I am one lucky rabbi. For Chanukah this year I got a (mostly) all-expense paid trip for me AND Chaim to the Antipodes (a term my British friend Mark taught me, referring to Australia and New Zealand for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) to serve as the rabbi on a 2-week cruise from Sydney to New Zealand. Somehow these cruise lines think Chanukah is up there on the list of most-important Jewish holidays! I served on this very same ship (Holland America’s Oosterdam) two years ago for Rosh Hashanah.
In my Sydney wanderings, I chanced upon the amazing flower memorial in front of the Lindt Cafe only days after that horrific hostage siege which left two innocent people dead along with the hostage-taker. From across the street, it looked like a flower market, and I went to admire the display, not even knowing until I was right in front, what it actually was. So many people came with flowers to add to the memorial even while I was standing there.
I was delighted to see the famous Sydney Opera House “live,” after admiring its iconic shape from afar for so many years. It sits right next to the Royal Botanic Gardens, which gave me hours of walking pleasure, as well.
We left Sydney on Friday afternoon only a couple of hours before I was “on” for my first service. My on-board congregation of about 40+ Jews is quite international. There are Aussies, Brits, Algerians, Swiss, French, Tunisians, Americans, Canadians, and one American who works for the State Department in Indonesia. We are having a great time.
After being at sea for 2-1/2 days without spotting land, we reached Fjordland National Park, cruising through three beautiful fjords. Our Maori friends onboard (a cultural-educational troupe called Te Kapu) performed a welcome-to-the-land ceremony to celebrate our official arrival to New Zealand, though we didn’t disembark. They have offered a number of fascinating workshops onboard. Klutzy me has mastered a hand-eye coordination game called titi-torea in which I threw two short sticks in quick succession to my partner to catch while she threw two back at me (which I caught!). We actually mastered several lengthy volleys with different rhythms, and I believe this will be a hard-to-beat highlight of the cruise for me, seeing as it causes me to totally revise a hardwired (and obviously incorrect) notion of myself.
I have invited our Maori friends for a Jewish-Maori dialogue tonight to celebrate our 8th night of Chanukah. I believe we share much — issues of assimilation, loss of mother-tongue, connection to homeland, connection to the earth. Sundown here is long past 9PM, so the light-in-the-darkness theme we northern folks emphasize doesn’t fly the same way with the Aussies. It’s been an edifying trip thus far on many fronts.
Today, day 4 of the cruise, we got our land legs back in Dunedin. Chaim and I walked to see the old synagogue in town and then the new one (nondescript, almost invisible, with a small sign only in Hebrew with its name, Beit Yisrael). And then we walked some more, to the north of the city, to Woodlaugh gardens and then to the oldest botanic gardens in New Zealand (opened only days before the botanic gardens in Christchurch). And then we walked back and visited the Flemish Renaissance-style railway station. I had no time to shop!
Back in our room in time for “take-off,” I just got a call from the events manager who manages my schedule. She had forgotten to tell me that tomorrow night on Christmas eve, they have prepared a Jewish movie night and Chinese buffet for us! Amazing.
Happy Chanukah to those celebrating Chanukah, and Merry Christmas to those celebrating Christmas!