Journal of our Cruise

 Sunday, July 25

 Left the house before 7:00 AM. Barely slept the night before – too excited…

 Very pleasant, very comfortable flight. Wish we’d had someone to tell us about the scenery we flew over. Figured out the Rockies (I think). But what were those beautiful mountains we flew over shortly before we landed? Found out later they’re the Cascades. But still would like to know about some lakes we passed over. Lake Tahoe?

 Waited 1 ½ hours for our luggage to come out. Will NOT complain about Detroit Metro any more. One suitcase didn’t make it. Some very important sefarim, Chaya Sarah’s makeup, all my pants (except those I’m wearing), and other incidentals(!). They say maybe it’ll make it on the boat if it arrives on the next plane. It doesn’t. Hopefully we’ll get it on Wednesday in Juneau, our first port.

 We finally get to the ship. Wow! A floating six-star hotel. Artwork all over the place, little nooks and lounges where you can sit and schmooze, work on your computer, or just watch the scenery. Stunning chandelier over the main stairway. Elevators with intricately wrought doors. Folks, this ship is NICE. First we eat – lunch buffet. Get an idea of what all the fuss people make about the lavishness of the food… Have a safety drill – actually pay attention (not like on the plane, where we’ve heard the spiel 1000 times). Finally get to our cabin. Has a lovely little veranda – we immediately sit outside. Beautiful sun, sparkling over smooth waters. Seattle off to our right, in the shadow of picture-perfect Mount Rainier (CS says it looks like Brigadoon). We really could get to like this…

Down to teach Daf Yomi – daily Talmud lesson. No one there, so I go back to cabin to pick up a sefer to study myself, and go back down. Finally three men straggle in, and we learn.

Dinner. Get to sit with two other rabbis and their wives. So much for getting to know a variety of interesting people on the cruise. Fortunately breakfast and lunch are open seating… Looks to be quite a Jewishly diverse group, from Chasidic to quite Modern Orthodox. From Israel, England, Mexico, Venezuela (a rabbi and his wife at our table – lovely people) and all over the United States. From teens to grandparents and great-grandparents. But no babies. Food is gourmet quality, service a little slow.

Chaya Sarah is feeling rather dizzy, Probably part exhaustion, part from the ship’s movement. Time to call it a night.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Woke up at 6:00 and went walking around the outside deck. The boat is really rocking! And cold, and windy. Glad CS made me bring a windbreaker with a hood.

Enough Chabadnicks on board to make a second, Chabad minyan this morning. Nice.

Breakfast is almost like in an Israeli hotel. I’m beginning to worry that I’ll see more whales on board the ship than in the water.

All this boat rocking is beginning to get to me too. We both take Bonines, and a ginger pill at lunch. We’re told that today is the worst day, cuz we’re out on the open sea. I hope they’re telling the truth…

Chaya Sarah’s class on Parenting gets rave reviews. Good thing she practiced on the faithful attendees of the Shabbos afternoon group.

Lunch. More food.

Go up to the Internet room to try to hook up the laptop. Internet connection is ridiculously expensive, but we do it anyway. It’s also ridiculously slow. And then we can’t send anything out. Internet expert says the problem seems to be with AOL – come back later and try again. His advice? Wait until we get into port and hit an Internet café. It’s free and fast…

Chaya Sarah watches the second installment of a documentary on The Jews of America. Not exactly written by a Rosh Yeshiva, but very interesting nevertheless. I give my shiur on Tu b’Av. Around 20 people show up. One lady tells me she enjoyed my class very much, and also Chaya Sarah’s. Doesn’t know which one she liked better. Such problems.

7:00 is Cocktail Hour. What do Jews do at a cocktail hour? (The boat must have at least a dozen bars, if not more. But they’re patronized mostly by the other travelers, not our Jewish group.) We soon find out. Chaya Sarah has a pina colada, they pass around some hors d’oeuvres, and the on-board chazzan (Daniel Gildar) gives a mini-course on Jewish music. He’s got a magnificent voice, and accompanies himself on the keyboard. Nice. Looking forward to tomorrow’s chazzan concert.

Dinner. Did I mention that there’s lots of food here? Very gourmet, very good, but our server needs some more training. Maariv and back to our stateroom. There’s shipboard entertainment – not for me… In case we G‑d forbid get hungry before going to sleep there’s a tea room set up at 11:00, but we’re too tired to check it out. Maybe tomorrow night.

Tuesday, July 27

Arrived at Glacier Bay at 8:00. Baruch Hashem the sea is much calmer now. We barely feel any motion at all, though the info on our ship tv says that the waves are “moderate” – 4 to 7.5 feet. Yesterday was “rough” – 7.5 to 12 feet, and you could really see (and feel) it.

Breakfast, followed by a walk on the deck. Weather is overcast, but not too cold. The scenery is awesome – mountains on both sides of the bay. Someone spots fins in the water, then we see the telltale tail fin of a whale. A pretty small whale – we find out later that it was probably an orca. Interesting, but (I hate to say this) not terribly inspiring. Hope we get to see the big guys – the humpbacks - on this trip.

