June 26, 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.

Best Cities For A Quick Getaway Trip

Want to get away? We need those weekend trips just to take a step back from where we are and try out somewhere, whether it’s alone, with a friend, or with your partner/spouse. These are not so big cities to get intimidated by and there are always great deals to fly and get accommodations for. Get your top credit cards and book out some of these places to go out for a weekend.



The Texan capital is quite the progressive city in a notably conservative state. Part of it is because of the University of Texas has all of their college students and youth from the rest of the state that come in with different types of art, shows, and promotions, such as the world-famous South By Southwest festival. The creative food in food trucks is everywhere from morning to evening, as well as in the restaurants. It is an inexpensive meal that can eat while walking through its beautiful parks, the beautiful college campus that is the main point of the city, and the gorgeous structures that have been upkeep for decades.



There is a life outside of Washington D.C. with a one hour drive north. The Baltimore Museum of Art is free to enter, featuring the world’s largest collection of Matisse paintings. At the famous Gertrude’s, get some of the best seafood fresh out of the Baltimore harbor with crab and shrimp. And, for the baseball lovers, go and check out an Orioles game at the stunning retro-looking Camden Yards. It is the birthplace of one Babe Ruth.



Possibly the best city for that Southern hospitality, go on a food tour of South Carolina and have some of that cuisine at bakeries, cafes, and BBQs. Ride the Schooner Pride ($35) along the rivers and coast to see standing Civil War battlegrounds and islands, and sit on the harbor for the sunset. Besides its history and culture, Charleston has been a place highly recommended for a weekend trip for couples.



The food, beer, and country music will single to your tune for being both inexpensive and very warm for everybody. The streets are always buzzing with infused cuisine and Tennessee charm (a ton of orange) to bring in every tourist for a good weekend.

San Antonio


Everything is bigger in Texas, which is why there is a second city from the state on this shortlist. It still has all five city’s missions from the 19th-century, most notably the Alamo. Take a lazy cruise on the Riverwalk, where bars, shops, restaurants, and nature line the whole waterway. You can either walk or even rent a bike for the fifteen-mile ride. It has some fine Tex-Mex, the San Antonio Spurs, and HemisFair Park, the site of the World’s Fair 50 years ago.

Again, get your top credit cards, the ones that payback and collect points the most and go out and see these other cities in the country. Culture thrives in every geographical area and they all have their own special taste to it. They demand outsiders come for a couple of days, leave, and come back for more.

5 Tips for a Jewish Road Trip in New Zealand

There is a lot to look forward to if you are heading for the remote and astonishingly beautiful territory of New Zealand. Most tourists come to experience a wildlife adventure, exploring the vast wild landscapes of this country and there is no better way to do that than embarking on some New Zealand road trips. But besides the long scenic routes and lively exotic cities, Jewish travelers can explore the history of their ancestors, who have started settling here since the 18th century. We gathered some useful advice for a beautiful journey to New Zealand with Jewish cultural highlights:

1. A Brief History of Kiwi Jews


New Zealand is a culturally diverse country and the home about 10 000 Jews, gathered in a few insular communities. However, these communities are strong and active and gave many skilled people to the public life of the country. Jews settled here since the 18th century and had an important role in the economic development of these territories by doing trade with Australia and The Great Britain.

2. Fun for a One Week Plan


If you have just a week to spend in New Zealand, opt for Auckland and the Bay of Islands. The weather is pleasant all year round and you can enjoy the vibe of the City of Sails and admire the countless yachts which rest in its harbor at sunset. At the Orthodox Auckland Hebrew Congregation, you will find two synagogues, a Holocaust memorial, and a Jewish Deli. Among other landmarks, don’t miss the Old Synagogue on Princess Street and stop by to admire the historic Symonds Street Jewish Cemetery. Further on, visit the beaches of Omapere, the vineyards of Waiheke Island and the bohemian Matakana Coast.

3. An Extended Stay in the North


If you planned over two weeks in the North Island, head from Auckland to Wellington, taking the thermal route. Stop by and let the view sweep you off your feet at Lake Taupo, Tongariro National Park and the wine lands of Martinborough. In the capital, you can learn about the stories of the survivors of Nazi persecution who came to New Zealand at the Holocaust Centre or check the available exhibitions and events at the Jewish Community Center. Check out the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial and pay your respects at the Bolton Street Memorial Park.

4. The Southern Itinerary


Beware of the weather if you don’t like snow, the South Island of New Zealand is covered in it in July and August. In this part of the country, you’ll enjoy smaller and quieter towns with a Jewish history, like Dunedin and Christchurch. You can visit the southernmost synagogue in the world in Dunedin, designed by the famous John Goldwater, but also the site of the Old Synagogue in Moray Place or Olveston, the mansion of a prominent Jewish businessman where you will see European and oriental artifacts. Drive to the rugged beaches of Otago Peninsula and admire the penguins or go to the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head, the only natural habitat for this majestic bird.

5. Enjoy the Diversity


Take some time to explore the various cultural influences of New Zealand. In the North, you will have many opportunities to meet the Maori culture, whether you choose to stop at one of the villages around Rotorua or experience a Marae stay at Waiheke Island. Also, the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum has an amazing architecture and impressing collections.

