Israeli American is owner of capsized cruise liner


Israeli-American businessman Micky Arison is the CEO and chairman of the company that operates the cruise line whose ship ran aground off the Italian coast.

Arison, who also owns the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat, is the head of the Carnival Corp., of which Costa Cruises is a subsidiary.

Arison, 62, is the son of the late Carnival Corp. founder Ted Arison. He is No. 169 on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, with a net worth of $5.9 billion.

The luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia struck rocks near Giglio Island off the coast of Italy, tearing a hole in the hull, and began sinking on Jan. 13.  11 people are confirmed dead and up to 23 missing of the 4,200 passengers and crew on board the ship.

Arison said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” by the disaster, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Aye-Aye, Rabbi!


For years, John Sherwood was a rabbi whose congregation was adrift.

And he couldn’t have been happier.

That’s because as a cruise chaplain, his floating congregation drifted to places like Venice, Istanbul, Costa Rica and Alaska.

“My wife and I have a passion for travel,” the 75-year-old Oxnard man said. “It’s always interesting to meet new people in new circumstances in new environments.”

After spending 22 years as rabbi at Reform Temple Emet in Woodland Hills, which merged with another congregation to form Temple Kol Tikvah, Sherwood retired and started taking advantage of cruise line programs that allow rabbis to travel for free in exchange for leading religious services on ocean liners.

Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, has an arrangement with the National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis. Each year, about 40 of its rabbis take part on cruises that coincide with the High Holy Days, Chanukah and Passover, according to program coordinator Rabbi Michael Abraham of New Jersey.

If it sounds like a great gig, it is.

“For most of the cruise, you’re basically just a passenger,” Abraham said.

Cruise veteran and Westwood resident Rabbi Harry A. Roth, 87, found the mother lode of cruise jobs, traveling around the world on 104-day trips on the Queen Elizabeth 2. He did this for 11 straight years after retiring from his pulpit in Massachusetts, and a large map hanging in his apartment is dotted with little hearts marking stops on his many exotic adventures.

In between all the awe-inspiring sights, Roth and his wife, Lillian, made a point of looking for something Jewish at each port of call. In Fiji, they visited a Chinese cemetery that had a small plot of land set aside for Jewish burials. In Japan, they found a synagogue that kept kosher food in a freezer for visitors.

Sometimes finding a Jewish connection took no effort at all.

“One year we actually were in Egypt on Passover Eve,” Roth said. “We had a wonderful seder, and we relived the Exodus from Egypt, except with more finesse.”

But when you’re a rabbi on the high seas, things can get a little complicated. For instance, what do you do when you cross the International Date Line, and suddenly you skip Shabbat?

“[Sometimes] on a Thursday night we’d have Sabbath Eve services because there wasn’t going to be a Friday,” Roth explained. “If you’re going to lose Saturday on the International Date Line … you had your Sabbath service on Sunday morning.”

A cruise chaplain’s work can also be trickier in some ways than that of their landlubber counterparts. On a ship, worshipers may come from completely different backgrounds, nationalities and denominations. Meeting all of their needs can be a challenge.

“You’re trying to conduct a service that will make as many [people] as possible comfortable,” said Abraham, who has served as a chaplain about 10 times. “I basically use the standard Reform service because it doesn’t cause any problems, but in some of the music I might emphasize certain things that are more traditional than just a straight service.”

Despite the many differences among the worshipers, they always had one thing in common.

“They were looking for community,” said Sherwood, who gave up being a cruise chaplain a year or so ago after serving at least a dozen times for Norwegian and Holland America Line. “I would suggest most of the people who showed up were not the most ‘narrowly defined devout people.’ … They were traveling the world and still having an opportunity to be Jewish.”

Attendance at services might range from a handful of people to more than 100, depending on the ship’s location — at port or at sea — and the holiday. Roth said that the first Friday night after the ship made a major stop was always popular.

“Everybody wanted to know who else was Jewish on the ship,” he said.

Often, because of the ship’s dress code on certain nights, worshipers turned up in style.

“It does not give you the impression of being a makeshift ceremony because people come dressed to the hilt,” Roth said. “The Queen Elizabeth had a formal night any time the ship was at sea … so people came to the chapel in gowns and tuxedos all the time.”

While there are no other duties implicit in the job of cruise chaplain, on occasion someone may seek counseling or — especially on longer cruises frequented by retirees — it could be necessary to deal with the death of a passenger. Roth also was part of a religious ceremony for a couple who previously had a civil marriage on land.

