(May 28, 2012 / JNS) My nomadic tendencies land me nearly anywhere, but meandering through the clouds and canyons in the Andes, I once nursed a nagging suspicion that I didn’t fit in with my tour group.
Was it because I was the only American? Probably not. Was it because, fresh off a breakup, I had left a veritable trail of tears through the Amazon? Well, partially. Or was it because I was the only Jew in the group? Bingo. None of these goyim could understand that je ne sais quoi in me. When I stumbled upon a little synagogue in Cusco, Peru, and dined with some Israeli Jews, it was like finding an oasis in a desert (pardon the biblical reference).
When you traverse the globe, particularly alone and unattached, you are highly impressionable and open to everything. You have no routine to follow and no network to fall back on, so new cultures, lifestyles, and definitions of happiness seep into your psyche. You cross paths with people you might not meet in your ordinary life, and the moments you share—culinary exploits, late night conversations, desultory walks—are often suffused with meaning and delight. This connection can lead to real friendship or love or flings that turn into Facebook friends. Perhaps this is why love tends to grow along the road.
There is something serendipitous about hearing an Argentine Jew pepper Spanish with Yiddishand sharing philosophies with a French Jew over steaming espresso. You may look and sound different but still find that you’re searching for the same things. Meeting Jews, whether locals or fellow travelers, can change the course of your travels and life.
What’s the likelihood that you’ll happen upon another Jew when we comprise approximately .2 percent of the world’s population? (Cheer up—the chances are still better than winning the lottery, with odds as high as 120 million to one.) Feminists tend not to jet set to Saudi Arabia for a suntan, and Jews know better than to vacation in Iran. You might visit countries with large Jewish populations—large of course being a relative term—including Israel, the United States, France and Canada.
Other “sizeable” Jewish populations can be found in Belgium, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Brazil and Chile. You could also look for places that Jewish travelers are likely to visit. According to tourism recreation researchers in the United States, many American Jews will seek out synagogues, residences of famous people, and Jewish neighborhoods. These “pilgrimages of nostalgia” are not purely religious outings, so perhaps sightseers want to set eyes on you, too.
There is nothing like roaming through a beautiful place with a stranger, navigating your way through the unknown together. If you meet someone on a distant mountaintop, in an exotic café, or elsewhere in your travels, you don’t have long to figure it out. Will one of you reroute your trip? And what will happen once your trip ends? Always hydrate, always use a bathroom if you find one, never misplace your passport, and believe that if you can cram all of your souvenirs into the bags you came with, your love might make the journey home too.
Sasha Ingber is a freelance writer whose work focuses on relationships, travel and dance. She is currently a graduate student in Johns Hopkins University’s writing program.