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Safety tips when celebrating Passover in Europe

Kylie Ora Lobell is a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.org and the author of the first children’s book for the children of Jewish converts, “Jewish Just Like You.”

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Kylie Ora Lobell
Kylie Ora Lobell is a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.org and the author of the first children’s book for the children of Jewish converts, “Jewish Just Like You.”

This Passover, travelers to the Tuscany region of Italy can soak up the sun on the beach and eat special, kosher food certified by the Chief Rabbi of Brussels while staying at the Gallia Palace Hotel. 

Or they can celebrate with a whiff of the Adriatic Sea in Dubrovnik, Croatia, or by soaking up the glamour of the French Riviera, where they can stay at the four-star Novotel Cannes Montfleury.

But while Europe may be calling this Passover — resorts offer top amenities and beautiful accommodations — some travelers may be hesitant to celebrate the holiday there due to the recent violence in places such as Turkey, Germany and Belgium. 

There’s also the growing anti-Semitism throughout the continent that could give rise to safety concerns. According to a 2016 Jerusalem Post article, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett said anti-Semitism in Europe has increased to an “unprecedented” level. He referred to a statistic that anti-Semitic occurrences in London increased 60 percent during 2015. In the first quarter of 2015, they rose 84 percent when compared with the first quarter of the previous year. 

Despite these concerns, travel agents specializing in Jewish and kosher travel said there is no reason to avoid Europe this Passover. 

“The people who go to Passover programs for a vacation … there is no need to have more security than usual,” said Sam Kroll of Melrose Travel in Los Angeles. 

This goes for both common destinations and remote ones. This year, Eddie’s Kosher Travel and Tourism is offering a remote Passover program in the Italian Alps. CEO David Walles, who is based in Israel, said there should be no worries about anti-Semitism because, “Nobody knows what a Jew is over there.”

When going in and out of the European airports, however, Walles said it may be safer to wear a baseball cap instead of a yarmulke, if the person is comfortable doing that. “You have to be sensible. There is no reason to stand out,” he said.

According to Kroll, Jews going to France, especially, are wearing hats or caps instead of yarmulkes in public. When Jews are in the country for Passover and staying with a host family, they should simply follow the precautions the family is taking. He said he heard feedback from travelers who went to England and said they detected an animosity toward Jews, but they didn’t have any safety concerns. 

Even though Bennett said anti-Semitism has risen, Kroll hasn’t experienced the same on his end. “I’m not aware of any [attacks on Jews in Europe] recently. I don’t see any changes.” 

Sophia Kulich, owner of Jewish Travel Agency, said that in places such as Eastern and Northern Europe, it is safe to wear religious items. “I see people in the airports there who wear yarmulkes,” she said.

Walles said that, in general, when traveling around the globe there are basic precautionary tips that everyone should follow. “You need to be vigilant and not hang around public areas unnecessarily. You have to be aware that we live in a very different world than it used to be.”  

And when traveling anywhere, Kulich said, it’s important to buy travel insurance for emergencies and register the trip through the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The trip is registered with the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to where the traveler is going so that they know about it. The website for STEP (step.state.gov/step) features travel alerts and warnings as well. For example, the latest travel advisory for Europe, released in late November, says to “exercise caution” at holiday festivals, events and outdoor markets, and to avoid large groups. 

Travelers should note, though, that when the government puts out travel advisories for certain places, sometimes they are generalizing, Kulich said. “There are many different countries in Europe. Iceland is the safest country in the world. I take groups to Poland, the Baltics and Armenia and it’s pretty much always safe.”

Kulich, who goes to Europe every two months, said that if travelers plan to go to Europe this Passover, they shouldn’t showcase that they are American, either. “It’s also better to avoid political conversations, especially now,” she said, referring to the recent presidential election results.

Europe is just like everywhere else, Kulich pointed out, and people could say that the United States is not safe to travel around because of the recent Florida shootings in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

“Europe is as safe as anywhere else in the world,” Kulich said. “Unfortunately, the violence that is taking place is the new normal that people are getting used to.”

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