Some rabbis choose to expand their roles. Roth gave public lectures on Jewish topics. Sherwood, now an active member at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, invited Jewish passengers to join him and his wife, Dolores, for coffee and conversation a day or two into the cruise.

“It got people to meet each other,” he said. “When they came to services, many of them were not strangers anymore.”

Of course, the passengers aren’t the only ones to make friends and enjoy fantastic voyages. The chaplains are also along for the ride.

“We got to meet people all over the world,” Roth said. “There are so many favorite moments, it’s hard to believe.”

Choose Your Own Cruise Adventure


Cruising isn’t what it used to be. And to the more than 10 million people who took to the high seas last year, that’s a good thing.

While cruising used to be considered a venue for “the newly wed or nearly dead,” 21st century cruising is attracting an entirely new audience, according to Tom Margiotti of Cruise One, a cruise broker. Margiotti sees the average traveler as more experienced, better read and more sophisticated than ever before.

“Cruise lines have done a fantastic job of figuring out what their customers want, and giving it to them,” he said.

This includes providing an unprecedented range of choices in everything from dining to special interest activities to meet that demand.

In surveying a cross section of cruise lines, from mid to high end, here are the latest trends in cruising:

Dining Your Way

It used to be that first or second seating were your only options when it came to dining. Not any more. Princess Cruises offer guests a choice of dining in the ship’s main dining room, or in one of several themed freestanding restaurants onboard. Norwegian Cruise Lines “freestyle” program takes that idea a step further, allowing passengers to dine whenever they like with whomever they choose. And the traditional formal night is now “formal optional.”

Healthful Cruising

You don’t have to gain weight on a cruise unless you really want to. The majority of cruise lines now feature a menu of healthful selections at every meal, including vegetarian entrees.

Spas at Sea

Luxury spas, with a full range of exotic treatment options, are becoming commonplace on new ships. Fitness facilities have evolved as well, now often comparable to full-service land-based fitness centers, complete with personal trainers and the latest work out equipment.

Staying Active

Interested in rock climbing? Feel like shooting a few hoops or strapping on your roller blades? You can do all that, and more, aboard many of today’s newer ships. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Voyager-class ships offer guests a rock-climbing wall, ice skating rink, in-line skating track, basketball court, golf course and virtual golf simulator.

Adventures Aboard and Ashore

If you think the typical shopping and sight-seeing excursions sound ho-hum, you have options. How about scuba diving, snorkeling, dog-sledding, sea-kayaking, white-water rafting, mountain biking, helicopter glacier adventure, fishing, hot-air ballooning, and golfing at world-class golf courses? Weaving eco-tourism and soft-adventure opportunities into cruise itineraries is the wave of the future.

You’ve Got Mail

Shipboard Internet cafes keep passengers connected no matter where they are on the nautical chart.

Special-Interest Cruising

This trend speaks to the need to maximize your time and experience while on vacation. More and more people want to have more than photographs to remember their holiday by. Themed cruises, as well as cruises that incorporate an enlightening agenda, touch on subjects ranging from art, architecture, wine and food, big band music, dancing and foreign language. There are even cruises that allow professionals such as physicians and attorneys to earn continuing education credits while at sea.

A Family Affair

Today’s cruise ships are designed with families in mind. Many cruise lines have full-service children’s programs that offer secure and supervised activities for children across a wide range of ages.

Most of these programs are staffed by professionally trained counselors and feature a combination of entertainment, activities and educational enrichment. Cruises are also a top choice for family reunions.

Shipboard Wedding/Honeymoon Combo

Weddings are performed aboard ship or on land in a number of exotic destinations, including Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Alaska. Getting married onboard is so popular that Princess Cruises now includes a full service wedding chapel aboard its newer ships. The idea of combining the wedding with the honeymoon — with or without family and friends — is appealing to an increasing segment of the cruising population.

Enabled Cruising

A growing number of cruise lines have adapted their ships to be accessible to disabled individuals. From increasing the number of accessible cabins to making shore tenders and excursions accessible, strides continue to be made in these areas.

Freestyle Disembarkation

If you’ve ever cruised, then you know that the day of disembarkation can be an agonizing exercise in hurry-up and wait. Norwegian Cruise Lines now offers freestyle disembarkation, allowing you to sleep in, eat breakfast at a leisurely pace and disembark whenever it’s convenient.

