Finding the Jewish in Travel with Your Teen Grandchild

Jewish Values, Travel

“The past is alive, trembling within the present.” (Dara Horn)

Two thousand years of Jewish history and culture await to be discovered in every corner of the globe. Depending on your interests, exploring Jewish sites with your pre-teen or teen grandchild can be the sole focus of the journey, or an interesting side trip in a more general itinerary.

Below are five tips for adding a Jewish component to your travel experience. As you consider how to incorporate the Jewish, allow your grandchild to guide you in what interests them or perhaps what they’ve been learning about in school. It’s a way to build connection and strengthen your relationship.

1. Together, become familiar with Jewish cultural events or historical sites in the area you’ll be visiting.

Before the Internet existed, this step meant purchasing travel guides or checking them out of the library well in advance of your trip. That’s still a good idea, but if you’re more inclined to find resources online, World Jewish Travel is a valuable new resource.

The World Jewish Travel site enables users to search by destination; religious festivals; historic sites, such as ancient synagogues; and by activities, for example music, food, and cultural events.

You can also explore other websites for great Jewish ideas.

2. Learn about the highlights of Jewish history in whatever region you travel.

Since the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE (before the Common Era), and even more so after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE (Common Era), Jews have lived throughout the world. You’ll find remnants of Jewish communities in Kaifeng, China, which was the end of the famous Silk Road, and in the ancient Medina in Fez, Morocco. Two resources that can be helpful in getting an overview of Jewish history in countries around the globe are: The Jewish History Research Center, and the Jewish Virtual Library.

Teaching the Torah Lane S.

3. Read fiction about Jewish characters or communities set in the region where you’re traveling.

Some teens might like to take books along and spend quiet time reading together during the trip — on the train or airplane or back in the hotel at the end of a long day. Guide your grandchild to pick out (buy or borrow from the library) relevant books that seem interesting to them. Several online resources offer bibliographies: Jewish Virtual Library, Association of Jewish Libraries, Children’s Books and Stories About American Jewish Life, and Jews Around the World Book List. Or ask your local librarian.

Or download movies or TV shows with Jewish characters that are set in the area you’re visiting. Some examples are The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (set in New York City), A Serious Man (suburban Midwest), Driving Miss Daisy (Atlanta), The Pianist (Poland), Chariots of Fire (UK and France), and Everything is Illuminated (Ukraine).

Your teen grandkids might also like to listen to Jewish music from your area of travel. Jewish Rock Radio is always a great source of new and innovative Israeli and international music. Or you can google the name of the country you are visiting and “Jewish music,” for example, Moroccan Jewish Music.

4. Seek out communal organizations in your area of travel for information about religious services and other cultural activities.

Plan this well in advance. Vibrant Jewish communities exist in many parts of the world. For example, the Jamaican Jewish community meets in Shaare Shalom Synagogue in downtown Kingston, where congregants pray on sand floors. The Union for Reform Judaism provides an excellent resource on how to find a Jewish home away from home, including an app for international Jewish travel.

Local communal organizations may also guide your teen grandchild to find local teen groups doing social justice work or meeting for music or arts events.

5. Be curious and open to discovering something that wasn’t on your radar.

Don’t be afraid to ask people you meet on the trip — including local shop owners and merchants — about Jewish sites they might know. For example, in Tetouan, Northern Morocco, locals might direct you to the Jewish cemetery which is more than 500 years old with approximately 35,000 tombstones. Google Translate makes simple conversation possible in many countries.

Tetouan Cemetery
Tangier Cemetery

Traveling with grandchildren, whether abroad or closer to home, can be richly rewarding. It can create memories and emotional bonds that will last a lifetime. By adding Jewish experiences to your journey, however brief or limited, you enrich your grandchild’s Jewish identity and cultivate a sense of appreciation for the chain of Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Mark H. Levine is the Jewish Educator at the Jewish Grandparents Network.

Special thanks to Hannah Gutnick for her expert review.

Photographic Credits
Photographs by Lisa Horowitz and Mark Levine