Frum Outdoorsman: Rare but Possible

The wanderings and adventures of an orthodox Jew

Road trips and Chabad go hand in hand

Posted by Frum Hiker on June 3, 2007

This past week I was debating whether to drive to Newfoundland this week or not, I decided against it due to my time constraints and pretty crappy weather on the island at this time of year. The decision would have been way easier had there been a chabad house on the island proving me with a some torah and nice a shabbos meal. The mere fact that there is no chabad on the island and the closest one is in Halifax Nova Scotia caused me to rearrange my whole trip and forego it until later in the summer.

Halifax is over 800 miles from my house- one of those iffy distances to drive on a Friday, or even on Thursday and Friday, Don’t get me wrong I have driven 800 miles in a day many times, but usually its across familiar territory without the risk of searched for hours at the Canadian border. I also hate to rush a road trip, rushing a road trip is thje beginning of the end. The whole point of road tripping is to get away from daily life and rushing around. It’s the freedom of the open road and the kind of relaxation it gives some folks- especially me.

I was thinking about how without chabad the many road trips I have taken in the past few years would have been way different. There is nothing quite like looking forward to that much needed bed and shower, some food not cooked on the camp stove and davening with a minyan. It provides the extreme traveler with a true shabbos experience, the one in which they actually cry silently to themselves when mizmor ledovid is sang at shalosh suedos signaling the beginning of the week and once more living without creature comforts such as beds, non instant foods and showers.

I remember the first chabad house I ever stayed at, it wasn’t even shabbos but I was a junior road tripper and haven’t really learned the ropes of an experienced road tripper I hadn’t brought much food along and was surviving on mostly junk food and fruit. There is always a point on the ghetto road trip where the yetzer harah starts taunting you at every truck stop with one of those sleezy 24 hour coffee shops. They start to make you drool as you pass those fish and sticks dinner special signs and you debate with yourself about how it really “is” kosher and just “fish”, of course your true self turns around and says “dude, snap out of it, the fish is fried right next to the bacon”.

So me and two friends were down in Alabama visiting my buddy Jessica’s aunt, and we were starving so we called up Birmingham Chabad and they hooked us up big time. It was years ago and I can still remember eating left over fried fish filets and yellow rice or orzo with Israeli salad. I remember something incredibly embarrassing as well. I guess I was fresh out of high school and still running with folks who felt that hanging out with girls was assur. It was 2 guys and a girl, so naturally I felt we should lie and say we were all cousins. Of course the Rabbi was trying to figure out why We all lived in way out places and had no idea who the parents of us were. The guy was totally onto us I thought so in the middle I just said “we lied man”, and related the whole truth. I figured him being a black hat type he would kick us out and he just thought I was crazy for thinking such foolishness. My friend Jessica still tells this story and laughs her ass off every time.

Not only did they give us food in Alabama, but they gave us shelter and it was mad nice I shall say. We slept in the actual shull where they had guest rooms. We slept in down comforters on canopy beds. The mikvah was surrounded by tree and the lobby was something out of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, perfectly symmetrical chairs and a grand piano with their geometry bouncing crazy shadows off the walls.

Then of course there was the El Paso Chabad in which my friend Danny and I stayed at while we were wandering around the Southwest. The Rabbi there requested a back round check so I called my buddy in Albany to call him up and it turned out like always that they were somehow related. That is the best thing about chabad, everyone marries each other within their sect, so everyone turns out to be cousins- easing the connections.

This was an interesting place because first of all we were only on the road a week so we really didn’t appreciate the bed and food as much- but also that the shull was actually large for the city. The Jews of El Paso really don’t have much choice in shulls so many of traditional ones even the non-religious come to chabad. That always makes for interesting crowds and conversation. El Paso is also one of those forgotten cities- no one really goes there, I never met anyone from there- but its rather large and on the border with the largest border city in Mexico- Juarez.

Then this past summer I had the opportunity to stay with the El Paso Rabbis brother in Edmonton. He was by far the most interesting chabad Rabbi I have met in my travels. He was statistic and useless information buff, he knew everything about the province as well as the Northwest Territories which my friend Danny and I were extremely interested in. Besides being on our way to Alaska we intended on going to the NWT and the Yukon. Luckily we met folks in shull who were involved in business’s up in the north and had some good chats.

The Chabad in Edmonton was important because it would be our last sight of Jews for thousands of miles of extremely lonely and wild country. So void of people is the land that every time we stopped to daven we wondered if any Jew had ever been in this vicinity in all of time.

Then of course one of the more interesting chabad experiences I have ever had was in Anchorage Alaska for Rosh Hashanah of this past year. First of all the shabbos before was pent in a downtown motel in Fairbanks that only had electric keys- we spent all day trying to get into our hotel until someone finally came around. The shull was reform and interesting but only to certain degree, we really needed that power boost of orthodoxy and the Godliness it brings with it, it would also be great way to channel all of Gods wonders that we got to be a part of in Alaska.

We ended up staying on the floor of the chabad house with the lights on. It kind of sucked buit it was better then having to pay a lot of money for a hotel. The food was by far the best food I had ever had at a chabad house. The food was fancy and there was tons of it, we ate very well. The people were extraordinary and incredibly eccentric. Like the guy that sells pipes to the oil companies on the Arctic Ocean, or the dude that is in the license plat designing business.

Shull was filled with talk of hunting and fishing and bear stories. Everyone is an involuntary woodsman in Alaska, they all take part in some sort of outdoor activity whether they like it or not. Vegetarians do not fare well in such a place either according to one I met. Its so hard when everyone is eating the moose and caribou they just shot. Shull was also very quick for such a holiday and held in a hotel with good chairs. The only problem with staying in Anchorage was that we had to leave right after Rosh Hashanah and head back home. Of course we left only after we hung out with our friend Josh who was a Jewish Eskimo and was very interesting to chill with.

I remember staying in Calgary at a very nice chabad family who we told, we were willing to campo out in their backyard, I tend to offer that to many people who claim they don’t have room. They always seem to have room for desperate travelers who would be willing to camp out in their backyard. I think since many folks still retain their New York attitude wherever they live- since all Jews are probably from New York, they invariably think that folks who sleep outside are either homeless or nuts and that any Jewish kid willing to do so was very desperate. Of course I then relate how for 5 weeks on end I have slept in the woods, by rest areas or in weird places such as little league dugouts and drainage pipes. Its almost as if I am providing them abnormal entertainment in exchange for a minyan and some cholent.

Calgary was interesting because the weather in British Columbia where my buddy Yosef and I had been mountain biking and backpacking for a few weeks was cold and rainy. Not such conducive sleeping weather and then of course once you get to eastern BC in the Kamloops area it’s hot and dry. So we looked forward to shabbos immensely.

Looking back at all of my road trips there was always some sort of chabad experience. They have been very help full and even when they do not provide hospitality in forms of beds and food such as is the case in the New Mexico Chabads they do other good deeds.


One Response to “Road trips and Chabad go hand in hand”

  1. jacob said

    Nice. Chabad usually hooks me up except one time in Pittsburg, but that turned out anyways all right.

    And can ya beat the amout of booze the guys put out??

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