Navigating the Cruise Waters

Picking your first cruise can be overwhelming. Cruising has its own lingo and every ship is different, so what’s a first time cruiser to do? It’s no wonder that some 90 percent of cruise passengers use travel agents to book their cruises.

The first question travel agent David Charles asks his customers is where they like to go on vacation.

“That gives me a feel for the kind of trip they like to take,” he said.

If they like to stay casual in shorts and sandals the whole time, there’s a cruise for them. If they like dressing up and fine dining, that’s another cue.

“There are so many options, you really need somebody who knows the business,” he said. Factors like age, budget, desired destination and if children are in the picture are all figured into the equation.

There are three basic types of cruises, with myriad variations within each category. There are the contemporary megaships, large cruisers powered by companies like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney and Norwegian Cruise Line. Then, up a price point, are the luxury ships, which include Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. Then there is the pinnacle of service and amenities in the premium segment, with names like Silversea, Radisson and Crystal.

A good cruise agent can make sure you are choosing the right ship, the right itinerary and the right cabin, assuring a more hassle-free vacation experience. But how do you find a good cruise agent? A good place to start is to ask someone you know who has cruised if they can recommend someone. It’s also good to work with someone who specializes in cruising, since he or she will have a better handle on the multitude of product in the market.

According to www.cruisecritic.com, the agent should also be able to:

Eat, Daven, Eat on the High Seas


 

Performing cantors, adventurous shore excursions and all-you-can-eat sushi are on the menu when Kosherica sets sail. The company’s most recent run, departing Ft. Lauderdale for seven days in the Eastern Caribbean, was no exception. Dudu Fisher inaugurated a string of shows, well supported by a handful of maritime mashgichim, midnight buffets and even Shabbat services aboard the five-star Celebrity Millennium luxury liner.

I was on an assignment, laptop in tow, with a brutal job ahead. So I gritted my teeth, boarded the ship and immediately got to work. Well, maybe not immediately. After reaching my cabin, my first stop was the festive glatt kosher welcome lunch. Suddenly, I was surrounded by familiar faces. Like a retrospective of previous writing gigs, there were two New Yorkers I met at last year’s spirituality conference in Maui, the guy I met when covering Kosher Club Med in Mexico, a few friends from Isralight retreats and another female adventure traveler I met in Florida. At a minimum, I would be in good company.

Even better, our cruise director, Yehuda Schifman, had carefully planned the entire week as a cruise within a cruise. Our first full day at sea, a friend and I attended a concert with cantor extraordinaire, Dudu Fisher, who retold his stories about performing in “Les Miserables,” first in Hebrew in Israel, and then in English on Broadway. In the ship’s cavernous theater, we clapped along to Fischer’s hits, including his Elvis-inspired “Lecha Dodi.”

It was the beginning of a jam-packed week with several more cantorial concerts and lots of exploring the rest of the ship, including the expansive sauna with a massive porthole (one for men, one for women), spa, reading and listening libraries, and the cinema, which showed Jewish films all week. There were also events scheduled for JSinglesCruise.com, which Schifman’s daughter, Helit Edelstein, coordinates in conjunction with two Kosherica sailings each year. The combination makes it easy for families and singles to travel together. JSingles group activities include SpeedDating, games and even a workshop with a life coach, who also offers dating advice via telephone pre-cruise. The formula seems to be working. JSingles has celebrated one marriage and one engagement since its inauguration last August.

With extensive glatt kosher buffets at each breakfast and lunch, including Friday’s all-you-can-eat sushi and nightly five-course, sit-down dinner, this cruise was no different from any other, with plenty of calories easily within reach. During kosher cruises, Millennium’s dramatic two-story, white-linen restaurant serves up ocean views with award-winning glatt kosher (cholov yisroel) gourmet cuisine prepared under the guidance of world-renowned master chef Michel Roux and supervised by Maritime Kosher International. Like any great sailing, our cruise also included afternoon tea as well as “midnight nosh.”

The food was so abundant that a friend and I, who often met up in the ocean-view fitness center, joked our workouts were so intense that we had to make sure we consumed enough calories to avoid losing weight on the ship. Lest we disembark as waifs, we dutifully enjoyed sampling nearly everything available. Soon, our handsome Slavic dinner waiter was serving up plates of curly fries from the kids’ menu without our even asking.

