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Jewish World Review
July 7, 2004
/ 18 Tamuz, 5764
The Wandering Jew, updated
This summer, if you come across a religious family in transit, instead of staring, say 'Hi'. You may even want to congratulate them on upholding a tradition begun at the Exodus
For our trials and travels throughout history and the unique marks left in the places inhabited we Members of the Tribe have been described aptly as the "Wandering Jews."
Nowadays, though, the old-time Wandering Jew takes on a very different role. What might an updated picture of the Wandering Jew look like? My indisputable hunch, especially at this time of the year, would be a snapshot of an oversized vehicle sputtering at top speed along the highway en route to the Catskill Mountains!
Wandering Jews continue to attract attention sometimes even smiles of appreciation. Why? Because the identifiably Jewish family, as it relocates itself, creates quite a conspicuous picture. In fact, it's inevitable.
Surrounded on all sides by spacious SUVs and minivans carrying three demur matching
suitcases, two trim adults and 1.2 children, who have
spent the last hour arguing about who owns the "middle" of the rear
seat while an unnoticed Spiderman DVD plays overhead, the Jewish vehicle and its occupants look unusual.
When a religious Jew travels, his lifestyle in its entirety comes along for the ride. And it is a lifestyle he faithfully adheres to. It's no wonder that the vehicles are large and loaded and absolutely a sight to behold.
In the picture of our modern day Wandering Jews, shot, of course, with the most up-to-date digital camera, there would be smiling, giggling faces peering out the front, side, and back windows. Snack bags and lunches are dangling from little shoulders or floating around in the rear. The family's luggage, if it's already been towed, has left space now primarily monopolized by passengers. Otherwise, the vehicle would be transporting both passengers and their belongings, in which case a miscellany of paraphernalia would be piled high on the roof and stacked against the windows, the gleeful faces still discernable amid the collage.
If you're figuring a maximum, encompassing an entire family's worth of belongings, the picture is, well, massive. There'd be complete wardrobes of clothing, both weekday and
Shabbes (Sabbath), for each member of the family. That means dresses, suits, robes, sportswear, loungewear, sleepwear and swimwear.
Equally important are the headgear, both weekday and Shabbes snoods, wigs and fedoras, caps, and shtreimlich, etc., all with accompanying boxes. Footgear, as well, takes a sizeable space weekday shoes, Shabbes shoes, non-leather Tisha B'Av shoes, walking shoes, sneakers and slippers. Then there are supplies playground, kitchen, housewares, bath, laundry, Shabbes, and linens.
One will also find a box stuffed with books children's books, religious texts, or two, or three.
An observant Jewish traveler's minimum would include his "prayer gear" tallis, tefillin, siddur and kosher lunch, because we can't exactly chow down at the nearest Golden Arches.
When the Family In Motion stops off at a rest area, what a scene unfolds! Uncle Moishy, who reminds his listeners through song to always behave and respect their parents, is turned off and out jump a half-dozen jolly youngsters running to use the restrooms. Once "rested," they wash their hands ritually, unwrap their sandwiches, and open their kosher drinks, murmuring blessings before and after their snacks.
And so it must be. Because a believing, observant Jew is a Jew wherever he is at home, on the road, or in his faraway niche in the mountains. Ever since the Exodus, Jews have been adept at packing, traveling, and maneuvering their belongings without compromising an iota of religion, principles, or even customs.
It may not be polite to stare, but we don't mind the looks of astonishment nor, for that matter, the smiles we receive. Fitting the old-time description of the Wandering Jew is actually a badge of honor. It's indicative of our adherence to Jewishness and religiosity.
And as we settle into our camping sites and soon thereafter into our favorite coffee klatches remember, the bigger it is, the better. With a hearty "come on, pull up a chair" or "come join", the circle immediately spreads wider. And the atmosphere is kinder, happier and unified.
And, wondrously, the Jew, as he wanders and no matter where he is, is never that far from home.
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S. Horowitz is a contributor to the Jewish weekly, Yated Ne'eman. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Yated Ne'eman