When I was 14 years old, my father put me on a bus in downtown Pittsburgh bound for Detroit. My cousins met me at the bus station and showed me the city: Vernors Ginger Ale plant, Chrysler Motors car assembly line, a Tigers baseball game at Briggs Stadium. I called this travel. After all, I went from one destination, Pittsburgh; to another, Detroit. I had fun.
And I've been traveling ever since. At last count, 90 countries. Along the way, I became not only a travel writer, but a Jewish travel writer. That means I write about large Jewish communities such as London, Paris, and Rome, and/or exotic Jewish communities around the world such as Mumbai, Yangon, and Ho Chi Minh City.
Indeed, there is such a phenomenon as "Jewish travel." I learned a long time ago that often when American Jews travel, they seek out the local synagogue, the kosher restaurant, the Jewish community center. Jewish tourists go on journeys to observe, to experience, to have adventures. But, at the same time, many seek out their brothers and sisters in far-flung Jewish communities; or they comb far off lands in search of the last fragments of the scattered tribe.
Jewish travel is a fine tradition that extends back to the Spanish Jew, Benjamin of Tudela, the 12th-century rabbi who traveled the then-known Jewish world and recorded what he saw, how Jews lived and got along with their neighbors and rulers, how they survived under oppressive conditions, and how they were influenced by their environment. He also included strange tales such as when he was in Istanbul, "where no Jew (was) allowed to ride on horseback."
That's exactly what I did in updating my fourth edition of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe (Pelican Publishing). I again set off to make the new guide the history of my brothers and sisters in Europe, past and present, as well as note the synagogues, monuments, museums, kosher restaurants, cafes, and cultural heritage sites.
Of course, there has been a major change in Europe since my previous editions of "A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe. Everywhere I went in Europe, I felt the presence of tightened-security, cameras, police cars, soldiers, and guards who searched you.
But that does not mean that we should be deterred from the joy and inspiration and knowledge gained through travel. That's exactly what terrorists and those who sow hate desire. European Jewish communities speak out against anti-Semitism and hate and their motto like ours, in many cases, is, "Never Again."
By the way, a note to the traveler visiting a Jewish community: Notify synagogues and other Jewish establishments way in advance. Carry ID at all times.
In revising "A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe," I observed anti-Semitism is rising in Europe. Various political movements are spouting anti-democratic principles and prejudice.
So, some ask, should Jews leave Europe? In the final analysis, that is their choice. Most are remaining though many are on the move; some making Aliyah-immigrating to Israel; some from Turkey to Spain and Portugal; some from Belgium to Canada; some from France to the UK; some from the UK to Portugal and Germany.
Be that as it may, I believe it is incumbent on American Jews to visit their brothers and sisters in Europe as they observe and study the best of European culture. Nations and people may change, but the Jewish people live on. A common bond of faith, tradition, and unity bind us into one people. In all my recent travels, I discovered that the bond between American Jews and other Jewish communities in the diaspora is strengthened when visitors from the U.S. stop at Jewish institutions and centers overseas.
Nearly every country in Europe is covered in A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, Fourth Edition. Jewish travelers have strong feelings, historic and political, about which countries to sojourn. No matter where you go, just go-because it will enrich you.
Ben G. Frank, travel writer, is the author of the just-published fourth edition of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, (Pelican Publishing), and Klara's Journey, A Novel,"(Marion Street Press,) as well as "The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti and Beyond," (Globe Pequot Press) and other Jewish travel guides. Follow him on twitter: @bengfrank .