Few vacations offer the opportunity of going to sleep in one country and safely waking up in another without an assist from the black market. Our itinerary included several days at sea as well as international ports of call. These included Caso De Campo in the Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas. Guests were free to 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 typically two to four hours in duration.

In our first port, Casa de Campo, I joined a rigorous kayaking excursion through a wide river surrounded by lush, tropical foliage. I returned to the ship spent, definitely requiring a second dessert at dinner.

The next day in San Juan, a friend and I headed to the lush rain forest that lived up to its name with a sudden downpour. The terrain was so gorgeous we would have gladly kept hiking. But our driver insisted we quickly wrap up our tour. Somehow, it seemed, he knew of our weight maintenance program and the urgency to return to the ship for immediate five-star nourishment.

My favorite port was St. Thomas, where I spent the afternoon exploring the town and its historic synagogue and the morning hiking and snorkeling in a protected biosphere. Amid red mangrove trees, we spotted yellow-and-black-striped sergeant majors, tiny bright damselfish, barracuda, graceful (harmless) jellyfish, one magnificent green moray eel and many other fantastic creatures.

All in all, I had a fabulous vacation — I mean assignment. It was a lot like camp, but with nightly turndown service and the need for a valid passport. There were many couples and families on board. There were also plenty of singles and groups of friends enjoying each other’s company, fantastic ports of call and an endless supply of curly fries. Not to mention the celebratory Saturday night farewell dinner, complete with a surprise parade of baked Alaska en flambé! Our final send-off: lox and bagels just in time for disembarkation.

Kosherica’s upcoming sailings are scheduled for July 10 and Aug. 19 in Alaska’s majestic Inside Passage. The itinerary begins in Vancouver, Canada; with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka, Alaska. The ship will also cruise the Inside Passage and the Hubbard Glacier. Prices start at $1,750 per person, double occupancy. Caribbean sailings are also slated for Jan. 15 and 22, 2006. For more information and reservations, visit Kosherica.com or call (305) 695-2700 or (877) 724-5567 (Eastern time).

JSinglesCruise.com sets sail twice yearly. The next cruise is scheduled for Alaska, Aug. 19-26. Excursions are an additional cost. For more information, visit

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 info@jewishadventures.com.

Tropical Sailing

Celebrity Cruises is the luxurious venue for a kosher Caribbean cruise for singles Jan. 16-23, 2005 organized by JSinglesCruise.com. 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 JSinglesCruise.com. 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 JSinglesCruise.com. To learn more about life coach Sheryl Giffis, visit Luminarious Life Coaching at www.luminarious.com.

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 www.amazingjourneys.net or contact Bill Cartiff at (800) 734-0493 or bcartiff@jccpgh.org.

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

Enjoy Wedded Bliss in Lotus Position


Not every couple’s notion of the ideal honeymoon entails a hedonistic beach resort and lots of fruity drinks garnished with umbrellas. Some want to begin married life with yoga.

Some couples pursue tantric yoga, a form that includes a tranquil sexuality, in hopes of creating a powerful union of mind, body and spirit. The Institute for Ecstatic Living — (877) 982-6872; www.ecstaticliving.com — organizes tantric vacations to Costa Rica, Hawaii and cruise getaways.

If that sounds a bit too New Age, there are other benefits to learning yoga as a couple. First, one partner can help the other get into the asanas, or poses, sort of like using a spotter in weight lifting. Second, yoga helps with the pursuit of other sports and activities. Finally, it’s fun.

When planning a yoga honeymoon, consider how much yoga each of you is likely to want to practice. Most spa resorts include some yoga as part of their overall fitness program, while some retreats offer more intensive yoga instruction. Unless both of you are experienced yogis, you’ll likely want a getaway that combines quality yoga instruction with other activities. In many cases, a resort with a high-quality destination spa will keep both partners happy. Here are some getaways to get you started:

Pura Vida Spa — (888) 767-7375; www.puravidaspa.com — in Costa Rica has special yoga weeks with guest instructors throughout the year, including a tantric week for couples. You can book its "Mind/Body/Spirit Adventure Week" any time. It includes seven nights’ lodging, daily yoga classes, hiking and a rain-forest excursion from $1,100-$2,000 per person, double occupancy.

New Age Health Spa — (800) 682-4348; www.newagehealthspa.com — in New York’s Catskill Mountains has rates starting at $174 per person, per night, double occupancy, two-night minimum. That rate includes daily yoga classes. The spa also hosts weekend-long yoga programs for more intensive instruction.

