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This past summer, my husband and I embarked on our first-ever cruise to Alaska. Cruising had never appealed to me, but Alaska was an exception to my anti-cruise position. Our 49th state is so remote and difficult to travel to from one place to the next that a cruise seemed like the best way to go.
Each evening a schedule of events was listed and delivered to our room. On Thursday evening, the first night, much to my delight, I noted the following listing for 6 p.m. on Friday: “Sabbath Service (Unhosted).” Hmmmm.
Obviously this was the Jewish Sabbath and no staff was assigned to assist. It was scheduled to take place in the Card Room. When I inquired of the cruise director, he explained that it was “unhosted” because the guests who show up take charge of how it goes. Duh! Did I really need that obvious explanation?
Of course my husband and I scurried to attend on Friday night at 6. There was no way I would skip Shabbat on a ship when offered in the schedule, no matter what. Alas, when the two of us arrived at the Card Room at 6:05, no one else was there. On a table at the entrance was a neatly stacked (and optimistically placed) pile of siddurim and kippot, in addition to a bottle of red wine, eight wine glasses, a covered-up challah and two artificial candles.
I told my husband that we would say some prayers no matter what. No sooner did I start to peruse the siddur to determine which option of Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat to use when, lo and behold, in walked a group of fellow travelers, a Swiss family of five lovely folks consisting of two sons, a daughter and their parents.
One of the teenage boys was cajoled by his dad into conducting a traditional Kabbalat Shabbat service, which of course included blessings over the candles, the wine and challah. The challah had clearly been recently baked on board, and covered in plastic wrap to preserve its warmth. Truly it was delicious! Together we all sang a rousing rendition of “Shalom Aleichem” to welcome the Sabbath bride.
There is a well-known saying that, “More than Israel has preserved the Sabbath, the Sabbath has preserved Israel.” How true! United by this beautiful tradition, five Swiss and two American Jews marked the end of the week and offered blessings of gratitude as we cruised along coastal waters. And for a few magical moments, our new community separated itself from the outside world to make our own communal statement. It was a powerful, almost mystical, experience.
The next day I expressed sincere thanks to the cruise director, who seemed touched that it would have mattered so much to me. I was particularly impressed by the homemade challah, and he was eager to share the compliment with the kitchen onboard.
I did note that on Sunday morning there was a designated time in the Card Room for an “Interdenominational Church Service (Unhosted).” I peeked into the venue both before and after, but the religious paraphernalia seemed to have been untouched. I’ll never know for sure if anyone showed up, but I do highly recommend to all Jewish travelers to seize Shabbat opportunities when they present themselves away from home, whether on land or sea. They can be deep.