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9 Close-to-Home Spots for Your Jewish (or Jewish-ish) Summer Vacation

9 Close-to-Home Spots for Your Jewish (or Jewish-ish) Summer Vacation

Hard shell luggage case with travel stickers against a blue sky

Summer is prime travel time, and no matter where you’re headed, you can “do Jewish” while you’re there.  

From Shabbat on the go while road tripping across the country to checking out a new synagogue community while on an island vacation, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite Jewish (and Jewish-ish) vacation spots and ideas in North America, submitted by the staff of the Union for Reform Judaism.

What’s on your own list? And how will you celebrate Jewish life while you’re on the go this summer? Comment and let us know!

1. Welcoming Shabbat on the Water in Montauk, N.Y. 

My favorite summer memory is the year my parents accepted an offer from the owner of the then-rustic Driftwood Hotel in Montauk, N.Y., to stay in one of their cottages. As my dad drove us out to the South Fork of Long Island, we were mesmerized into stillness as the landscape became dunes, the road dotted with farm stands, small stores and houses that stood alone, unlike our suburban street.

Our private cottage was steps from the pool and ocean. My mom had packed food for her brood of girls, including homecooked roast chicken, and even an oversized challah. That first evening, as the sun went down, we sat at a rough-hewn picnic table, and the sound of the ocean carried us into Shabbat. My 14-year-old self was grateful to see my parents in this setting, free from the day-to-day routines of running a household for us seven daughters.

Years later I returned to Montauk, this time with my own young family and mom in tow. In fact, we stayed in the same hotel. We visited the historic Montauk lighthouse and stopped at farm stands to stock up on local cherries and peaches for our long days at the beach. And once again, the wild, unspoiled beauty of Montauk let us escape into our time-out-of-time getaway.

(Submitted by Deborah Rood Goldman, librarian and digital communications producer)

2. “Doing Jewish” on Summer Road Trips

The mitzvah of observing Shabbat appears in two different versions in the Torah: remember the Sabbath, and keep/observe the Sabbath. Our family’s shorthand version is this: If we aren’t going to shamor/keep Shabbat, at least we can zachor/remember Shabbat. All it takes is a little bit of advance planning.

When setting out on our annual summer road trip, I pack a few extra items in the car: a set of candle shaped tea lights from the local dollar store, grape juice boxes from the local supermarket, and a challah in our freezer. As the sun sinks towards the horizon on Friday evening, the co-pilot sets up the tea lights and the juice boxes in our forward cup holders. We sing the candle blessing together and then turn on the tea lights. We sing Kiddush together and then sip our juice boxes. We sing HaMotzi together and then munch on bites of challah as we cruise down the highway.

(Submitted by Stephanie Fink, associate director of family engagement)

3. Incorporating Judaism into Hometown Visits to Tucson, AZ 

Now that I am a mom, I don’t travel for leisure so much anymore, but when I do, I try to find something Jewish to share with my kids. Even if I’m just visiting my hometown of Tucson, AZ, I want to show them my favorite Jewish bakery and my old Jewish pre-school; hopefully, one day they can also meet one of my favorite rabbis. 

My favorite Jewish travel experience with my kids was last winter in Arizona, when I set up a horseback riding experience for my family. As we walked up to the ranch and looked into the “cowboys’” kitchen window, we saw a menorah. Lo and behold, my kids learned first-hand that Jews come from all walks of life.

(Submitted by Rachel Hall, program manager for Audacious Hospitality)

4. Making Jewish Memories at the Jersey Shore

All my life, I’ve been going “down the shore,” as we Philadelphians call it (not “to the beach”!) – to Margate, N.J., a tiny coastal town near Atlantic City. Growing up, when I wasn’t attending my Reform Jewish summer camp, URJ Camp Harlam or traveling with NFTY in Israel, I was at the shore, spending time with family and friends.

Now that I live in New York City, it’s a little harder to get there during the summer, but I make it a priority to make my way down there as often as possible. After a three-hour drive in heavy after-work traffic, I’m always welcomed with a delicious Shabbat dinner waiting for me as soon as I step in the door. I look forward to my stepfather’s spicy gazpacho, and for Shabbat lunch, my mom’s cholent (Jewish beef stew), which has been cooking all night in the slow cooker. I cherish these memories of family and feasting!

(Submitted by Paige Erlich, communications manager for youth programs)

5. Finding a Jewish Community in Jekyll Island, GA

For a time, my parents spent a part of each year on Jekyll Island, a barrier island off Georgia’s southern coast. When I’d visit, we’d spend lazy days reading and watching the waves or exploring Brunswick’s downtown, a short drive across the causeway.

Once, we attended the monthly Shabbat service and potluck dinner at Temple Beth Tefilloh in Brunswick. With my job at the Union for Reform Judaism and my mom on its board, we were drawn to the historic synagogue, one of the founding congregations of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (as the URJ was originally known).

Although the community is small, members are deeply devoted to maintaining Jewish life there. We enjoyed the (familiar) service led by the itinerant rabbi and chatting with members during the potluck, It was a “vacation Shabbat” I’ll always remember.

(Submitted by Jane Herman, writer and editor)

6. Eating All the Ashkenazi Food in Cleveland, OH 

I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like to, so I make a point to go on as many hometown and local adventures as possible – and when it comes to food, seeking out delicious, new-to-me Jewish eats is at the top of my adventure list. I swear, you don’t have to be in New York to find delicious Ashkenazi cuisine!

