July 19, 2019

Crucial Things You Must Do Before Visiting Strange Countries

Jewish people know a thing or two about how hard it is to visit certain countries. Try traveling around the Middle East with an Israeli passport stamp and see how far you get. It’s definitely not easy to visit every country on the planet.

If you intend on traveling to strange places you’ll need to sort a few things out before you go. Some will be absolutely necessary, whereas other will just keep you safe. Here are a few of the top tips you’ll need to keep in mind.

Ensure You’ll Actually Be Allowed In


Even if you sneak onto an airplane it doesn’t mean you’ll be allowed into a country. You might need to obtain a valid visa before you leave. The ESTA application helps the US and various countries have similar systems in place.

Obtaining the correct visa beforehand is vital, but there are little things you need to remember too. For example, if your passport doesn’t have enough blank pages or it’s running out you’ll be in trouble.

Paying a Visit to Your Local Doctor


When you visit your local doctor tell them exactly where you’re going. They will look on their computer and tell you the vaccinations you will need. Before you know it you’ll have needles sticking out of your arms.

Keep in mind, needles are a lot more pleasant than being sick in some countries. You’ll need to talk about your prescription medication too. You will get in trouble visiting a few countries if you don’t have a note from the doctor.

Be Careful When You’re Packing Clothes


The weather is completely unpredictable, so it’s important to know what to expect. This will be a problem in places off the beaten track if you don’t pack correctly. You should be able to handle any situation.

You don’t want to visit Vietnam expecting sun only to find out it’s freezing cold. What will you do if you can’t find warmer clothes? Even though they’ll be available they’ll be too small for you.

Pick up the Correct Travel Insurance


There are many types of travel insurance you’ll need to read about in-depth. If you aren’t covered you might end up with large hospital bills to pay. I’d like to talk specifically about medical evacuations.

A lot of countries around the world don’t have quality facilities. In fact, there is a chance they won’t be able to help you. If your insurance includes medical evacuations you’ll be taken where you need to go.

Check for Emergency Travel Warnings


You’ll know how safe a country is before you book your trip. I’m assuming you’re smart enough to stay out of war zones. You still need to check for emergency travel warnings before you get on the plane.

Unfortunately, various places around the globe are a mess right now. Some are beginning to reach boiling point. You don’t want to take your family to a country where they’ll have a target on their back.

Carrying Enough Money to Last You


In most western countries, you’ll find an ATM on every street corner. The same thing applies to most developing countries too. Still, you don’t want to end up somewhere with no access to money.

You’ll need to carry enough on your person until reaching a more modern town. I would think about buying products that will help you hide it. Lots of travelers will recommend you wear a money belt.

Just Wait Until You Finally Get There


Preparing for trips is sometimes the most difficult part. Don’t let it stop you from getting excited about your adventure. When you get there you’ll have the greatest time of your life.

Old Canon Gets New Look

"The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture" by Ruth R. Wisse (The Free Press, $28).

The Hebrew Bible is a canon of 24 books, written in the same language, collected by a people living in a single nation, compiled at a time of belief in an all-powerful Authority speaking through that canon.

Three millennia later the people survive, but they are dispersed in numerous countries throughout the world, speaking many diverse languages, and living at a time when authority (including religious authority) is more likely to be defied than followed.

In such a time, can there be such a thing as a "Modern Jewish Canon" — a set of commonly accepted books that authoritatively express the experiences and values of a modern Jewish people?

In this remarkable book, Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard University, argues there is. In a series of essays written with extraordinary erudition, Wisse discusses books by authors who wrote in nine different languages, and concludes that in the 20th century, the Jewish people generated "a multilingual literature unlike that of any other modern nation."

It is a literature created under the most trying conditions. Jews in the 20th century wrote in a time of "decline of religious faith, the disintegration of cohesive communities, the weakening of ethnic ties" — reflected in the myriad languages Jews spoke — that made a communal literature unlikely at best.

Moreover, the mass extermination of European Jews took with it the language that an entire culture had created over hundreds of years. A century that began with approximately 10 million Jews speaking Yiddish — more Jews than had ever before simultaneously spoken a common language — ended with a large part of those people, the ones who spoke the language, gone.

The Holocaust was followed by the mass assimilation of American Jews. With their immigration to the United States, American Jews "dropped Yiddish so precipitously that they lost the whole record of their encounter with modernity that had been forged in that language."

But amid the forces of linguistic and cultural destruction that marked the 20th century, Jewish writers, living in diverse countries, writing in diverse languages, generated a series of books of exceptional merit with moral and cultural links to Jewish tradition.

The books Wisse has selected for her "Modern Jewish Canon" are those that "derive so powerfully from a particular cultural community that they make a special claim on the members of that community to be reabsorbed by them in a cycle of creative renewal." She devotes entire chapters to Yiddish literature, the literature of the Russian Revolution, Holocaust testimonials, American immigrant literature and Israeli literature (which she sees as the dominant branch of modern Jewish literature).

It is her demonstration of the connections between these diverse writings — the argument that they form a modern canon — that is perhaps the most stimulating part of the book. She demonstrates how Jewish tradition strove to survive social and political revolution in Sholom Aleichem’s "Tevye the Dairyman" — and then connects that book to Saul Bellow’s "Mr. Sammler’s Planet" (the "definitive novel about the 1960s"). She next connects Bellow’s book to Philip Roth’s "American Pastoral," and argues convincingly that Roth’s book, with its stunning portrayal of the collapse of Jewish parental authority, is his "masterpiece."

Her book is also interesting for the writers she leaves out. It is not enough to be Jewish and famous, or else Norman Mailer would be included. Nor is it enough to be Jewish and great, or else Proust would make the list.

What Wisse is after is something closer to what Cynthia Ozick, writing more than 30 years ago, referred to as a "liturgical" literature. Ozick wrote that the only Diaspora literature that would survive would be one that was "centrally Jewish" — by which she meant a literature not necessarily religious, but one that had "a choral voice, a communal voice, the echo of the voice of the Lord of History." She predicted that Mailer — then at the height of his fame — would one day "become a small gentile footnote, about the size of H.L. Mencken."

Wisse’s modern canon is a set of books that transcend the momentary attraction of most modern literature, with its over-emphasis on the individual to the exclusion of the community, and on values that are self-actualized rather than passed on through tradition. Her choices are not ones that necessarily portray Jews positively ("Of course," Wisse writes, "no book is ever going to portray the Jews in a worse light than the Bible"). But they are books that will not fade into footnotes, because they build on traditions centuries old, applied in new times.

In his monumental recovery of the history and traditions of the "Kaddish," Leon Wieseltier wrote that tradition "is not reproduced. It is thrown, and it is caught. It lives a long time in the air." The remarkable achievement of Wisse is that she has produced, in a single volume, an appreciation of the moral richness of 20th century Jewish literature, with its preservation of Jewish tradition in the midst of the extraordinary challenges of that century, and has thrown it into the air. It is now there for us to catch.

Ruth Wisse will be a scholar-in-residence at Sinai Temple from Nov. 16 to 18. For more information call (310) 474-1518.