Go back to the room to prepare for our classes. Following classes a naturalist gives a talk on the history of Glacier Bay. Until 1750, what is now the bay was a huge glacier. Imagine an ice cube 7 ½ miles long, wide, and high! Over the last 250 years this glacier has retreated, creating this magnificent bay that we are slowly sailing through. She tells us about all the wildlife in this area - none of which we actually see during the entire day. Is there a conspiracy going on? But the mountains are magnificent; who needs the Swiss Alps?  Chaya Sarah tries to take some pictures, but the battery is soon dead. Time to recharge. I guess it’s a good thing we don’t see any whales or otters or stuff – she would really be upset about not catching them on the camera.

Lunch, whether you’re hungry or not.

Next few hours on deck, mesmerized by “niflaot ha’Borei” – the wonders of the Creator. Mountains with their peaks above the clouds. With patches of snow and ice on their higher elevations. Some wooded, green and rounded, some rocky and rising straight upwards to craggy peaks. Many have curving lines down their sides, probably carved out by streams of melting ice and snow in the summer months, and the rocks and boulders they carry with them. The weather has turned sunny and beautiful – apparently a rarity in these parts. The park ranger guiding our cruise announces over the microphone that there must be someone with good deeds among the passengers, and he extends his thanks. I modestly accept it. I don’t think it’s necessary to explain to him that taking care of the weather is my forte, as you know. (Also, he didn’t ask.)

6:30 there’s a chazzanut concert on the 10th deck – that’s the 10th floor. Terrific acoustics, and glassed all around so we watch the mountains as we sail by them. If you don’t like the music, it’s worth sitting here for the panoramic vistas of the bay. Daniel Gildar whom we’d already heard the day before, and Chazzan Yaakov Stark. Chazzan Stark looks like a kid of 20, slight, with long curly peyot. (On Shabbat he will be the only shtreimel in our group.) But when he opens his mouth, his voice is HUGE. Where on earth does it come from?!? I’m not a big fan of chazzanut, but this guy’s voice is as much a wonder as the mountains surrounding us. He does some traditional stuff, then one of Pavarotti’s arias – something from the opera Turandot that’s supposed to be devilishly complicated, but he knocks it off with seeming great ease. Funny to see a fellow with peyot and a beard singing about amore… (Oh, and he’s not 20 either. He’s marrying off a daughter in a couple of months.)

Which leaves us with Mincha, dinner, Maariv. CS goes to see a comedian who – wonder of wonders – is funny without being offensive or obscene. Sings about “sailing across the ocean on sixteen meals a day.” I guess all that food isn’t just a Jewish thing…

 Good night all!


Wednesday July 28

Woke up today to find ourselves docked in Juneau. The city looks like it consists of one or two streets running across the harbor, and then huge mountains right behind it. Gorgeous, but rather impractical. In fact, because Juneau is surrounded by mountains, sea, and glacier, you can’t get there via land travel – only by plane or ship.

Our suitcase still isn’t here, and no one knows where it is. This is getting really annoying. Chaya Sarah needs her makeup and her dress shoes. And I’m longing for a change of trousers. Filed a report. It doesn’t look good.

Wonder of wonders! Our cell phones work here, and it’s regular service, not even roaming. We take full advantage of this fortuitous circumstance. (I was beginning to have symptoms of phone withdrawal. But I made it!) Boruch Hashem, West Bloomfield and the shul still seem to be intact. Mazal tov Gabe and Kara and Dov and Rivka on the brit milah of baby Moshe. Oh, and a belated mazal tov to the shul baseball team for winning the double header on Sunday. Yasher koach!

Early davening and breakfast. We make ourselves some sandwiches to take for lunch, and pack them in insulated bags provided by Kosherica. Hey, we don’t want to starve!

Wander along the picturesque street in front of the harbor. It seems like all they sell is diamonds and assorted jewelry, furs, and tourist tchotchkes. One store has a sign in front of it: “Know why we aren’t listed in your cruise ship’s directory? Because we refuse to pay a kickback to the cruise company.” Hmmm.

Time to head out on our first excursion: Whale Watching and a Visit to Mendenhall Glacier. We get on to a bus which takes us to the whale watching boat. The bus driver gives us a quick mini-tour, telling us that the weather here is quite similar to Seattle’s – I guess the mountains serve as a buffer against harsher weather. Around 40 people board a small boat and we head out to try our luck at seeing some whales. The driver looks almost like a chasid – long white beard and a black hat. But hair the same length as his beard, a purple shirt, and fish ornaments on the hat kind of give him away. Our entertaining guide is full of whale facts about the humpbacks. For instance:

  1. Whales spend six months in Hawaii, six months in Alaska.
  2. When in Alaska they eat around 2000 pounds of herring each day. Sort of like people on a cruise…
  3. When in Hawaii they don’t eat. Nothing. Nada. Tisha b’Av. No herring, no eating.
  4. An adult humpback  has a size 32 waist. 32 feet
  5. The adult (a large one) is about the size of the boat we’re on. How big is the boat? It’s a 52 footer.
  6. An adult humpback weighs about a ton per foot Grays are about a half ton per foot). You do the math – over 100,000 pounds. Its tongue alone weighs about 2000 pounds…

Thought: We know whales are highly intelligent animals. And when they are faced with food that is not good for them (as in Hawaii), they are smart enough not to eat it. Aren’t we - human beings and Jews - at least as smart as the whales? Perhaps we should learn from the whales to be careful what we take into our mouths as well, and turn our noses up at food that’s not - physically or spiritually – fit for us…

