Cuba was the first of four trips we have taken with Ariel so far. In addition to touring the island’s cultural and historic sites we established personal connections with the Jewish communities in Santiago and Guantanamo. We celebrated Shabbat with them and even participated in the dedication of the remodeled synagogue/community center in Guantanamo to whose reconstruction we had contributed.
On our second trip with Ariel to Uruguay and Argentina, we felt like members of the family in Ariel’s hometown of Montevideo, where we met his (actual) family and visited the Jewish day school that he attended as a boy. A unique element of the Argentina portion of our itinerary was Moisesville, established as a haven for Russian Jewish immigrants in 1889, and historic home of the “Jewish Gauchos.” The trip culminated with a visit to Iguazu Falls where we were treated to one of the most incredible and awe inspiring natural spectacles in the world.
In India, our third trip with Ariel, we traveled from Delhi to Agra where we enjoyed the stunning site of the Taj Mahal at sunrise and also visited Jaipur before flying south, where we discovered India’s small but varied Jewish communities including the Bene Israel, the Baghdadi Jews of Mumbai and Pune, and the Jews of Cochin, the oldest group of Jews in India.
When I was a student I recall reading about the oldest functioning synagogue in the western hemisphere with a sand covered floor in a Dutch colony on a Caribbean island. I finally got a chance to visit this synagogue on our most recent trip with Ariel to Curaçao and Panama. We also got to snorkel at some of Curaçao’s beautiful white sand beaches. In Panama we experienced the dramatic Panama Canal locks and took a canoe trip through the jungle to the Chocoe-Embera, a community of indigenous people who warmly welcomed us with a home-cooked lunch, a folk dance performance and a tour of their community. What really personalized our Panama trip however, was the chance to meet Ariel’s brother and family who live in Panama City and hosted Shabbat dinner for our group.