Feeling At Home


Some people believe there is no better way to usher in a new year than to travel. The argument is that a change of scenery is the perfect way to clean one's slate and improve one's outlook for the year ahead.

That said, why wait for 2011 when you can travel more easily during September, and when there are no black-out dates or artificially elevated fares for late-summer or holiday-season travel? Furthermore, traveling over the Jewish New Year means less stress and more oxygen.

Rosh Hashanah in a foreign land can be as much of a cultural reawakening as a spiritual one.

This is certainly the case with tours offered by the Chicago-based company Select Italy (selectitaly.com), which takes customized journeys to Italy to the next level with tours that delve deep into history, and the endurance of Jewish culture and heritage.

These detail-oriented private walking tours include "Medieval & Modern Jewish Rome," "Jewish Witnesses of Ancient Rome, Shades of Struggle: The Survival of Roman Jews, Ostia and the Old Synagogue," and full- and half-day tours of Jewish Venice.

"When I'm in Rome, I always pay a visit to the City Rose Garden," says Select Italy president and Rome native Andrea Sertoli, drawing attention to a lesser-known corner of Rome with Jewish history. "Like most corners in my hometown, it has its charm and fascinating history. Located above the Circo Massimo, on the side of the Aventino hill, the area has been, in fact, a Jewish cemetery for centuries" from 1645 until 1950.

"At the end of World War II," she continues, "the Jewish community of Rome and the city authorities agreed to transfer the cemetery into an area of the Verano" — Rome's largest cemetery — "offering the site to recreate there the original Rose Garden, lost during the war."

Sertoli notes that thanks to the gracious gesture of the city's Jewish community, a section of the garden is laid out in the form of a menorah, outlined by walking paths and flowerbeds.

The garden also boasts a fantastic collection of more than 1,100 varieties of skillfully grown and preserved roses. He also recommends visiting the "Giardino degli Aranci," known for its particularly romantic views in late summer and early fall, and its proximity to good bakeries and pizzerias.

Another wonderful place to toast and ring in the Jewish New Year is Portugal, which is also home to Douro Valley and Port wine country, the oldest demarcated wine region in the world.

Rosh Hashanah is a particularly auspicious time for a visit, as September and October are high season for wine harvests at estates (wineries) like Quinta da Pacheca, complete with grape-stomping and parties (www.quintadapacheca.com).

Pursuing Portugal
Meanwhile, Portuguese specialist tour operator Episode-Travel (www.episode-travel.com), offers a feast of Jewish history with its "Portugal's Secret Jews Tour," in which travelers can experience the spectrum of Portuguese-Jewish history over six days, starting in Lisbon.

Points of interest include Estoril, where many Jewish refugees were saved during World War II; Évora, where several homes still bear signs of mezuzot; and the Alentejo plains and Castelo de Vide, where Jews and Christians coexisted peacefully in the 15th century.

The tour also covers Ammaia, where a Roman village has been excavated and the oldest Iberian Jewish vestiges are manifested in such artifacts as a nearly 2,000-year-old stone from a ring that bears symbols of Sukkot.

In Belmonte, the group celebrates Shabbat together and meets members of the Jewish community. Following Shabbat and a dinner is a full day of touring the area and its Jewish quarters, which stood outside the castle walls here.

The tour concludes in Tomar, where a 15th-century synagogue marks the epicenter of what was once one of the greatest Jewish communities in Europe of that time.

Points East — the journal of the Sino-Judaic Institute — reports there are hidden historic treasures waiting to be discovered in Kaifeng, China, where the descendants of a 1,000-year-old community are reviving their practice of Judaism.

Though centuries of change, wars and turmoil scattered the original Kaifeng Jewish community, several hundred residents are now coming forward as bona fide members of the House of Israel.

They hold firm to this belief, despite the facts that their features are indistinguishable from their neighbors (just like other Jews around the world), as well as the fact that they had no rabbi for the better part of two centuries, no synagogue or other organization.

If the idea of traveling overseas is seductive, but you prefer to travel lighter — without a passport — Hawaii is your go-to spot for a Rosh Hashanah flavored with the multicultural vibe our 50th state is famous for.

Honolulu (www.shaloha.com) and Maui (www.mauijews.org) have sizable Jewish communities and well-publicized High Holiday celebrations.

However, Kauai, Hawaii's lush "Garden Island," is home to a 20-year-old Jewish community, which hosts observances of major Jewish holidays, as well as monthly Shabbat observances for its 100-person membership, and visitors from the mainland and abroad (www.kauaijewishcommunity.com).

And when it comes to sea-worthy experiences … on Sept. 9, Crystal Serenity will be cruising the Mediterranean Sea between Santorini (Greece) and Sorrento (Italy), while Crystal Symphony will cruise the North Atlantic Ocean between Dublin (Ireland) and Reykjavik (Iceland).

For these two cruises (www.crystalcruises.com), a rabbi will be on-board to make arrangements for many aspects of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Services will be conducted in Hebrew and English.



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