A couple dozen whales live in these waters. Sure enough, we soon see a fin. Then a large, low slung black body. After a while we see another one. Also the traditional water spout (I’m not sure what it’s called officially, but you know what I mean.) Occasionally a whale will kind of arch up and arc into the water, and then we see the characteristic tail fins as it dives deep down. All in all we see about 8-10 whales during the course of a very beautiful boat ride, although none of them ever jump up out of the water to show off their truly huge mass. Can’t begin to imagine how big the livyatan (leviathan) is – the one that the Midrash relates that Hashem slaughtered and salted away for the tzadikim when Moshiach comes. I wonder where Hashem is storing all those tons of cured fish… must have a huge warehouse somewhere…

Off the boat, back onto a bus, and head out to Mendenhall Glacier. The blue ice mountain is fascinating to look at and we watch a beautiful movie about glaciers, how they’re formed, etc. Then down to a nature walk along a creek to see if we can spot any bears fishing for salmon. We don’t. (But we do see a cute little duck. Makes us feel kind of at home.)

Back on the bus, back to the Oosterdam (that’s the name of our floating resort, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it yet). Chaya Sarah takes a little extra time in town to do some souvenir shopping. Boy, are we tired! Nobody shows up to the Daf Yomi class – I guess we’re not the only ones zonked.

No, our suitcase still hasn’t showed up.

Mincha, then dinner. The highlight of the dinner is Chaya Sarah’s frozen mango daiquiri. Yes, with alcohol please, and a cherry on top. Delicious. It’s ok, she isn’t driving.

Early bedtime because we have an early excursion tomorrow…

Thursday, July 29

Sitka, Alaska.jpg

6:00: rise and shine. Ok, rise and glow slightly. We have an early excursion today.

6:10: The phone rings. I must not have answered too rise-and-shiny, because Rabbi Shneur asks – “uh, what time is it there?” Four hours earlier than in Michigan, thank you for asking…

Boat hasn’t docked yet in Sitka, but I guess we’re close enough to have phone service already. Turn on computer. UH OH! Last night I just closed it before going to sleep – and I see that I’m still logged on. This could be a big bucks problem, since we pay for Internet service by the minute… Will clear this up later, when the office opens.

After davening and a quick breakfast we head to shore. The harbor is too shallow for the boat to dock there (or the captain is really bad at parallel parking), so we go by tender – a small boat that ferries passengers back and forth from ship to shore. When we arrive on shore Josh and Dave are waiting there to take tours out. Since both are waiting for missing passengers we start to schmooze, and I ask if there are any Jews in Sitka. “I am,” says Dave, “in fact my boat is the Esther G., named after my grandmother Esther Greenberg.” But we’re booked with Josh, a really nice guy who’s definitely not Jewish.

Josh is thrilled about today’s weather – no rain (it usually rains in Sitka), water smooth, skies somewhat overcast. (When it’s sunny it’s much harder to spot anything in the water, and to take pictures, so overcast is good.) Maybe when I get back to Detroit I’ll take a side job as a weather coordinator.

Again we’re out looking for wildlife, and we actually have an up close and personal encounter with a gray whale, maybe 20 feet from the boat. Those things are BIG! We also see sea otters – from a distance it looks like two are swimming together because they like to float on their backs with their head and their feet sticking up. We also see a seal tossing a fish around on the water. Seals have no hands with which to take apart the fish, so they toss it around to break it up into chunks. There’s also a flock of birds overhead looking to snatch up any small pieces of fish that the seal doesn’t get. Nothing is wasted here.

But most interesting is our guide. During the school year, Josh teaches biology and computer science in the local high school (so he’s an educated guy, not a yokel); in the summer he takes out fishing and wildlife sighting expeditions. Every other September he goes “up north” to hunt moose – not for sport, but for food. The 1200 pound moose that he catches – plus some mountain goats and deer – provide him with all the meat he needs. Except for a Thanksgiving turkey and chickens (and ham), Josh does not buy any meat. Or fish; he catches those himself too. He shot his last moose in 2008, and they’re down to their last moose roast, so in September he’s going out for another moose. He’s really excited, because this time he’s taking along his son for the first time. “I shot my first moose when I was nine, and my kid is 10, so it’s time. He’s shot a few deer already, and he’s old enough to come with me when we go after the big ones. I’m looking forward to spending the time with him”

It’s a way of life that’s as foreign to me as a whale’s. Ashreinu. “How fortunate are we, how good is our portion, how pleasant is our lot, and how beautiful is our inheritance.” Our goals are to teach our children Torah and to bond with them at a Shabbat table, singing songs of Shabbat and sharing words of Torah – not teaching them how to kill a moose…

Back to Sitka which stretches nine miles along the harbor, but is only about a half mile deep – the distance between the harbor and the foot of the mountains that run behind it. Aside from the tourist traps near the piers, the majority of businesses are either bars and eateries, or purveyors of hunting, shooting, and fishing supplies. Just about everyone in Sitka owns guns – you can walk down the main street carrying a bazooka and no one will blink an eyelash – you only need a permit to carry a concealed gun! Maybe that’s why there isn’t much crime here…

Back to the ship, lunch, rest hour, tea room (in case we’re nebach starving). Followed by a screening of a very funny movie, “Circumcise Me” – true story of Yisrael (Chris) Campbell, a stand-up comedian who converted to Judaism. Three times. Who now has long peyot, wears a long jacket, and lives in Jerusalem. Then Mincha, a briefing about Shabbat on the ship, and dinner. Chaya Sarah goes to watch an “illusionist.” Is “magician” a politically incorrect word nowadays?

