“I travel the world.”
It’s now the summer of 2018, and I hold the copy of my fourth edition of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe (Pelican Publishing), 752 pages, with photos, maps, a bibliography and index and say to myself:
“And to think it all began in the Chappaqua Library.”
I picture driving down Quaker Road on Saturday mornings to the library. That’s the day many fellow residents did their chores, such as ferry their kids to soccer, basketball, and other sport games; while others play tennis, golf, enjoy the pool clubs or sleigh riding in Gedney Park, depending on the season.
I spent my Saturdays in the library: First, doing research to prepare myself for forthcoming trips to exotic lands such as Tahiti, India, Morocco, Cuba, Monaco, and Peru. And then, once I landed in Europe, for instance, I people-watched on the Champs-Elysees and the Via Veneto; I stared at stately statues in London; I danced at a bar mitzvah party in Marseille; I prayed in the oldest functioning synagogue in the world, the Atlneuschul in Prague; and I spent hours at the Shoah Memorial and Holocaust Center in Paris.
In Tudela, Spain, I wrote in the new edition of my travel guide: “There are no Jews in Tudela. But I went anyway. You see, Tudela is the birthplace of my namesake, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela. In the 12th century, he became the first Jewish travel writer, pioneering an entire branch of writing.
Like that travel writer: I chronicle the Jewish world of Europe; I record the Jewish population and describe the people; relate their history; comment on their rulers and define the Jewish Community.”
I also made sure that my travel book would be a practical, anecdotal, and adventurous journey through Jewish Europe, including in the text: kosher restaurants, cafes, synagogues, and museums, plus cultural and heritage sites.
Years after the first edition of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe came out in 1992, a Florida woman reminded me of a phrase I used in my first travel guide. Like most authors, I felt good when a reader of one’s work, recalls a specific quote. The saying in question dates back to early 1930s-Poland, a decade later the site of the Nazi death camps. Then, Alfred Doblin, writer and novelist, wrote: “I realized I didn’t know any Jews, So, I asked myself and I asked others: ‘Where do Jews exist?’ I was told: ‘Poland.’ And so I went to Poland.”
This writer also went to Poland. Only my comment after the Holocaust was: ‘Someplace along the Polish road, you will shed a tear.’ It’s true, said the woman who remembered my quote.
After sojourning to those far off lands–24 countries in Europe alone, I would return to Chappaqua and, yes, spend Saturdays in the library, checking observations against fact. And so it went for the better part of the wonderful 37 years that my wife, Riva, resided in the hamlet including the years our two sons, Marty and Monte, were at home, until they left the nest.
What, therefore, is the essence of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe? My publisher put it succinctly: “This newly updated handbook from travel historian, Ben G. Frank, guides travelers through Jewish customs, neighborhoods, and historical sites in Europe. From kosher dining in France to memorials in Scandinavia, Frank combines practical information, intriguing stories, and an enlightening investigation into the Jewish contributions to European history.”
Not only did I include travel information for the tourist, I always wanted to update the political and social conditions, as well as historical information on Jewish life in Europe. Country by country, I discussed the rise of anti-Semitism, hate speech and hate crimes, especially in East Europe, as well as the rising nationalism in nations such as, Hungary, Poland and Austria.
I uncovered an interesting phenomenon: European Jews are not only immigrating to Israel but many are relocating within Europe. In fact, Jews are moving from France to the UK, from the UK to Germany, and from Turkey to Spain and Portugal.
Thinking about my new work, I believe this new edition of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe will help the reader understand the past history of Jews in Europe, as well as the present and the future.
So, let’s travel. As the Chinese say: “the journey of a 1,000 miles begins with the first step.”