Many Jews around the world feel like their communities are under siege. The savage pogrom of October 7th unleashed a shocking wave of anti-Semitism, hostility and political extremism in the US and Europe. Not all the news is bad, but the situation is polarized and the time for complacency is definitely over.
Jews are pulling together and looking for ways to strengthen bonds. American Jews are also conscious of the need to preserve Jewish traditions and culture, or at least to ensure that their children and grandchildren gain a positive view of their own heritage. A Jewish heritage trip is an amazing way to do this!
The middle of the 20th century was a historical nadir for world Jewry. Centuries of intermittent pogroms and persecutions suddenly escalated to outright genocide. Across Europe and the Soviet Union, the civilized reforms and advances of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution were swept aside. Even Europe’s most assimilated and integrated Jewish populations were singled out for persecution, targeted for deportation, and then murdered in the camps.
Almost 80 years after Allied armies put down Nazisim, Jews are under a new threat. A loose confederation of political extremists, Islamists, random anti-Semites and the ‘activist’ troublemakers who latch onto any cause, are attacking Jews under the guise of protesting the war in Gaza and anti-Zionism. Days after the October pogrom, masked thugs were parading in the streets and chanting anti-Semitic hate slogans and Islamist battle cries.
Fortunately, 2024 is not 1934. Israel remains strong and militarily capable and Jews around the world are ready to fight back against would-be oppressors. By and large, Western governments are on the side of Israel and are providing military assistance and diplomatic support. Decent people of all religions (and none) were shocked and alarmed by the thuggish hordes of pro Hamas demonstrators who took over their streets.
In the midst of all the chaos, perhaps the underlying battle for American and Canadian Jews is the fight to preserve their own heritage and traditions and to ensure that thousands of years of Jewish culture isn’t lost through intermarriage, assimilation, indifference – or even through shame and fear. This is definitely not the time for appeasement: it’s time to get proactive and energetic when it comes to protecting Jewish traditions and values!
The Challenge of Preserving Jewish Heritage
American Jews are one of the country’s major success stories. By and large, they are assimilated into mainstream life. The US Jewish communities are mostly prosperous, and law abiding, and are net contributors to the fields of business, science, law, the arts and culture. One consequence of successful integration is that other Americans tend to readily accept their Jewish counterparts. Rates of intermarriage, especially among secular and reform Jews are high.
Jewish youth are more likely to grow up in mixed neighborhoods and attend local high schools rather than traditional Jewish schools. After school activities and sports are far more likely to be mixed, and regular attendance at synagogue is down. It’s perfectly normal for many Jewish teens to slot into friendship and peer groups, and to date outside the community.
This phenomenon isn’t restricted to US Jews. Italian Americans and Irish Americans have moved away from the Catholic Church and the old neighborhoods and are marrying outside their communities. America was always supposed to be a melting pot, and in many ways it still is. Among established communities – at least in the big cities – Generation Z and the Millennials are American first, and Jewish, Irish, Italian or Polish second.
Kids are also bombarded with a mass of information and global cultural influences through social media and the internet – and actually through everyday life offline. Jewish history, culture and traditions are being edged out by a 24 hour tsunami of distractions. Most teens are still receptive to learning more about their Jewish roots, and to finding their place in the wider Jewish world. What’s sometimes needed is a new approach, and a Jewish heritage trip to another country can be a life changing event!
Do Some Family Bonding with a Jewish Heritage Trip
A customized Jewish heritage trip is an amazing way to create some family bonding. Two, or even three generations of your family can experience the adventure of a foreign trip together, while exploring your family’s Jewish roots. A customized Gil tour can include a tailored itinerary to (almost) anywhere in the world, with expert local guides. Sadly, there are a few countries that do not allow Jewish or US tourists, or are unsafe to visit, but most places are welcoming and actively preserve Jewish historical sites.