Two last, important points:

  1. First the good news. We only have Internet in our room when the door is opened. (Go figure.) So when we closed the door last night to go to sleep we lost the connection, and we weren’t charged an extra $300. Whew!
  2. And the bad news. Still no suitcase. But they found me an extra pair of black dress pants… Tuxedo pants with a satin stripe down the side. And they offered me a free cleaning for any of my clothes that I need so I’ll be able to clean my lone pair of pants. Which is good, because the tuxedo pants are a little big on me: they’re kind of falling down (Baruch Hashem I still have my belt) and re-e-e-ally baggy. I feel like a punk teenager.

Sending pictures will take forever here. I hope to get them out on Sunday, when we get to a hotel in Seattle and hopefully have a normal internet connection. In the meanwhile, a gutten Shabbos to all, we miss you. Rabbi Shneur and Zeesy, hold the fort; Nechamie, don’t burn the house down. And a million thanks to all who provided us with such a magnificent vacation!

Friday, July 30

It’s an early day again, as we have an excursion at 9:00. Ketchikan looks like a colorful frontier town. It’s built on such a narrow strip between ocean and mountains that there is actually a row of businesses – mostly restaurants – built on stilts set into the harbor! When we get off the ship there are a whole bunch of people on the street, promoting different tours and activities. One sign says “Bruchim Haba’im” (Welcome!) – in Hebrew – and “Kosher Tours,” with a whole bunch of kosher symbols – the OU, OK, etc. – underneath. Two rather un-Jewish looking guys are standing there, but hey, you can never tell. I say “shalom aleichem” to the first one and he looks at me blankly; I say “shalom” to the other, and no reaction either. So I say, “Ok, who’s the boss, who runs these kosher tours?”


 “Ah,” enlightenment dawns, “You mean Tuvia. He was born in Ketchikan, moved to Israel, but came back here. There are lots of Israelis on the cruises, so he put up this sign.”

Unfortunately Tuvia isn’t there at the moment. I’d love to talk to him, and find out just how kosher his tours are, but our pre-booked tour is waiting…

We’re supposed to be at the tour office at 8:30, 30 minutes before departure, so we’re nervous because we didn’t get off the boat until 8:40 (Chaya Sarah forgot our trip voucher and had to run back to our stateroom to find it – no tickee no washee). Not too worry, they’re running a little late and won’t leave until 9:20. 9:30. 10:00. Ummm – I know about Lubavitch time, but this is Ketchikan, Alaska, for goodness sake! The excursion is supposed to last 3 hours, but it’s 10:00 already and we need to be back on board at 12:30. Not to worry, they can do the entire tour in 2 ½ hours, we won’t miss anything, and they’ll have us back on time. I do NOT wish to spend Shabbos in Ketchikan.

Finally, at around 10:00 a van shows up which drives us to “Family Air” on the harbor. We leave all our stuff in the office there, especially any food. “You don’t want the bears to smell you and think you’re lunch.” We only take water, camera, and my trusty Chitas. Go up a steep gangplank to board a seaplane (seats 7) which looks like a big Fisher Price toy. We’re given earphones because the noise the contraption makes in flight is horrific. But the 20 minute over the heavily wooded pine? spruce? mountains, dotted with bright blue lakes is really beautiful. It’s a gloriously sunny day, which we’re assured is highly unusual. Our guide tells us that just a week ago one of these planes crashed and the pilot was killed. How reassuring! But he explains that the weather was very bad – windy, foggy, very overcast. (I’m still nervous...) Ketchikan gets an average of 150 inches a year, and 60 sunny days. And so far, bli ayin hara, we’re 6 for 6 in terms of sunny, warm, dry days. Someone up there is really taking care of us! (As I write this journal in one of the ship’s lounges an instructor is speaking to a group right next to me. He tells them “This weather is unreal! 6 beautiful days in a row! If you come back on this cruise, don’t expect this kind of weather again.”)

Arrive at Margaret Bay and hop into a van which takes us to the trail down to Traitor’s Cove for some bear viewing. Chaya Sarah thinks it’s hilarious that I’m watching bears in formal tuxedo pants. Uh oh! I left our Chitas (actually, Nechamie’s) on the plane. Say good bye to your Chitas, Nechamie. I hope it’s found by some nice Lubavitcher who knows what it is.

We’re standing on an observation deck above a stream where mature salmon who were born here return to spawn (lay their eggs). Because it’s very exhausting for the fish to swim up over the falls, the Parks System has built a water ladder to make it easier for the salmon to get where they’re going. But how they know to return thousands of miles to the place where they were born, and to swim upstream to get there is one of the mysteries of Hashem’s creation.

Thought: look at the salmon who fight and swim against the current for the sake of their offspring… Should not we, blessed with wisdom, understanding and the gift of Torah – should not we also be ready, eager and enthusiastic to swim against the currents and values of society, in order to raise spiritually healthy Jewish children?