I know, I know: When you think of Jewish food, you probably (OK, definitely) don’t think of Cleveland as a culinary hub, but you might be surprised. My beloved Midwestern city boasts old-world Ashkenazi eats in abundance, and I’ve yet to try a bite I didn’t love.

Check out the piled-high pastrami sandwich from Slyman’s, latkes and diner brunch from Corky and Lenny’s, homemade challah from the West Side Market, lox on an everything bagel from The Cleveland Bagel Co., authentic Montreal smoked meat from Landmark, chicken schnitzel from Lox, Stock, and Brisket, and elevated matzah soup from Larder Delicatessen and Bakery – and that’s just for starters.

If you want to take your Jewish culture a step beyond lunch (and brunch… and dinner… OK, OK, I’ll stop!) head to the East Side to visit the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Its core and rotating exhibitions are designed to “to build bridges of tolerance and understanding by sharing Jewish heritage through the lens of the American experience” – and includes an internationally acclaimed collection of Judaica.

(Submitted by Kate Kaput, digital communications manager) 

7. Exploring Jewish History in Halifax, N.S.

My wife’s and my weeklong journey through Nova Scotia began in the port city of Halifax, where, from 1928 to 1971, more than one million immigrants entered the country through the Pier 21 processing center. Since 1999, “Canada’s Ellis Island” has operated as the Canadian Museum of Immigration in tribute to the country’s multicultural character.

Exhibits include photographs and models of ships that ferried immigrants to Canada,  replica ship’s cabin, and a model of a railroad car that carried new arrivals across the country, plus interactive opportunities for visitors to role-play. Curious about your own family’s roots? The museum’s library and resource center gladly assist people in tracing their family roots in Canada.

As history lovers, we also enjoyed the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. In the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, vessels were dispatched from Halifax, the nearest major port, to search for victims’ bodies. Notably, 10 of the Titanic victims were buried in Halifax’s Jewish Baron de Hirsch Cemetery – though it remains unknown whether any of them were, in fact, Jewish.

Indeed, even in parts of Nova Scotia where only a handful of Jews remain, Judaism and Jewish life and Jewish memory endure.

(Submitted by Aron Hirt-Manheimer, editor-at-large; excerpted from Reform Judaism magazine)

8. Searching for Jewish Connections in Rural North Dakota

There’s something about the absence of Jewish community that makes me all the more desperate for it. Though I sometimes missed High Holiday services while growing up in San Francisco and then while attending college in Vancouver, I valiantly tried to find one to attend last September while working on a political campaign in North Dakota.

This was easier said than done, as North Dakota has only 400 Jews, mostly clustered in the university towns near the Minnesota border. I was based five hours away on the edge of the state’s oil patch and, while I was released from work on Rosh HaShanah, a 10-hour roundtrip drive to the nearest services was out of the question.

Having exhausted every avenue toward finding a minyan, including calling an elderly woman in the next city over – who quite reasonably explained that her husband used to organize a small service but had given that up on the occasion of his 100th birthday – I turned to one aspect of the holiday I felt competent to perform on my own: tashlich, the ritual casting away of ones sins into a flowing body of water.

This is how I found myself spending Rosh HaShanah at the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge on the shores of Lake Audubon. I took the eight-mile South Shore Auto Tour Route, driving slowly along a dirty road past an array of birds and flora before finding a spot to pull over, pray, and toss bread crumbs into the lake. It was peaceful, meaningful, and a reminder that it’s almost always possible to carve out Jewish experiences – even in unlikely places.

(Submitted by Arno Rosenfeld, digital communications manager, Religious Action Center)

9. Praying Beneath a Hawaiian Sunset

My wife Lynn and I traveled to Hawaii to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We stayed at a friend’s house in Kona on the big island and enjoyed exploring the landscape and culture of this fascinating place we’d never been to before.

During our trip, we discovered Kona Beth Shalom in Kailua, HI, a Reform congregation that doesn’t have a building of their own; we were pleased to learn that instead, their Friday night Shabbat worship is often celebrated on the beach. Lynn and I took a break from our sightseeing and found the congregation gathering for Shabbat amongst the hotels and resorts. We were warmly welcomed and immediately made to feel a part of the community.

About halfway through Shabbat worship, we were surprised when the visiting rabbi announced that we would now be taking a break to watch the sunset. Everyone put down their prayer books down and walked to the edge of the ocean to watch the sun slowly dip beneath the horizon – a truly wonderful way to welcome Shabbat during a trip we will never forget.

(Submitted by Larry Glickman, director of network engagement and collaboration)

Looking for a Reform synagogue to visit during your travels throughout North America? Use our find-a-congregation tool to find a congregation near your next vacation spot.

Kate Bigam Kaput is the digital communications manager for the Union for Reform Judaism and, in this role, serves as a content manager and editor for ReformJudaism.org. A prolific essayist and lifestyle blogger, Kate's writing has been featured in The Washington PostEsquire, Woman's Day, Cleveland Magazine, HeyAlma.com, Jewish Women Archive, and more. Kate grew up at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson, OH, holds a degree in magazine journalism from Kent State University, and currently lives in Cleveland with her husband, Mike.

Kate Bigam Kaput
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