Travel broadens everybody’s horizons and a trip abroad can really be a formative influence for kids and teens. The experience of visiting a foreign country and coming face to face with different cultures gives kids a powerful new sense of perspective. It can be amazing for parents to watch their children grow in confidence and awareness in the space of just a couple of weeks. Nothing beats seeing your small grandkids master a few words and phrases of a foreign language.
It can be a strange experience to walk through old neighborhoods where your Jewish ancestors lived and worked. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the original houses and synagogues still in existence. Children who live in suburban US homes and love watching tv and playing video games, wake up to a whole new (and exciting) world when you explore the old ancestral neighborhood in Krakow or Warsaw or a Jewish mellah in Morocco. To actually see a home that your family once lived in, or to walk into a synagogue where they once prayed, can be a profound experience.
If your kids are mature enough, it may be time for them to visit Jewish sites in Europe that are connected to the Holocaust. It’s a sobering, saddening – and sometimes even traumatic experience – but after October 7th, it has never been more relevant. Customized tours allow you to achieve a balance and allocate a certain amount of time to exploring the tragic aspects of Jewish history. This might include a visit to museums, memorials, deportation centers, concentration camps, or even to Auschwitz.
Research Your Family History with Gil Travel Experts
There’s also sometimes an option to retain professional researchers and historians to uncover your family history. Gil Travel has some amazing connections, particularly in Poland and can arrange for local researchers to scour archives and historical records in search of data. In some cases they have been able to create family history profiles with family trees going back generations, lists of historical family homes and workplaces, surviving graves and detailed personal histories of ancestors.
Popular Jewish Travel Destinations
Jews settled in hundreds of countries around the world and there’s a huge variety of destinations with Jewish communities and heritage sites. The most popular Jewish travel destinations are Israel and Eastern Europe (especially Poland) but there’s a demand for Jewish heritage tours in places as far apart as Argentina, Morocco, India and Central Asia. The advantage of a customized tour is that you can visit places that are well off the beaten track and enjoy luxury accommodation and travel, expert tour guides and full security.
- South America – Spanish and Portuguese Jews fled the Inquisition to start a new life in Spain’s South American colonies. The first Jews settled in the New World in the 1500s. Modern Jewish heritage tours explore historical Jewish sites and modern communities in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and even Mexico.
- Europe – Europe is a treasure trove of Jewish history and culture, although any trip is inevitable tinged with sadness. Customized tours can take in the rich Sephardic culture of Spain and Portugal, the Jewish quarters of cities like Rome, Amsterdam and Paris, and the splendor of Prague and Budapest.
Berlin and Vienna are also on many itineraries, as are the great historical centers of Poland, where millions of Jews once lived. These are sadder and more poignant places to visit, but can also be highly fulfilling on a personal level.
- North Africa and the Middle East – Most US Jews are of Russian or European heritage, but the old Jewish sites in Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are truly fascinating. You can talk to us about a customized tour of these places, and also to the Gulf States, which are increasingly receptive to Jewish tourists. Israel is the primary Jewish travel destination and the most important place for a meaningful Jewish Heritage trip – including Bar and Bat Mitzvah trips.
- India, Asia and the rest of the world – India has been home to Jewish communities for a couple of thousand years. It was generally a tolerant country and India’s Jews created a unique and thriving culture. India has a number of famous synagogues and other sites. Central Asia was home to the Bukharin Jews and is slowly becoming a more popular destination for heritage tours. If you’re drawn to other Jewish heritage locations around the world, talk to Gil Travel, if it’s possible to arrange a trip, we’re the people who can do it!
A Jewish heritage trip is a really useful way to give your kids an appreciation, and a deeper pride in their Jewish roots. It’s also an amazing way to bond with your family and a chance to watch your kids or grandkids gain some extra maturity and a new curiosity about their own personal identity and place in the wider Jewish community. Talk to Gil Travel now about a customized family tour with a tailored itinerary. We can take you to most countries in the world!