Attention all Berels: Your black namesakes are really cute (from a distance; I’m not sure about sitting down and sharing a lunch with them) and love salmon. But their eating manners leave much to be desired.


For the bears this creek is like a Shabbos kiddush buffet, with an exceptionally good cholent. We spot three of them while we’re here, and one is kind enough to give us a whole show: catching his fish, eating leisurely on the rocks, swiping another one out of the water… We also spot a few bald eagles flying, and one perched on a tree – black body, white head. But the camouflage is so good that although we can spot him with our eyes, we can’t differentiate him (her?) on the camera.

We’re getting a little nervous about getting back to the ship, so we leave. About ¾ of thy back we smell something funny. The guide thinks he got a flat tire. Oh great, perfect timing! But he doesn’t stop - I guess it’s not good for the tours if they don’t get their clients back to the ship on time. We check the tire when we arrive. Yup, it’s re-e-e-ally mangled. Down the gangplank, into the seaplane (gets kind of cozy, cuz our guide is coming back with us), and back over the mountains. There’s a lot of logging in these mountains, and one actually looks like it got a Mohawk haircut; there’s a strip of tall trees running across the top, while the sides have been logged clear, and only sport a covering of grass.

As we get off the plane, an official asks “did anyone leave a Hebrew bible here?” Yesss! Grab our stuff and the Chitas and hustle to the van which takes us back to the harbor. Get off and start speedwalking towards our boat. Baruch Hashem there’s still a line of people waiting to get on. Uh oh! I think I left my other sefarim in the office! (Anyone remember my Pro Air story?) Chaya Sarah holds a place on the line as I run back to the tour office, which calls the other office, which promises to send a van over immediately with the sefarim. Meanwhile, back at the boat, the line is inching along… Chaya Sarah is last on the line and getting, shall we say, a little nervous. We’ve been told that we’ve got to be punctual because the ship WILL NOT wait for anyone. Not even the Rabbi who’s giving the Daf Yomi class. Fortunately, a tour with 17 people has also not returned yet. I come puffing up the gangway together with the last of the 17. Close call!

The bright side of this is that Chaya Sarah has had no time to spend a cent in Ketchikan…

Friday, Part 2, and Shabbat

Friday afternoon we get a “Shabbat orientation.”

1.      There is an eruv, so we may carry throughout the ship.

2.      Stateroom bathrooms are ok, urinals in public bathrooms are not – they’re electrical.

3.      Key cards are electronic, may not be used, and are muktzeh. Two options:

a.       There will be ship personnel on each of the floors with a master key who will open the doors for us

b.      We can put tape over the locking mechanism, thereby leaving the door unlocked a whole Shabbat. Not ship-recommended but halachically the better option, so that’s what we do.

4.      One of the ship’s 9 (I think) elevators will be designated a Shabbat elevator. Crew member will be on a whole time and will be punching in all floors. You may not tell him which floor you want – just wait until he punches in the number himself…

5.      Whatever lights are left on in your stateroom by 7:00 will remain on for the duration of Shabbat. The staff has been alerted not to extinguish any lights that are lit, nor to turn on any other lights.

6.      In a stateroom with a veranda, do not leave the door open for any extended period of time, because that will cause the air-conditioning to go on.

Ok, we’ll try to remember all of that.

“Water, water everywhere” – but no place to mikvah. I wasn’t about to dive into the pacific, and the pool always seems to be in use. It’s disappointing not to be able to immerse before Shabbat – I can’t remember when that last happened.

Mincha is at 7:00, before Plag, candle-lighting at 7:30, followed by Maariv. The Chazzan conducts the service. It’s nice; he doesn’t get too carried away… Then we head to the dining room for Seudat Shabbat.

I have to admit that while it’s all quite nice, it doesn’t measure up to Shabbat at home. The big issue is that at dinnertime we share the dining room with other guests who are not part of the kosher tour – although we are in separate areas. Tonight, as we enter, popular music is blaring – and I mean BLARING – over the speakers in the room. Not really conducive to a Shabbat ambience. (How can anyone stand it?) Fortunately it stops soon, and we get on with kiddush. After we send our waiter to find the challot which he’d forgotten to put on the table. We exchange words of Torah at our table, but no singing. The menu includes traditional Shabbat food choices - fish, chopped liver, chicken soup, chicken with kugel and a slightly untraditional tzimmes (made with, I think, lychees but quite tasty), and some unmemorable desserts. But after the meal a few tables start to join together singing zemirot (Shabbat songs), and an impromptu kumsitz develops. Chasidic melodies, traditional songs, Sefardic tunes – all are sung with great gusto by the ever-growing circle. There’s even a mini-farbrengen, led by Lipa Brennan, a Chabadnick from New York, in honor of his son’s engagement this week. Really very nice.

Shabbat morning- I learn Likutei Torah, a classic Chasidic work of the Alter Rebbe on the Torah portions, with several Lubavitchers on board before davening. Lipa arranged that all tzedakah given by those who got an aliyah should be donated to the Rubashkin legal fund. Nice Shacharit – though not Nusach Ari, laining by my friend Rabbi Kornfeld from Seattle who is also the Mashgiach on the ship, and Mussaf by our shipboard Chazan. We’re sorry to miss our Bais Chabad kiddush; we would have wanted to share in the Luger’s Simcha, and in remembering one of our founding members, Carole Hollander.