In nearby Big Sur, Post Ranch Inn — (800) 527-2200; www.postranchinn.com — overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is decidedly deluxe. Accommodations start at $485 per night. Guests can join daily yoga classes in The Yurt, as well as sample tai chi and qigong. The inn is surrounded by scenic hiking trails.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa — (800) 422-2736; www.nemacolin.com — in Farmington, Pa., offers a "Couples Vacation." Accommodations range from lodge rooms to luxurious townhouse suites. Rates start at $185 per night.

Shambhala Spa at Parrot Cay — (877) 754-0726; www.parrot-cay.com — in Turks and Caicos, British West Indies, has special "Healing Weeks" scheduled throughout the year. Many feature guest yoga instructors. Prices vary, depending on the program, but one six-night yoga retreat is $4,610, double occupancy. That includes accommodations, three meals daily, five hours of yoga and meditation instruction each day, plus two hours of massage therapy during the week.

The new Mii amo Spa at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Ariz. — (888) 749-2137; www.miiamo.com — is located right next to one of the seven "spiritual vortices" that make the area a mecca for New Age travelers. In addition to spa treatments, Mii amo hosts four-day yoga retreats that teach guests how to incorporate yoga into their daily lives. Four-night spa getaways start at $1,750.

Finally, one way to support Israel at this time is to honeymoon at a spa in the Jewish State, which offer yoga and exercise along with spa treatments. The Carmel Forest Spa Resort in the Carmel Mountains — www.inisrael.com/isrotel/hotels/carmel_forest_spa_resort — has Internet rates that range from $270 single on weekdays (Saturday to Wednesday) to $570 double on weekends for a deluxe suite.

Mizpe Hayamim, above the Sea of Galilee, offers a variety of treatments and massages. Internet rates at www.mizpe-hayamim.com — range from $179 single during the regular season (which is now) to $367 double for a two-person executive suite during the peak season, which includes the High Holidays and Passover.

Article courtesy Copley News Service.


Alison Ashton is a San Diego-based freelance travel and health writer.

Political Fight Wages Over Abbas


The capture of Mohammed "Abu" Abbas may advance the U.S. war on terror, but it also could set off a political time bomb.

Less than a day after U.S. Special Operations Forces in Baghdad nabbed the mastermind of the infamous 1985 Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking, parties ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to Italian authorities to PLO officials fought to influence his fate.

On Wednesday, the ADL called on Attorney General John Ashcroft to bring Abbas to the United States to stand trial for the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled American Jewish passenger who was shot after the ship was hijacked. Klinghoffer was then dumped in his wheelchair into the Mediterranean.

The United States should be the country to bring Abbas to justice because "it’s an American citizen who was murdered," argued Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director. "We urge the Department of Justice to seize this moment to strike another blow in this nation’s war on terrorism."

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority demanded that Abbas be freed, saying his arrest violated the Oslo peace accords and subsequent interim deals.

"We demand the United States release Abu Abbas," Palestinian Authority Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat told Reuters. "It has no right to imprison him."

According to Erekat, the Israeli-Palestinian peace pact, brokered by the United States, said PLO members should not be detained or charged for any terrorist attacks they committed before Sept. 13, 1993.

With apparent American and Israeli approval, Abbas was allowed to return to Palestinian areas several times starting in 1996, and even lived openly in the Gaza Strip for a time.

Israeli officials in the United States could not be reached for comment Wednesday, the eve of Passover.

Meanwhile, Italy — which let Abbas leave the country immediately after the attack rather than fall into U.S. hands and then, in 1986, tried him in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison — pledged to seek his extradition.

"We will have to clarify some legal questions as to whom to request the extradition, which we’ll do as soon as possible," Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli told The Associated Press.

Abbas, 54, head of the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF), a PLO faction, planned the 1985 hijacking of the Italian luxury liner. Four terrorists seized the ship with 410 people aboard off the Egyptian coast.

Abbas later called the killing of Klinghoffer a "mistake," though he also claimed that Klinghoffer was "provoking" other passengers.

Though Abbas was said to have renounced terror, he told the Jerusalem newspaper Al Quds in 1998 that the "struggle between us and Israel does not stop at any limits."

The hijackers shot the wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer, 69, in the head and chest as his wife, Marilyn, watched, then dumped his body overboard.

