Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Shabbat on the high seas


January 11, 2019

Whenever my wife and I travel overseas we always listen for the sounds of Jewish!

Our latest adventure began on the Friday before Christmas when we boarded a cruise ship destined for the Southeast Carribean Sea. Since the cruise began a few days before Christmas, and Chanukah had already passed, we were not sure if the passenger manifest would contain a significant number of Jewish people to create a meaningful Shabbat service on board our cruise ship.

Compounding our uncertainty, the ship was scheduled to depart late Friday afternoon, only an hour after boarding was completed. The time for Shabbat candle-lighting quickly was approaching and most passengers were not quite settled in their cabins or recovered from their long journeys from their distant homes to our port of embarkation in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

As soon as my wife and I were processed and aboard ship we checked the ship’s Daily Planner and were pleased to see that it already contained information for the time and location on the ship for Shabbat services. Our hope was that enough Jewish passengers would check the Daily Planner and be interested and organized enough to attend before the first seating for dinner.

Happily and much to our surprise, when my wife and I arrived at the large meeting room designated for the services, we were met by a roomful of Jewish people from all over the U.S. and from many countries around the world including Jews from Mexico, Argentina, U.K., South Africa and Israel.

It turned out that there were more attendees than there were prayer books (which were provided by the ship, along with challahs and wine for Kiddush). Everyone shared their prayer books. What made the service even more meaningful was that no denominational identity was required or requested. It was purely and simply, a pluralistic service of Jews coming together to celebrate Shabbat on the high seas.

The services were led by a very knowledgeable self-appointed female congregant accompanied by a more traditional congregant who sang the prayers in Hebrew using traditional melodies, joined by most of the congregants despite their respective religious backgrounds.

Later that evening we bumped into several of the more traditional members of the tribe, who indicated they were also trying to put together a Saturday morning minyon. This was a first for me, since it had been my experience on prior cruises that Jewish cruisers were more apt to attend Friday night services, and less interested in Shabbat morning services which competed with ship-board activities and with land excursions when in ports-of-call.

Nonetheless, I was more than happy to lend my support and promised to attend the Shabbat morning service. Unfortunately, when I arrived in the morning, we were still two congregants short of the 10 necessary to conduct a full community service. The prayer books used the previous night were nowhere in sight. Apparently, no one had thought to ask guest services to make the prayer books available for a morning prayer service.

I took it upon myself to see if I could recover the prayer books for the morning service. In my search for a member of the crew, I opened a door to another area of the ship. I never found a crew member or the prayer books, but I did find an individual Jew, decked in tallis and siddur sitting alone and praying. He had been unable to find the room where services were held the night before; and he was unaware of his co-religionists praying nearby.

Telling him we had an “almost minyon” in the other room I invited him to join the others to which he happily agreed. I never found the prayer books, but as he followed me into the room where the others were praying, I exclaimed, “I didn’t find the prayer books, but better yet, I found another Jew!”

If you wish to comment or respond you can reach me at melpearlman322@gmail.com. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner. Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!

Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966  to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs.  He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first Vice President and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.


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