Saturday, January 11, 2014

Traveling Light

There are some people who are very proud of how little they pack when they travel, gallivanting about all over the civilized world with nothing more than a sleek carry-on case – and then there is me. My situation is altogether different. Any tasteful accoutrement that could possibly become useful in some remote emergency scenario – I’m packing it! I do not (yet) as Queen Elizabeth II does, travel with my own white leather toilet seat, but I have given it some thought... 

In any case, traveling light is not for religious people. Fuhgeddaboudit! First, there is obviously the issue of bringing the extra Shabbos outfit. And depending on where you are going, it may not be sufficient with one outfit for Shabbos – oh no, there has to be one for Friday night and another one for Shabbos day. I see it more and more even among quite non-materialistic women. Who came up with that? Is this a new chumra, a new religious stricture? Because G-d has seen that outfit, thank-you-very-much, and He gets fed up with seeing the same dress over and over, and He is drumming His fingers, as it were, waiting for you to come up with something new already? Or maybe it is based on the frequent changing of vestments that the Kohen Godol would perform on Yom Kippur? Five changes, back and forth between gold and white linen. Because obviously we all want to be very holy.

And that is only when you are a guest in somebody’s home; if you are staying in a Jewish hotel you need three outfits – one for Friday night, one for appearing at the Shabbos se’udah, and one for when you wake up after the afternoon nap, for G-d forbid that anyone should harbor a suspicion that you don’t own enough clothes. Needless to say, each outfit requires its own accessories, shoes and jewelry, and chad gadya, chad gadya – one thing leads to another – and this is coming from somebody who loves clothes, accessories and jewelry…

Then there is all the other Shabbos equipment. We are used to traveling to remote spots – spiritually remote, if not geographically – where Shabbos is barely known beyond a rumor, and everything must be brought along. Shabbos candles with holders and don’t forget the matches!; havdoloh candle, wine, bechers and benchers; a nice tablecloth of course, and a little something for covering the Challah (plus the Challah itself, obviously); a cholent pot; a Kosher Lamp for reading in bed and something to read in bed; masking tape for the light switches in case you should get absent-minded, and – it just never ends… "Her poor husband" you are thinking now, "all that heavy lifting!" Not so. He explained to me at an early stage of our marriage that his - rather impressive - muscles were purely cosmetic. They are no use at all. I do most of my own heavy lifting.

Kashrus brings with it its own packing needs. Aside from the frequent necessity to bring along certain food stuffs (try to find parve chocolate along the US highways, or bishul Yisroel tuna!), there are the pots and the pans, and the vegetable peeler and three colors of paring knives and cutting mats and sponges, and disposable plates (three sizes) and extra-pretty disposables for Shabbos (I thought we had dealt with Shabbos already…), and always an electric pump thermos for frequent tea drinking, even on weekdays, and kosher wine, and a proper corkscrew that won’t break and cause untold suffering.

And we always bring our own pillows, otherwise we can’t sleep. And hard-boiled eggs.

In my computer I have numerous packing lists, each refined for its specific purpose: for car vacations or air travel, domestic or international, for Europe or Eretz Yisrael, for Pesach and for the rest of the year, and a special one for a certain college campus where my husband is occasionally asked to substitute – complete with a map of our room marking each electrical outlet. There we have to bring our own linens and comforters and towels as well. And tables.

I even started working on a packing list for when the Meshiach comes, because that’s when you want to be ready and not waste time dithering back and forth about what to bring to the Holy Land. My dear cousin and I have been discussing this topic – we are in absolute agreement that among other things, we will need a special Meshiach kleid – a beautiful dress for greeting the Ge’ulah Sh’leima. May we all be zoche to do so!

So – no, traveling light must be something that the Gentiles have dreamt up for their own amusement – not something that applies to us at all.

I have just returned from a visit to my European country of origin – need I say that I was assembling my packing for about ten days in advance? Don’t ask! There is no need – I’ll tell you anyway. In addition to all the customary necessities, I went all out this time and packed an extra-small hot water urn, with an adapter to fit the foreign-type outlet – no more fiddling with pots and unreliable thermostats; I bought stuff for a really pretty Shabbos belt and sewed it together – and packed it; and then the gifts, of course…

And aside from the kashrus aspect per se, one must definitely take along some food, just in case. My husband always says a Jew doesn’t even go up in the attic without taking along a little something to nibble on, because you just never know. I used to think he was a little over-zealous, bringing along food even on air planes where we had already ordered kosher meals. Wasn't that enough for him? But he kept harping on his theme of how Jews must bring food wherever they go. 

And then we had a charming little adventure some years ago which taught me. We went to Eretz Yisrael with Turkish Airlines (first and last time), and on the return trip everybody's kosher meal consisted of only a mini-container of apple sauce and three saltines – because the main course, the Actual Food, had gone missing, and the staff had the audacity to tell us that this was the way kosher dinners came. If my husband hadn’t had some fruit and little bags of nuts and candies handy that he generously shared with his fellow Jews - including his wife - there would have been mass starvation, I can tell you.

This time I flew with Norwegian Airlines (which I will willingly do again), a discount airline that doesn’t even offer a kosher meal, assuming you would be willing to pay $30 extra for meal service. (Halal food they do have. Go figure.) So my dear spouse loaded me up with salads and chicken and Milky Ways to eat before the chicken – and the ubiquitous hard-boiled eggs of course – and the concept of schlepping has now taken on a whole new dimension.

Traveling light? No, I don't think so. But I simply MUST buy some of that extra light-weight, spinning luggage. Matching, of course. In pink…

Shalom Uv'racha!

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