Abbas initially won a deal calling for him and his men to be flown from Egypt to safe haven in Tunisia. But Col. Oliver North, an aide to then-President Ronald Reagan, ordered U.S. Navy fighter jets to scramble the EgyptAir flight, and Abbas was forced to land at an airport in Sicily.

A standoff between Italian and U.S. soldiers ensued, with both sides demanding custody of the terrorists. Reagan and then-Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi negotiated a deal in which Italy would try the PLF members.

Two days later, however, Italy said it lacked sufficient evidence to hold Abbas and — arguing that he also held an Iraqi diplomatic passport — let him go. He quickly fled the country.

Abbas reportedly spent much of the 1980s and early 1990s living in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. He moved to Iraq in 1994, one of several terrorist leaders — including the infamous Abu Nidal — for whom Saddam Hussein provided asylum.

After Baghdad fell last week, Abbas traveled to the northern city of Mosul and on to the Syrian border, but Syrian authorities turned him away, the AP reported.

Someone tipped off U.S. officials to Abbas’ whereabouts, and U.S. forces were led to a safe house on the Tigris River south of Baghdad. Special Forces raided the house. Abbas had fled, but they found Lebanese and Yemeni passports, thousands of dollars, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and some documents.

Abbas later returned to the city and was captured along with several others.

The White House said it would review the situation, while U.S. military officials signaled they were likely to interrogate Abbas about terrorism.

"Justice will be served," Marine Maj. Brad Bartelt, a Central Command spokesman, told the AP.

Singles Ahoy


I’ve always wanted to take a cruise: the ease of planned day
trips, the lure of the casino, the all-you-can-eat midnight buffets.

So when I see an ad for a cruise on the JDate Web site,
I decide to take the plunge.

I pack four bottles of hand sanitizer (due to recent viral
outbreaks on cruises) and spend way too much time shopping the “cruise-wear”
sections of department stores. (I didn’t even know these existed.)

When you’re single, traveling to tropical islands isn’t
always what it’s cracked up to be. But, I figure, if I don’t meet the love of
my life on this trip, at least I’ll have a large pool of potential companions
to go duty-free shopping with in the Bahamas. But who will these people be? I’m
expecting the worst.

However, the very first person I meet getting off the bus
from the airport — a gentle, soft-spoken businessman with a hint of a South
African accent — lays my fears to rest. Mr. Accent and I board the ship
together. I’m lingering over his pronunciation of “Newark,” which is downright
luxurious. Soon, Mr. Accent is off to unpack and I’ve got six hours to kill
before our private welcoming party.

I’ve never been on a cruise before, and it feels a bit
surreal as I sip my welcoming punch and witness the mad rush to sign up for
“parasailing,” “swim with the dolphins” and “treasure hunt.”

Back at my single cabin (most people paid less to share this
tiny space with a roommate), I don a slinky dress and head nervously up to the
Music Man lounge for the party. My heart’s pounding. What am I doing here?

To my relief everyone at the party is nice. Mr. Accent talks
to a few blondes. I stop to chat with him; he’s extremely sweet, but his eyes
wander. Is this on-to-the-next mentality a part of singles culture?

So my eyes wander, too, to a man wearing hip glasses, tight
jeans and pointed leather boots — I soon discover he’s a religious banker. Mr.
Stud is already dating two women and is just here “to chill.” But he still has
hopes of “getting lucky,” he confides later.

Mingling more, I meet a doctor from Georgia, a woman from my
hometown and a few lawyers. I find out later that about half of the 85 JDaters
on board are, like me, in their 30s. Each person is friendlier then the next,
but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s all rushed: I’m hurrying to meet as
many people as possible, yet I’m not sure precisely why.

Then I meet High-Tech, 28, a laid-back computer programmer
from Los Angeles with a twinkle in his eye. I notice that he focuses on me when
we speak.

The next morning, I’m waiting with High-Tech to board the
small boat that will take us to a private island. The ship is wall-to-wall people.
From the corner of my eye, I see someone vomiting behind us. Whipping out the
hand sanitizer, I push forward, away from the seasick person. High-Tech catches
up, breathless. He’s here for a vacation and to re-establish an exercise
routine, he tells me.

“I don’t really have time for a long-term relationship,” he
says. “Maybe dating.”

High-Tech is off to catch “yoga on the beach” and I join the
others for JDate Olympics. After three rounds of passing the Hula-Hoop without
using hands, I’m ready for a little break. I lounge and sip a Bahama Mama,
compliments of Mr. Accent. I could get used to this.

