Like many other New Yorkers, during my 35 years of living in Brooklyn, I had rarely traveled outside the tri-state region and had never been to Florida, California, the National Parks or to most states outside the East Coast. After eight years of being Israeli, my wife, Barbara, and I took our three boys and flew coast to coast (Florida, California, some of the parks, etc.). As Americans we had only visited Israel, but as Israelis we have traveled to England, Europe, China, Alaska, Australia, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia and the Caribbean.
Now that my wife and I are retired Israelis, it was time to see more of America. We chose the Northern U.S. and the Canadian Rockies as our main destinations. Many tourists would have hopped a plane to the Canadian Rockies, but my brother, Avi, and his wife, Martha, chose to drive us on this tour. They began their 9,000-mile trek from Boca Raton, Florida before they picked us up from O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where our 6,000-mile motor adventure began. Avi and Martha own a comfortable van, and Avi likes driving.
I hope this Jewish travelogue will be both interesting and helpful. This first installment will discuss kosher food on the road, while future parts will discuss Shabbat home hospitality, some attractions, saving money, and interesting tidbits from along the way.
Our secondary goal was to find and visit new (to us) Jewish communities. While still in Israel, I used the Internet to find and contact Jewish communities, and I used the AAA Internet site to plan our route, make a list of attractions that might interest us, and print maps and directions. This AAA free service proved very helpful, as I could easily modify routes, check mileage from stop to stop, and read about recommended attractions. After this month-long exercise in planning, I have a better understanding of the work done by tour operators and their value to travelers.
Most attractions, for example, were open from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Time must be allocated to driving the often hundreds of miles between points, while still arriving at an attraction still open. Often we had to choose which of several attractions to see because we could only visit two or three attractions during any travel day. It was not easy to coordinate and plan.
While we did not always choose famous attractions, almost every place we chose to stop was listed as a starred (recommended) attraction in the AAA book and on the Internet site. We usually did not travel on major highways (which can be monotonous) but often chose scenic secondary roads, where we often saw and stopped in Middle-American small towns.
One of our first challenges as Orthodox Jews was to find kosher food during this month-long tour. Prior to starting out from Brooklyn and Boca, each couple purchased several La Briute and Meal Mart meals. Both meals can be stored without refrigeration, and La Briute meals do not require a microwave. Each La Briute meal has a heating element triggered by a saltwater solution, which is included in the package. Pareve and meat meals are sold, but after a taste-test prior to the trip we only purchased meat meals.
Meal Mart meals usually required a microwave but are double-wrapped, permitting us to use any microwave in a motel. Here, too, we only purchased the meat meals. We rarely found any of these meals in a supermarket on the road. And if we did, there was no selection. We were happy that we purchased the meals in Brooklyn and Boca before the trip.
Some of the meals on our trip consisted of tuna or salmon, while some were nosh. We were pleased to find in the 7-Eleven or in local supermarkets many products with an OU, or Canadian or Chicago kosher certification. In Minneapolis, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto we also found kosher stores or non-kosher supermarkets with large kosher sections run by Orthodox Jews. In some, we were able to purchase cold cuts, franks and barbequed chickens. In the van we were able to carry canned vegetables, fruits and lots of nosh. Every motel had ice for our cooler, which stored our milk, cheese, drinks, meat and other items requiring refrigeration.
We found a kosher supermarket owned by Gitle Ort in Milwaukee, a Berel’s Bakery in Calgary, and the kosher sections of Byerly’s in Minneapolis and Sobeys in Edmonton. Berel spoke of the need for more community support because many of the younger families were purchasing their kosher-baked goods in Costco or supermarkets, and this cut seriously into his business. In Edmonton, Gary Segal gave us great service at the Sobeys supermarket, telling us about the meat products and Cholov Yisroel items the store brings in from Toronto.
The Mall of Edmonton, Canada, owned by an Orthodox Jew, had an excellent fast-food fish and pizza restaurant and a kosher caterer. The owner subsidized both, since they did not have enough clientele. It was interesting that just as we found the kosher restaurant, our Chabad host for Shabbat was standing there, and we were able to confirm our Shabbat arrangements – along with getting directions. He is the caterer’s mashgiach, and we sat with him in the kitchen discussing the community while the women shopped at the mall.
Another “food” incident occurred in Binghamton, NY, our last stop. My wife’s job each morning was to check the kashrut of the breakfast available. In each motel she requested to see the ingredients (usually printed only on the bulk packaging), and I guess the motel staff assumed that someone had an allergy. In our last motel, the obviously non-Jewish woman Barbara approached asked, “Why, are you Jewish?” Surprised, Barbara responded, “Yes.” The woman replied, “I am sorry but I do not think that you will be able to eat most of the products.” After a short discussion Barbara found out that the woman’s daughter had converted to Judaism, lives in Beitar Elite, Israel, and her grandchildren “have those little curly sideburns.”
PART II: Shabbat In Wonderful Jewish Communities
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