During Shabbat lunch, Chaya Sarah mentions that she’s slightly dizzy. We realize that this is the same place we sailed through on Monday, on our first day out; we’re on the  same open sea and here it’s more choppy. It’s not as bad as it was on Monday; either the weather is better, or we’re more used to the motion of the ship. And – oh yes – the weather is lovely. Still.

We return to our room, to find the night lights turned off. Oh well. There’s a two hour break after lunch, followed by a series of classes and lectures. Chaya Sarah’s is first, at 3:30. She’s not happy about missing an extended Shabbat nap. However, since she’s already practiced this talk on our shul ladies and on her occasional Wednesday class, she doesn’t need much preparation and manages to sneak in a quick power nap.

Today is Chaf Av (the 20th of Av), the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the father of the Rebbe. Aside from my lecture, I also manage to study a special sicha of the Rebbe with a fellow Lubavitcher.

I give a talk on the laws of Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals), since this is a direct mitzvah in this week’s Torah portion. Many people are not aware of the law that if you consume a ke’zayit (a little less than an ounce) of cake or crackers, and enough of anything else so that you’re full, you are obligated to say the Birkat Hamazon. I was told that this lecture should have been given on the first day of the cruise!

The boat docks in Victoria, Canada at around 5:00 pm and stays there until midnight. Victoria is a very picturesque city, and almost everyone disembarks – except for our observant complement of travelers, because one may not disembark from a ship on Shabbat. Since Shabbat is over at 10:15, some ask if they can leave the ship after Havdallah. Our group coordinator explains that it’s not worth it; the boat is docked in an industrial area, and by the time they would get to anywhere interesting in Victoria they would just have to turn back around and board the ship again.

Mincha, Seudah Shlishit, another lecture, Maariv and Havdallah. And a Gala Farewell Barbecue. (groan) More food. But since we disembark tomorrow in shifts we may not see all the friends we made on board during this wonderful week, so we go to make our farewells. (And eat anyway. So, we’re Jewish…)

Back up to our room to pack. All luggage, except for carry-ons, is tagged with colored tags and put outside our rooms. Tomorrow we will find it in the luggage area after we leave the ship.

Go to bed one last time on the ship.

Sunday, August 1

A few last thoughts on the cruise, before we disembark:

1. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) teaches: “Shammai would say: … receive every man with a pleasant countenance.” (1:15) (This is Shammai, with a more severe approach to life.) We can certainly learn this from the crew on the ship, who were unfailingly courteous, friendly, and smiling. Every time a crew member passed us, he smiled and greeted us. “Good morning.” “Have a nice day.” “Enjoy the excursion.” One intrepid fellow – Oriental – always greeted us with a big grin and “Shalom.”

2. Our schedule noted that two of the nights on the ship were “formal.” Evening wear. Gowns, black tie optional. On some cruises, we’d heard, women show up dripping diamonds, in evening gowns, etc. Baruch Hashem, our group was normal. Dressed nicely, but not out of control. (On the non-Jewish feminine side of the ship, however, apparently the principle of formal wear is that “less is more.”)

3. Once, as we passed a door marked “Crew Only,” the door opened and we caught a glimpse inside. There was a sign on the wall, “The word ‘No’ does not exist on the ship.” That really was the crew’s philosophy throughout the cruise.

4. Our room was cleaned twice a day. Chaya Sarah didn’t mind at all.

5. The funniest line we heard all week: Ori, an Israeli friend told us her name is Lax. “Actually, I divorced my husband, so now I’m an Ex-Lax.”

6. Not everything on board is included in the cost of the cruise. The bottle of water in your room is $2.95. You can purchase art worth many, many thousands of dollars in the Art Gallery on the third deck, as well as jewelry ranging in price from inexpensive to stratospheric. And all sorts of souvenirs. And pictures that they’re always snapping. And videos of the Alaskan cruise (not necessarily our cruise – any Alaska cruise on the Oosterdam). What we couldn’t buy on board was a simple comb (remember, missing luggage).

7. Newsflash: Chaya Sarah has informed me that doing absolutely nothing at all is the very best manicure preserver. Is she hinting at anything here?

8. Two different people told us that they found the cruise somewhat disappointing. Why? They prefer traveling to points of more Jewish and historic interest. Well, yes, there are no ruins of ancient shuls in Alaska; no “Alasker Rebbe” or Chasidim; the Baal Shem Tov never visited here. (Although there is Chabad in Anchorage.) What exactly did they expect to see here in terms of Jewish history?!? Alaska is not the venue for Jewish history… but if you want to see “Niflaot ha’Borei,” the wonders of G‑d’s creation, this is definitely the perfect way to do so.

9. I’d been a little concerned that I might encounter a major lack of tzniut while on the ship. Fortunately that’s not the case. The pool is up on the 9th deck, bathing suits and tank tops are not allowed in public places on the ship – and I guess that our temperate weather lends itself to wearing clothes…

We sit on our veranda a few minutes and say good-bye to Room 4054, our home for the last week. And then down to the gangplank, scan our room card one last time, head to the luggage station to collect our stuff, go through customs – and we’re done. The cruise is over.