Being a VIP — he’s been on other JDate trips in the past —
Mr. Accent knows about the kinds of connections that can form on these trips:
the flings between people from different states, which usually fizzle in the
end; the new friendships that may lead to after-trip dates with friends of
friends; and, potentially, the long-term relationships.

Later in the evening, I dance with High-Tech. The deck is
lit up as the crowd boogies to the Cha-Cha slide. He gets some type of a drink
housed in a coconut and offers me some. When I don’t take any, he gets a second
straw: He’s figured out my obsession with the cruise-ship virus.

The last day of the cruise is overcast, but JDaters are
lying out anyway. Mr. Accent is occupied with the new woman he is seeing. So I
find Ms. Chicago, who tells me, in this short amount of time, it’s hard to read
people and know if you’ll end up in a relationship.

“If you meet someone, that’s like icing on the cake,” she
says. “If you don’t, you have new friends and you’re on a cruise!”

Have I made a lifetime of friends from a four-day cruise? I
might not have met the love of my life, but I did actually make some friends.
And I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed being part of the group.

Article courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Cruise Vacation Worth the Weight


Here’s a tip to non-Jewish travelers looking for a low-cost vacation cruise.

Pick your cruise dates to include the Jewish High Holidays in September or October, because then the ships offer their deepest discounts to fill the empty berths left by the noticeable absence of Jewish passengers.

On the other hand, Jewish vacationers might consider booking dates that include Passover or Chanukah when the ship’s chefs whip up elaborate — and strictly kosher — seder feasts or stir up batches of crisp potato latkes.

We gleaned this information during a gluttonous 11-day cruise in November aboard the $200 million Crystal Harmony. Our voyage started at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., stopped over at the Caribbean islands of St. John, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Antigua and Aruba, passed through the Panama Canal and terminated at the Costa Rican port of Caldera.

Hubert Buelacher, our ship’s food and beverage manager, recalled that two years ago, during another Caribbean cruise, his kitchen made latkes for 200 out of 900 passengers.

It is possible that some knowledgeable non-Jews might have tried to pass as members of the tribe to join the feasting. By way of illustration, we were tipped off that kosher chicken was a specialty of the house and we ordered a couple for ourselves and three other couples who were our traveling companions. The other couples, all old friends and none Jewish, gave the kosher chicken their highest rating.

Buelacher, a sturdy Austrian, conducted us through the separate kosher galley of the huge kitchen and proudly noted that he had become a kashrut maven while supervising Orthodox wedding banquets when he was working as a chef in France.

He reeled off his typical seder meal, consisting of chicken consommé with matzah balls, roasted chicken, carrots, green peas, almonds, roasted potatoes and kosher wine.

Any passenger, at any time, can order a kosher meal in advance, while some Orthodox groups have brought along their own mashgiach (kosher supervisor) said hotel director Herbert Doppler, another Austrian.

For cruises encompassing Passover or Chanukah, a full-time rabbi is on board the Crystal Harmony and the same goes for its sister ship, the Crystal Symphony.

On our November cruise, the ship’s bulletin called for volunteers to conduct Friday evening services, and Alan Iselin, an investment counselor from Albany, N.Y., led some 20 worshippers.

For the occasion, a small Torah and lectern were placed on the stage of the ship’s theater and a sidetable for yarmulkes and prayer books also offered challah, gefilte fish and kosher wine.

Admittedly, this report so far has been mainly about food, but as every cruise veteran knows, life on board ship is a freser’s (glutton’s) delight.

There were elaborate dinners, where the dress code alternated between formal, informal and casual, hefty breakfasts and lunches, specialty Japanese and Italian restaurants, and high teas and evening snacks in between.

The danger in all this, of course, is an expanded waistline, but there are remedies, consisting of a full-scale gym, a feng shui and aerobic spa, swimming pools, Jacuzzis and promenade decks for walking and jogging.

For the more dedicated, there is a golf driving range, a paddle tennis court — where we engaged in spirited matches — and for the really obsessed, a "personally developed cuisine program for the health conscious."

There are other opportunities to work off some fat in long walks and other physical activities during day-long shore excursions.

At a stop at St. Maarten, the Dutch-ruled part of the binational island, we were startled to pass a roadside restaurant proudly named Beth El and a large Star of David spouting from the roof.

