea as well as “midnight nosh.”

Prices start at $1,110 for an inside stateroom, based on double occupancy. Cabin and all meals are included. Spa services, excursions and flight to Ft. Lauderdale are not.

For more information and reservations, call (323) 640-7230 or (917) 952-4033 or visit To learn more about life coach Sheryl Giffis, visit Luminarious Life Coaching at

Chill Out This Summer

From June 26 to July 4, 2005, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and Amazing Journeys invite Jewish singles in their 30s, 40s and 50s to visit Iceland, the Land of Ice and Fire, on a nine-day, seven-night tour.

Travelers will visit the historic city of Reykjavik, go whale watching, drive across glaciers and see the two-tiered Gullfoss Waterfall. They will also have a chance to swim in the famous Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal pool; take a boat trip amidst floating icebergs; and visit an Icelandic horse farm and the Folk Museum.

Group airfare is available from many U.S. cities for as little as $895. Those who register before Dec. 12, 2004 can save $100 off the package price, which includes first-class accommodations, 12 meals, sightseeing tours, transportation, baggage handling and all taxes and service charges. There will also be Shabbat and Havdalah services, special gifts, contests and prizes and VIP treatment throughout the trip. Roommate matching is available upon request.

For reservations, pricing information and further details, visit or contact Bill Cartiff at (800) 734-0493 or

Lisa Alcalay Klug is a former staff writer for The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.