Traveling the World as an Orthodox Jew
Growing up, I would take annual summer vacations with my family. My parents, two brothers, and I would pack into our car or board an airplane and travel all over. We visited places near and far, from Niagara Falls and Disney World to the Caribbean, Europe, and Israel.
Vacations in my family are both famous and infamous. They are famous for helping us bond through new adventures. We went out to eat at restaurants every night and stayed up later than usual, exploring new territory. They are infamous because my brothers and I would fight in the backseat and annoy our parents.
But overall, looking back at these trips makes me feel joyous and warm. I remember the silly inside jokes and unlocking the wonders of the world in a safe space with the people I love.
Once my older brother started college and then enlisted in the Marines, and I left for college and then Israel, these family vacations ended. Last year, I went with my dad to California, my dad took my younger brother to Cuba, and my dad and older brother visited our grandparents on both coasts. But the days of the five of us together for a vacation may be over. We’ve all grown up and moved to different places around the world, making it difficult to travel as a family unit.
Also, my younger brother and I have become religious in the past few years, and traveling as a religious person poses its own challenges as well as rewards. Since taking on more Jewish observance, I’ve gone on three trips, to Cyprus, alone, to Prague, with two friends, and most recently to Europe for a two-week trip with a friend.
On a positive note, since recognizing Hashem in my life, traveling has a new depth and layer of adventure. This past summer, I was in Switzerland, France, and Italy, and I was inspired on new levels when experiencing the beauty Hashem put into this world.
I often have this feeling that Hashem could have provided us with all of our needs, without the incredible sense of beauty and amazing pleasures of this world. But because He is kind and wants us to experience such richness, depth, and appreciation, He gave us beauty and pleasure to tie back to Him. Looking out into the Swiss Alps, visiting the quaint town of Strasbourg, France, and taking the three-hour trek from Milan to Cinque Terre in Italy, I felt this gratitude.
Though seeing the natural beauties of this world is so gratifying, finding kosher places to eat while traveling is challenging. In each place, I got kosher food, whether it was in restaurants, grocery stores, or people’s homes.
I felt so thankful to the incredible couple in Zurich that opened up their home to us and fed us every day we were there. We had muesli, a fresh, traditional Swiss breakfast of oats, homemade yogurt, honey, apples, and tons of other fresh fruits. For dinners we had light soups, salad, and meat. In Milan, Chabad had tons of food each day in their kitchen that we could eat, like soup, meat, vegetables, and pasta. We did not go hungry.
But the days we did find ourselves hungry were when we traveled a bit off the beaten path. I remember the day we took a trip to Lake Como, stocked up with our tuna fish and rice cakes. My friend and I are both easygoing with food, and figured that between that and being able to buy fresh fruit and coffee, we’d be set.
Well, we weren’t so set, and on the way back our train was delayed two to three hours, which we had not prepared for. I remember scouring grocery stores and kiosks with a list of kosher products in hand (in certain countries, food packages do not have hekshers, but with a list from the local rabbi, you can find out what’s kosher.)
I remember getting back to the train station in Milan, running down to the bottom floor grocery store and asking Hashem to give us something we could eat. I remember the joy we felt when we found a jar of Skippy peanut butter and big apples.
At the end of the day, these challenges turned into memories. It was hard to be surrounded by such amazing food and not able to take part, especially when I was used to those family vacations where food was a huge part of the experience. But it made traveling more intentional, more of a puzzle. It was our job was to figure out how all of the pieces fit together between food we brought, food we could buy, and food that was provided.
It was all worth it to meet the people we did and for the hospitality we received. I wouldn’t trade a sense of ease with food for the incredible inspiration I received.
In Strasbourg, my friend and I were welcomed into the home of someone we had met on Facebook. Not only were we welcomed, but also she and her family were going away, and she allowed us to stay in her house, free of charge with full access to food for the few days we were there.
That’s the Jewish people: they just want to be helpful. And helpful they were.
On the last trip to Europe, my friend and I went back home with a newfound inspiration from the international Jewish community and the beauty we saw. We were grateful to experience the unity and generosity of the Jewish people. In the end, all of our challenges had become opportunities.
Sabrina Szteinbaum is currently living inspired in the holy city of Jerusalem. Born and bred in small town, New Jersey, she found her love of Torah Judaism in college and strives to walk in its ways and be a light for herself and those around her. She graduated Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & Media Studies, worked at CBS News and is now a madricha for NCSY’s gap year program in Israel.