Jews of the Caribbean
Part of the tour group in front of a waterfall in the El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rainforest in northeastern Puerto Rico

SAJE and JTravel combine to offer educational vacation.

Featured Photo by Jaemi Loeb

A group of 30, most from Metro Detroit, escaped winter for a week and had the thrill of stepping on a sand-covered synagogue floor among other interesting Jewish sites during the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s inaugural “Jews of the Caribbean” cruise.

Leaders were Jaemi B. Loeb, senior director of cultural arts at the JCC, and Dr. Rabbi Mitch Parker, spiritual leader of B’nai Israel Synagogue in West Bloomfield. Together, they escorted the Jewish voyagers aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam ship and to ports in Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

Parker led daily minyan, Shabbat services and Torah study on board, and he lectured about Jewish pirates and other historical topics. Loeb’s many contributions included teaching sea chanties. The travelers enjoyed Shabbat dinner together and had kosher food available.

Jews of the Caribbean
Shabbat dinner on the ship: Lorraine and Robert Zack and Michael Fox and Susan Gartenberg By Esther Allweiss Ingber
Jews of the Caribbean
Susan and Robert Citrin from the tour in front of a banyan tree on the grounds of the JCC in Miramar, San Juan, Puerto Rico By Esther Allweiss Ingber

The idea for the cruise was developed about a year ago. Parker asked Loeb whether the JCC’s Seminars for Adult Jewish Enrichment (SAJE) program offered educational trips. He’d led trips for his synagogue and wanted to explore ways of expanding such travel to a wider audience. Sparking her interest, Loeb went down the hall at the JCC and asked Marilyn Wolfe, director of JTravel, to join their discussion.

“Luckily, she was available and is always ready to think up fun trips,” Loeb said.
They brainstormed and the result was a collaboration between SAJE and JTravel for a cruise exploring the Jewish history and communities of the Caribbean.

After a day at sea, the tour’s first stop was Museo Judio de Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Jews escaping the Holocaust founded the small museum and synagogue.

Jews of the Caribbean
Jaemi Loeb and Dr. Rabbi Mitch Parker in front of the Museo in Dominican Republic

By Esther Allweiss Ingber

Jews of the Caribbean
Rabbi Michael Feshbacher of St. Thomas Synagogue shares a rare Sephardic Torah scroll in a wooden container. By Esther Allweiss Ingber

On the next island, the itinerary included seeing the outdoor San Juan Holocaust Memorial, “In the Shadows of Their Absence”; having lunch at Chabad of Puerto Rico; and Rabbi Diego Mendelbaum of JCC/Shaare Zedek Synagogue addressing the visitors before their drive into the rainforest.

Rabbi Michael Feshbach, formerly of Maryland, discussed his St. Thomas Synagogue in Charlotte Amalie, USVI. The sand floor is a reminder of when the Jews of Spain, seeking to keep their religion, were forced to pray in unfinished basements.

Jews of the Caribbean
Sand-covered floor at St. Thomas Synagogue in the U.S. Virgin Islands By Esther Allweiss Ingber
Jews of the Caribbean
The sanctuary of the Shaare Zedek Synaogue in Puerto Rico By Esther Allweiss Ingber

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