We asked the black owner for an explanation and he responded, with considerable dignity, "I am a descendant of Abraham."

Crossing over to St. Martin, the French part of the island, we encountered another Star of David, this one atop an open market stand dubbed the Coconut House. We inquired again and were told, "Oh, it’s just for decoration."

A final chance to slim down before heading home came when our party decided to stay over a couple of days in Costa Rica and visit the Arenal National Park.

There, a four-hour hike through the dense rain forest to the foot of the active Arenal Volcano brought us almost back to our fighting weight.

Fuzz


A day before I left for a vacation cruise to Alaska, I looked in the mirror and spied, atop my clean, bald head — Hair! There wasn’t much of it, standing less than one-sixteenth of an inch tall. But when I ran my hand over my crown, I felt the delicious tickle of stubble.

"It’s back!" I cried to my friend Susan, who was lending me a gown for the cruise’s formal night. We jumped up and down the way we did in high school when the latest "he" called. I’ve been a cue ball since Day 12 of my first round of chemo. All my hair is gone, including eyebrows and lashes. The only really bad part, aside from looking like a Conehead, is the way drafts of cold air make my forehead feel glacial. In Alaska, I spent time looking for bald eagles, seeking to join their minyan.

Still, the stubble signified as nothing else could that Taxol and carboplatin were leaving my system, and four months of bravery before the IV drip were at an end.

And I had been brave — if by that you mean accepting the inevitable without flinching. Brave and grateful, for the many lucky breaks of getting cancer in the 21st century, where we at least have a fighting chance of extra time. Yet my happiness at the sight of these tiny fractions of colorless cilia revealed a sullen truth: I hate wearing my wigs. They’re beautiful, probably nicer than my real hair. But they itch. And they make me feel anxious and schizophrenic, like the Cameron Diaz character in "Shrek," conventionally lovely only until sundown.

And I’m not so happy being bald, however lovely people find the shape of my skull.

The last time I wrote about hair and the cancer patient, I quoted two Hebrew definitions of female beauty, "yofi" and "chayn."

"Yofi" was my wig, conventionally pretty, phony and safe. "Chayn," the more internal attractiveness meaning "finding favor," was my bare head, either bald or wearing the baseball cap, naked but true. As I entered the world of chemotherapy, I wondered which would it be: wig or bald. But life is not either/or; it’s more complex that that.

For now, I had turned a corner. After chemo, I wanted my self back, not just my old pre-cancer self, but the new self that had grown and changed by circumstance. How to reconstitute this self post-chemo was the spiritual dilemma.

Aviva Zornberg, writing in "The Beginning of Desire," says that the biblical Joseph’s problem in reuniting with his brothers was to "remember" himself. They had ripped up his coat of many colors and sold him into slavery, depriving him of his family and tradition. Now they had to "reassemble fragments of his repressed past."

If I am to live fully in the aftermath (and shadow) of cancer, this is my task too. I can’t deny that time and security have been ripped from me. But also, I must not let bitterness cast me into the pit of paralysis. I regarded this vacation as a test: Which of these selves — wig or bald or both — would I present on the ship?

Fast forward to the good ship Statendam on its first night heading north from Vancouver to Seward into the heart of fjord country.

I’m in the library room, wearing my wig and makeup and a new dress, before dinner. True, the wig is phony, but it has panache. Two good-looking guys are talking Israeli politics and immediately invite my opinion. Before you can say "Yasser Arafat is no friend of peace," we are all best buds.

Fast forward again, it’s after midnight. We’re walking around the Promenade deck, me and one of the two fast-talkers. By now, we’ve been talking for hours, like we’ve known each other forever. Beyond Israel, we have nothing in common except that we’re both bald. Except, of course, he doesn’t know that. And if I have my way, he never will.

It’s a big if. Post-chemo, I’m alive with sensations I haven’t known since before my diagnosis. One of them is fear: If he kisses me, will my wig fall off?

And just as I’m thinking this, bathed in starlight and the soothing hum of a ship under the moon, he makes his move.

I turn to him. I prop my elbows on his shoulders and hold onto my hair for dear life. He’s a strong guy, and now I increase my grip on my head.

He moves his hand over my cheek. He goes for my hair. My wig moves, a full half-inch.

He stops breathing. He moves my wig again, this time on purpose.

"Cancer?" he says.

What have I got to lose? I take off the wig. Will he see the mark of "chayn?"

"Very sexy," he says. "You know, your hair is growing back."