Thank you to Bais Chabad and all those who gave us this wonderful gift.

Good night all! To be continued tomorrow.




We take a taxi from the pier to the airport because our hotel is next to the airport, and we rented a car there as well. When we get to the airport we head first of all to Delta to see if there’s any sign of our luggage. Nada. So I fill out some forms, go for the car, and we’re off to the hotel. As we’re unloading our stuff I notice that my tallis bag, with my tefillin, is missing. Back to the airport, Chaya Sarah runs to the lost and found (she’s the one who left it behind. Really.) and arrives there just as a security officer is bringing in the bag. I exhale a long breath of relief – replacing a tallis and two pairs of tefillin with all their paraphernalia would probably cost in excess of $2600…

By this time we’re getting a little hungry (the cruise trained us to eat every two hours…), so we start looking for the kosher pizza place in Seattle. Suffice it to say that GPS’s are only so helpful. And it’s possible to get good and farblundget (lost) even with a GPS. We finally head back to the hotel, go online to get an exact address, and get to the Island Crust on Mercer Island – just as two couples, friends from the cruise, pull up. And Rabbi and Mrs. Kornfeld, with a whole passel of children, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. Two Kornfelds’ nephews are good friends of my son Eli Nosson. It looks like a pizza store in middle of Brooklyn! Food’s quite passable, though not as good as our own Jerusalem Pizza…

We head over to the Pike Place Market, a fun and funky tourist attraction. Looks a little like an Israeli shuk. The attraction here is that everything that’s sold at the Market is either home grown or handmade. Chaya Sarah drools at the huge assortment of reasonably priced flowers – “I would be here every Friday” – the fresh produce, prints, jewelry, and assorted other stuff. I finally manage to drag her off…

On Mercer Island, Albertson’s, the local supermarket chain, has a very large selection of kosher foods, including a bakery, Chalav Yisrael products, and a kosher carry-out department. I daven Mincha in the parking lot while Chaya Sarah stocks up on milk, cheese, crackers, cereal, fruit, yogurt – breakfasts and lunches for the next few days – and some deli sandwiches and salads for supper. While there she bumps into Sarah Mizrachi (formerly West Bloomfield, now Oak Park) who is visiting her in-laws, and a few Winebergs, nieces and nephews of our own Rabbi Avrohom and Rochel Wineberg. Small world indeed.

Back to the hotel and we’ll call it a night.

Monday, August 2

There’s a call from Delta on the shul answering machine; they’re looking for Sara Tugman.(?) It seems that they found a piece of luggage with that name and phone number on a tag, and they’re searching for this unknown lady. No, the good Sara Tugman had not been doing some posthumous travel; apparently the current label had fallen off our suitcase, and Chaya Sarah (for some mysterious reason of her own) had traveled with it as Sara Tugman some time ago. It took a lengthy explanation, descriptions, etc., but the airline officials were finally convinced that this must be our long-lost luggage, and said that they’d hold it for us until we return Wednesday. Yay! Pants!

We’d been planning to head up to Vancouver today, a 2 ½ hour ride each way, but a quick call to Chanie (Wineberg) Baitelman scotched that idea. “It’s a Canadian national holiday today - you might end up sitting at the border two hours coming or going – or both.” Been there, done that, no thanks. Maybe tomorrow.

We decide to take it easy and just hang out in Seattle for the next two days. Take the “vacation after a vacation” that so many people seem to need. So we head out to the town of Mokilteo. (That is correct, Seattle is also the location of Snoqualmie, Snohomish, Tukwila, and other “quaint” names.) Mokilteo’s Boeing factory is the largest building, in terms of cubic volume, in the world; 12 Statue of Liberties, lying down, could fit into this mammoth space. We start with a history of aviation and its tremendous benefits to humanity. Imagine: a trip from Europe to Seattle via sailing ship took over 14 months in the late eighteenth century; now it can be accomplished in one day, a time saving of over 14,000 hours. Per person. Gives you a whole new perspective on flying. And on – horror of horrors – 3 hour delays.

We watch them assembling wide-bodied 767’s, and the newest Boeing, the 787. Those suckers are BIG. Even bigger than a whale. 6 million parts per plane, 3 million of which are connecting pieces – bolts, rivets, etc. 171 miles of wiring. The paint adds between 400 to 1200 pounds to the plane – which is why most logos are fairly simple, and based on a light background – dark paint is heavier (I guess they have to put on more coats of it). And lots more interesting facts and factoids on planes and their assembly and the planes of the future.

GPS finds us a pleasant little park nearby where we have a c-level lunch/snack:  crackers, cheese, and cherries. And coke and chips. Thank you GPS and thank you Albertson’s.

By the way, the weather is still beautiful, and no rain whatsoever.

Back to the hotel to rest and freshen up. What’s for supper? Seattle has no fleishige restaurant (I totally feel their pain), just the pizza place and some vegan restaurants that are certified by the local kashrus vaad. If you happen on a kosher symbol where the back of the k is a space needle – that’s them. A reliable hechsher. Anyway, back to the vegan restaurant. We’re not in the mood for tofu anything, so we figure we’ll head back to pizza. Find the address in “recently found” addresses on the GPS, jump into the car, and head straight to Albertson’s. I guess we weren’t meant to do pizza tonight… I chat with Tama, the lady behind the kosher carryout counter there who bemoans the lack of restaurants in Seattle. Sound familiar? Tells us that there’s someone in the Seattle area who used to be in the restaurant business, and they’re trying to convince him to go there again, but he’s currently only catering from their shul. Guy by the name of Chaim Goldgrab… We send regards.

