The Wandering Jews
by Kelley Kidd
I spent Passover this year in Washington, DC. It was a far cry from the fall, when I celebrated the High Holy Days in Vietnam, and Hannukah in Myanmar. The experiences were inspiring in that both provided me with a sense of belonging, community, and connection even when I was across the world from everything familiar. They made me, ironically, feel more connected to my Judaism than I had for years in America. I was curious to find out whether other Jews had similar experiences abroad—I encountered an Orthodox family during Rosh Hashanah who spent every High Holy Days in a different country, celebrating with whatever community existed there, usually by means of a Chabad House. On the other hand, I celebrated with the Chabad, but I also found that the diversity and breadth of my experience of other faiths and philosophies contributed to my own understanding, appreciation, and manifestations of my faith. I spent Rosh Hashanah in Chabad services, while Yom Kippur found me fasting on a boat sailing around the bay of Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam, letting me reflect more perfectly on everything for which I ought to be grateful and all the ways I want to improve my life than I necessarily would have in a temple environment. I was inspired by my ability to adhere to the letter of the law even halfway around the world, while delighting in finding ways to implement the spirit of the law in a new, foreign context.
In this dichotomy of experience, I found myself curious about how other traveling Jews treat their faith, and whether the new perspectives that travel inspired in me existed for others as well. My personal experience led me to Chabad, where I found a traditional Jewish experience, though it took place in a wildly unusual place. Chabad tries to serve as a resource—a way that the Jewish people may learn, practice, and experience Judaism, a home away from home for the Wandering Jews, as I like to fondly call them. There was a Chabad House only minutes from my dorm when I was abroad in Vietnam, and although I didn’t agree with or like everything they did, they helped me to grow more connected to my Judaism in the strangest of places. Because I was able to celebrate familiar holidays in such an unfamiliar place, I felt at home when I was most likely to be most homesick. On the one hand, many of the practices, such as the separation of men and women, were unusual to me and slightly off-putting. But on the other, I was in the midst of faith that was a cause for absolute joy and celebration, and a sense of unity in spite of a fluctuating, ever-changing community, and that was truly inspiring. Their resources helped me, as a Jew abroad, to have a vibrant, traditional, but personally meaningful experience, and they make every new arrival part of that experience, regardless of how long their stay may be.. Though Chabad provides an experience that is as traditional as can be, sometimes in the middle of a wildly new world, that might be what you need.