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Shabbat-Friendly Luxury Travel Destinations

This Guest Post was in the news written by our CEO Iris Hami.

Shabbat or Shabbos is a special time of the week that has its own magic. Exactly how you observe Shabbat will depend on how religious you are and how you interpret Shabbat rules and traditions. Even many secular Jews find pleasure and comfort in observing (or at least acknowledging) cultural traditions that go back thousands of years.

The average American Jew lives in a crazy 24 hour economy. We’re hit with information and stimulation from every direction – most of it’s either trivial, unnecessary or irritating. It’s not great for our mental health, but we’ve come to regard it as normal. Shabbat provided our ancestors with a break from five and a half days of hard work, it also gives us a vital opportunity to disconnect from the online and media world and slow the pace of life. Just switching your phone off, or putting it on silent is a significant act – and not just for Generation Z.

The ritual of candle lighting, bringing family and friends together around the dinner table and sanctifying Shabbat with the Kiddush blessing is a spiritual act. There’s a beauty and simplicity that can move even the most determinedly secular free thinker. Shabbat rituals are a thread that runs right through Jewish history and connect us to our earliest ancestors in the biblical Kingdom of Israel.

For many families, Erev Shabbat is the only time that they will actually sit together as a family and share a properly cooked meal. Whether you’re religious or not, a sanctified day of rest that emphasizes food and family is a very deep human need.

Keeping Shabbat During Travel and Vacations

When you’re at home, keeping Shabbat is usually pretty straightforward. We have a routine that includes weekly shopping and cooking, picking up the wine and the challah, maybe inviting guests and chasing up the kids to make sure that they’ll be on time. If you’re not stressed or under pressure with the preparations, there’s usually a feeling of pleasant anticipation as the end of the week approaches.

When we’re traveling, especially in a place that doesn’t have a big Jewish community, keeping Shabbat becomes a bit more awkward for observant Jews. If you’re staying in a hotel or a guesthouse in Europe, or you need to create a travel itinerary that doesn’t include flying or driving on Shabbat, you may be dependent on other people’s willingness to accommodate your needs. Quite often, they simply won’t be aware of the ins and outs of Shabbat observance – or understand its importance to you and your family.

When tourist and hospitality businesses and caterers operate with very tight overheads, or work under pressure, it can be a challenge to adjust well oiled routines and create special conditions for a single guest or just one family. Even where there’s plenty of hospitable goodwill and flexibility, there’s a lot of potential for inadvertent mistakes that will violate Shabbat or kashrut. Unless you’re self-catering or renting a vacation apartment, you’ll have a problem.

One solution is to book a kosher trip with Gil Travel and enjoy all the perks of luxury travel – and keep Shabbat. There are plenty of amazing kosher travel destinations, ranging from ski vacations in the Nevada mountains to Jewish heritage tours of Poland, and historical Jewish districts in European or South American cities. It’s even possible to arrange private Jewish art tours of European capitals with an itinerary and luxury accommodation that allows you to observe Shabbat correctly.

What is a Kosher Trip?

A kosher trip is a tour or a vacation organized by a Jewish travel company. It basically guarantees that travelers will be able to keep kosher and observe Shabbat from the moment they leave home, until the moment they return. It’s possible to create custom-designed luxury travel itineraries that accommodate for every level of religious observance. Shabbat-keeping travel arrangements are opening up all kinds of exciting new destinations for religious Jews, and are taking a lot of the headaches out of international travel.

A kosher trip begins with selecting travel dates that won’t conflict with Shabbat or any of the high holidays or even minor religious holidays. It also means ensuring that the airline serves properly certified kosher food (preferably kosher food that’s also reasonably appetizing). If tzniut (modesty) is also an issue, there may also be an option to request a convenient seating plan on the flight.

Kosher travel destinations always have good hotels that are used to welcoming Jewish guests and cook kosher food under the supervision of a recognized mashgiach. This supervision should include every aspect of food sourcing, storage, handling, preparation and dining. There are a lot of opportunities for accidental violation of kashrut in a busy commercial kitchen, or with untrained waiting staff, so strict supervision is essential (even in Jewish owned hotels and restaurants).

If you’re self catering, or planning picnics, packed lunches or snacks, you’ll need access to the best Jewish delis and food stores. One of the best things about travel is when you can turn a trip into a gastronomical adventure. When you book a private luxury travel tour, your guide will give you the full run down on local cuisine and traditional Jewish foods from that area. Nothing beats local knowledge when it comes to good food and drink.

A Quick Checklist for Shabbat-Friendly Travel

The availability of (correct) kosher food is the single biggest issue for observant Jewish travelers, but there are plenty of other things to check with your tour operator before you book a trip.

  • Kosher Wine, Challah and Candles

It might be something that you take for granted, but if you’re staying in a European hotel, you might be met with a confused expression when you ask for kosher wine, challah and candles – or a Shabbat hot plate. The same will apply if you ask for wine and besamim for havdalah. If you require grape juice instead of wine, check that there’s a kosher version available.

  • Shabbat Elevators

If you need a Shabbat elevator, you’ll definitely need to let your tour operator know up front. Some hotels have them, or can arrange for someone to operate the elevator for you. If not, a ground floor or first floor room may be essential. Depending on your level of observance, other electrical items like thermostats, electronic room keys and motion sensors could be problematic. Liaise with your tour company and don’t get caught out.

  • Synagogues and Prayer

Ideally, your hotel will be a short walk from a suitable synagogue. Again, this is something that you can discuss with your tour provider. Local knowledge and personal connections can be a great help if you want to attend a Shabbat service.

  • Suitable Shabbat Activities

If you traveled halfway across the world on a Jewish heritage tour, you probably don’t want to spend an entire Shabbat sitting in a hotel room – especially if you have young children. Every family has their own concept of what constitutes acceptable activity on Shabbat, but even a gentle stroll through a local park or garden can be a very welcome diversion. Your tour guide can put together a list of activities that match your needs.

Gil Travel has decades of experience when it comes to arranging trips and tours to Shabbat-friendly destinations. If you’re looking for exciting kosher travel destinations for your next vacation, we’ll be happy to help. We also specialize in tailored Jewish heritage tours that help you to explore your family background and history, or any area of special interest. If you have to travel somewhere on business, or for any other reason, we may also be able to help with luxury travel and Shabbat-friendly hotels.

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