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A Friday Night/Shabbat Kiddush Sidequest

A Friday Night/Shabbat Kiddush Sidequest

We’ve been at sea now for about three days and have been taking in the various sights of Alaska. I’ll post an update on our travels shortly. But in my last post I mentioned that prior to setting sail we had one last adventure/sidequest to complete before being able to relax.

One tradition that I’m really proud to have started on my adventures is to always pause to watch the sunset. Wherever I am, no matter how many miles I’ve traveled that day or how many more miles I have yet to go, I always stop to watch the sun go down.

Well according to Jewish tradition, sundown on Friday nights is the traditional start of the Jewish Sabbath – AKA: Shabbat. So on Friday evenings, I like to say the traditional Shabbat blessings (Kiddush) wherever I am. It’s a nice reminder that wherever you go in life – where ever the road takes you – you’re still the person you always were. Bringing your traditions with you is a good way to remain grounded and tied to home.

It’s also a great way to feel connected to religion and spirituality, oftentimes while out in nature, in the strangest places. I’ve felt more spiritual in the few minutes it takes to do this little ritual than I have in years of going to synagogues.

I’ve also brought a bit of Jewish tradition to some pretty amazing places that are preeeeetty far from Jewish people and Judaism in general.

Shabbat in Moorea, French Polynesia.
Shabbat in Chaco Canyon National Park, New Mexico.
Shabbat in The Shire. Ok, the Catlins, New Zealand.
Shabbat in the Dominican Republic.

In many cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the only person to have ever said these blessings in the places where I stood. That’s a pretty awesome feeling.

The only trouble is, in order to do the Jewish Kiddush you need bread and wine. Being something of a traditionalist that means I need KOSHER bread and wine or grape juice. This can present a challenge when you’ve forgotten to bring wine with you to say… the Dominican Republic. Or Seward, Alaska.

At some point on the way down from Denali National Park, it dawned on me that I did not have any grape juice (Ariel is pregnant so no wine for us on this trip!) or bread to do this. A few phone calls to the Chabad (a Jewish religious sect that does a lot of outreach/assistance for less religious Jews) in Anchorage confirmed that my only hope was to go to a local store in town. Apparently kosher grape juice and bread isn’t exactly a hot selling item in Alaska.

Pretty much all of the Jews in Alaska live in Anchorage so the only stores likely to have anything like that, in an area larger than half of the entire continental United States, were all located in one part of one city.

Unfortunately for us, that part of the city was NOT where we were going to be during the hour or so between our arrival there and our departure for Seward. I know this, because I called literally every liquor store within walking distance that could POSSIBLY have something like this. Nope.

So we were in a bit of a bind…

Suddenly, the gentleman sitting behind us tapped me on the shoulder and told us he would have us covered.

Jason, an African-American guy from Washington, DC who just so happened to be working in Alaska over the summer, had a friend in Seward who would go to one of the only stores in THAT town and see if they had any kosher grape juice (“Manischewitz” he pointed out, so we would know he knew EXACTLY what we were talking about) and MEET US AT THE DOCK TO DELIVER IT TO US.

It was a Shabbat Miracle.

However, the more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed to me that this thing would work out. Jason was awesome, and we chatted with him for the whole rest of the bus ride. But if it was almost impossible to find kosher grape juice in Anchorage, what were the odds they would have it in Seward?

So then we actually had a SECOND Shabbat Miracle and for whatever reason our time in Anchorage was increased to about 90 minutes.

This meant we were able to catch a cab to the outskirts of town, run into a store, buy a gallon of one of the last jugs of kosher grape juice they had (really, they only had one size and it cost $10), get BACK to the place we had to board the bus AND have a quick lunch at the food court of the Anchorage Mall.

Victory.

And still catch the bus to the docks in Seward.

Was it worth the effort? Worth the money? Worth the stress? Even though we aren’t the most religious people, the mere fact we succeeded in this little sidequest was very satisfying in and of itself. Plus we got to talk to Jason, a Jehovah’s Witness who still knew all about Judaism and “doing mitzvahs” (his words) because he spent some time researching Judaism when he was younger. We got to know him, how he ended up in Alaska and made a really personal connection with a total stranger by giving him an opportunity to offer a totally selfless act. I mean how great is that?

So yeah, it was worth it this time. And it was worth it the time we had another Shabbat miracle in the Dominican Republic and the place we were staying just happened to have one bottle of Israeli wine. And it was worth it the time I got to do Kiddush at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. And in Santorini (the image at the top of the post). And in a random field in Wyoming.

Any sidequest is generally worth doing. This one is my favorite.

And I hope you will consider doing something like this on your own travels. Doesn’t matter what your religion is. Just bring some of your traditions with you. When you’re furthest from home, in the wilderness, that’s the time you need to be most grounded.

So bring a little bit of home with you.

Final Day: Prairies, Bison And A Surprise Encounter With a Nuclear Missile Launch Site

Final Day: Prairies, Bison And A Surprise Encounter With a Nuclear Missile Launch Site

The last day on this trip was really only a half day. After doing my usual packing routine, making sure I left nothing behind, I took a look at myself in the mirror – a solo adventurer for possibly the last time in my life…

…and then I was off.

My main target today was the Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve. This had actually been a national park at one time – and let me tell you something – I don’t suppose I’ll be in Devils Lake again anytime soon, but this is one hell of a free experience.

First a couple of stops along the lake. Apparently, the thing about Devils Lake is that it regularly expands and contracts, swamping forests and occasionally houses.

Hey guys, long time no see.

After that, it was on to Sully’s Hill which is effectively a safari exclusively for big plains animals like elk and bison. Back in the early 1900’s, as these giants were being hunted to near extinction, Teddy Roosevelt set up what are effectively safe havens to ensure these species would survive. Now they let you drive around amongst them – for FREE! Ariel and I had been to one near Denver a few years ago and it was really cool. This one might have been even better. It was basically deserted and also included forest drives, a prairie dog town (!!!) and a scenic overlook of Devils Lake.

Sully’s Hill Forest Drive.

Really cool stuff.

From there, it was time to head to the airport. With four hours until my flight and only about 90 minutes of driving to get there, I was free to take my time. This meant I could go a little out of my way and stumble randomly across a decommissioned nuclear missile silo.

A random nuclear missile bunker.

So so so cool. And more than a little terrifying in our current geopolitical environment. They actually have a ton of these all over the Dakotas, Wyoming and Colorado. I’d been to one in South Dakota on my big roadtrip in 2010. That one was unreal because they let you actually go into the control room where “missiliers” (the guys who actually push the buttons) sat for years waiting for the orders to destroy the planet.

This wasn’t that, but still a cool find in the middle of nowhere. And it was also fascinating that it was right next to yet another sunflower farm.

The rest of the day passed without incident. I stopped a few times to take in the scenery and just appreciate the splendor of this beautiful country of ours.

This is an open road song.

And then, it was over. I returned my trusty Hyundai Sante Fe to the rental car company at Fargo, went through security, boarded the plane and headed home, to Ariel and Sammy…

Final tally: 3 states, 1 Canadian province, 4 international border crossings, 1,276 miles 1 border incident

Now Ariel and I leave for Alaska on what is OKPROBABLYACTUALLY going to be the last adventure we go on before the baby.

Stay tuned for that as we take one last trip before our family grows.