Back to the hotel with freshly roasted chicken, Oriental noodle salad and Moroccan carrot salad. Could be a lot worse!

Tuesday, August 3

And now for a word about our host city. Seattle is a lovely, hilly, green city. The sea, rivers, forests, lakes, and fields surrounding Seattle lends themselves to sailing, skiing, bicycling, camping, fishing, and hiking year-round. The city averages 150 days of precipitation a year (although it doesn’t necessarily rain a lot), as well as an average of 201 cloudy days and 93 partly cloudy days per year. Average lows around 35–40 °F on winter nights; average summertime daytime highs around 73–80 °.

Seattle’s Ashkenazi Jewish population dates from the mid-nineteenth century, with Eastern European Jews who peddled wares, collected junk, worked as tailors or jewelers or owned second-hand stores. The Sefardi community started in the beginning of the twentieth century. Originally expelled from Spain in 1492, these Jews from Turkey and the Isle of Rhodes now fled the Ottoman Empire and – since they were fishermen – they were attracted to Seattle and its major fishing industry.

There are about 50,000 Jewish families in Seattle now, around 500 who are Orthodox. The Day School movement in Seattle is doing quite well, mainly due to the generosity of the Samis Foundation - established in 1987 by Sam Israel - which has granted over $40 million toward "enhanc[ing] the quality and continuity of Jewish life in Washington State and the State of Israel."

I spoke to Rabbi Yossy Charitan, principal of the Lubavitch day school in Seattle. They have about 100 students, and last year received $250,000 from this wonderful foundation, as well as $1.2 million towards purchasing and renovating a new building (if only Detroit had something like this!). Charitan once lived in Detroit, and he told me that Jewish Federation in Seattle is pretty weak, nowhere near as strong or organized as Detroit Federation.

The big difficulties facing the Orthodox community Seattle are 1. it’s so far from established centers of Torah and “Jewish” products. Most kosher products are very expensive. 2. The high cost of living, especially housing. Because the housing is so expensive, it’s difficult to get qualified young teachers to staff the Day Schools.

There are 6-7 Orthodox shuls in Seattle, and as many Chabad Houses scattered around the city. There is also a Lakewood Kollel.

Back to our vacation. We decide to skip Vancouver in favor of taking it easy. Maybe next time – in another lifetime – we’ll visit here again and hit Vancouver.

We return to the Pike Street Market to look for the Fish Market. We’ve been told that we have to see them throwing live fish around!?! Walk through the market until we see a large crowd (and our noses tell us this is the place). They have a large quantity of fresh fish and shellfish displayed on ice in front. One of the workers stand in front of the display and when someone orders something he hollers the order to the guys behind the counter. In unison they holler the order back (this is the signal for everyone to heads up) and the front man tosses the salmon or tilapia, or crabs back to the fellows who will fillet, cut, wrap, whatever, the order. Totally gimmicky – but it is fun to see the fish flying through the air.

Time for lunch. We tell GPS to find us a nice little park, like yesterday. She leads us to an island which is the industrial underbelly of Seattle’s shipping industry; we don’t see a soul, just trucks, huge equipment, and big things – pallets? – labeled “Hanjin China” and the like. It takes us almost an hour to get off via the single one way street leading off the island, inching our way along between huge trucks. (We eat in the car.)Thanks, GPS

Onward to the Space Needle, the icon of the Seattle landscape. When we get there we are told that there is a 1 ½ hour wait on line to get up the Needle. No patience for that… we take our pictures and leave.

The Ballard Locks, which link the Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington, are interesting, free(!) and informative. Under a clear blue sky we watch small sailboats, and then a larger barge float into the locks from the Sound, sit there until their water level is pumped up to the level of Lake Washington, and then sail off. Then we watch salmon literally swarming through a sish ladder on the side of the locks, on their way to their spawning sites in Lake Washington. Here’s a link to more info on this interesting site: http://www.myballard.com/ballard-locks-seattle/

Dinnertime. This time we actually make it smoothly to trusty Island Crust. And run into Rabbi Meir and Chani Kaplan with their five children, Chabad shluchim to Victoria Island, off Vancouver. They’re on their way to --- Detroit! To visit Chani’s parents, Rabbi and Mrs. Kesselman in Oak Park. (Did I mention that it’s a small world?) It’s cheaper to fly from Seattle to Detroit than from Vancouver, so they’d driven in today, are staying at the home of friends tonight, and flying tomorrow. Delta, but not our flight. Oh, and they’d sat at the border 1 ½ hours on their way in. Glad we passed on that Vancouver visit…

One last picture, then back to the hotel, packing again, and lights out.

Before you know it it’s Wednesday morning. Off to the airport where I was able to daven while waiting for the plane, and then a smooth trip home. Actually arrived ½ hour early!

A joyful reunion with our long-lost suitcase and my pants. Nechamie awaits us and we’re finally on our way home.

It was a wonderful vacation. But it’s good to be home again.