New Zealand offers the opportunity of visiting themed museums and synagogues and connecting with the local Jewish communities, while you will also have the chance to enjoy the rich and diversified wildlife and to immerse in the laid-back atmosphere of the harbor cities.

‘Heritage’ guide reflects European Jewish revival

When she set out to write the first comprehensive Jewish travel guidebook on the countries of the former Eastern bloc, Ruth Ellen Gruber might as well have been documenting the secret life of a New Guinea tribe of cannibals.

Seventeen years ago, not much was known among mainstream U.S. travelers about the Jewish heritage of the countries that had just emerged from behind the Iron Curtain.

Cemeteries had been destroyed or forgotten, synagogues were collapsing and little information was available at the region’s town halls or tourist centers about hundreds of years of Jewish history.

Now the fourth edition of Gruber’s guidebook, “National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe,” reveals a revolution in monument care and the return of Jewish culture — or a least tributes to that culture — in areas where it had long been dormant.

Researching the first guidebook, Gruber said she “could go to a town and they would mention a 17th century cathedral or 19th century palace, but nobody included anything Jewish.”

Gruber, a JTA correspondent, said that among Jews and non-Jews in the United States and Europe, “there was an assumption that nothing had survived the Holocaust and there was very little desire to know that there were vestiges of the pre-Holocaust Jewish world.”

How times have changed.

“I remember in 1990 looking at sites in Czechoslovakia, and we sort of recognized that if we saw a clump of dirt in a field and a broken wall it was probably a cemetery,” said Gruber, who has residences in Budapest and near Rome. “Now all of these places are known and documented.”

Jewish heritage travel has made it into the mainstream, according to Gruber, who has written two other books on the recent revival of Jewish culture in Central and Eastern Europe.

“It’s extraordinary, and extraordinarily important, that National Geographic is now publishing” her new guidebook, she said. National Geographic is “recognized over all the world. It gives an imprimatur of importance to Jewish sites.”
The book includes everything from directions to little-known heritage sites to addresses of Jewish communal institutions.

Insider anecdotes and hard-to-find information is presented for Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.

The restoration of so many Jewish monuments in these countries is due to myriad factors — generous help from the West, decent planning by local governments, renewed Jewish community pride, non-Jewish devotion to history and the realization that Jewish sites could attract tourism.

“The Czech Republic is where things have changed the most,” Gruber said.
“Look at the synagogue at Ustek,” said Gruber, who notes in her book that the 18th century synagogue, located on a scenic perch, was just a “pile of rubble” in the early 1990s.

“It’s been restored in a fantastic way,” she said. “In three other towns near Ustek the Jewish cemeteries were scenes of devastation. Now they are cleaned up, marked with monuments.”

Throughout the Czech Republic there are exhibitions in restored synagogues, and n 2006 the country devoted an entire year to Jewish culture, staging art shows, concerts and theater productions.

What went on in the Czech Republic has gone on to some extent across Central and Eastern Europe, said Gruber, who also has written “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe” and “Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today.”

The rebirth of Krakow’s former Jewish district, Kazimierz, has not only led to the reclaiming of Jewish synagogues there but to a more general revival that has turned the neighborhood into a top night spot with Jewish-themed restaurants and trendy bars.

“There was only one cafe there when my book first came out,” Gruber said.
She gave mixed reviews to monument care in the rest of Poland, but said there were plenty of sites that would impress tourists, such as Lesko in southeastern Poland.

“It has a beautiful synagogue that is a landmark of the town, it’s an art gallery,” Gruber said. “The cemetery has about 2,000 intricately decorated tombstones dating back to the 16th century.”

Gruber also had high praise for the Holocaust monument at Belzec, where the Nazis murdered some 500,000 Jews from the Galicia region in 1942. The monument was erected in 2004 with the help of the American Jewish Committee.

“It’s breathtaking and unbelievable,” Gruber said of the monument, which features slag that appears like a field of ashes and iron letters spelling out the name of former Jewish shtetls in the region.

In Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and eastern Poland, surviving but little-known wooden synagogues have become Jewish attractions, Gruber noted.

“About a dozen wooden synagogues have been identified within the past decade, and are really worth seeing,” she said.

Of the more ornate Jewish cemeteries, Gruber urges tourists not to miss those in Romania and Ukraine because of their “sheer architectural beauty.”

There is a small but vocal living Jewish presence in the region, and Gruber points out that has also undergone a revival.

For example, Prague’s Jewish community has only 1,500 registered Jews, but “a tourist can now go to five or six services on Shabbat,” Gruber noted.

That contrasts with the communities’ moribund state during the communist era, when actively participating in religious life could lead to persecution by the secret police.

Gruber acknowledged that some people have an image of the former Eastern bloc as teeming with anti-Semitism, an image she seeks to dispel. Gruber notes a tremendous sea change among non-Jews — not just toward Jews but toward foreigners in general, in countries where xenophobia once was prevalent.

In Luboml, Ukraine, Gruber met a local young historian obsessed with Jewish history, as is often the case for historians reclaiming their countries’ past after communism made Jewish topics more or less forbidden.

“There had been a Jewish distillery; he gave me the labels of bottles to take home,” she said. “You meet people like that all over the place. Of course you sometimes meet people who are awful, but that’s true wherever you go.”