This blog post was contributed by Madison Jackson of KAHAL.
Spending time abroad can be nerve wracking for all students. They must grow comfortable traveling internationally by themselves for the first time, trying new food, using a different currency, and living in a place where English may not be the primary spoken language. For Jewish students traveling abroad, an entire additional list of concerns is added.
Program staff can play a role in helping Jewish students feel more prepared for their time abroad by simply paying attention to them—spending a little time learning about their needs and working to find the best resources for their Jewish students to use. To make that learning process a little easier, we collaborated with GoAbroad to give you the best resources for Jewish students traveling abroad. But first:
My personal experience as a Jewish student abroad
It was Tuesday, three days before I was to board a bus for my weekend trip to Vienna, Austria. I had just arrived in Warsaw, Poland five days before, started my summer internship on Monday, and was preoccupied with settling into my summer home in a new country. And then I remembered. Shabbat.
I had spent a whole year applying to Jewish internships in Europe. I had spent the last few months since I accepted an internship in Poland, excited about celebrating Shabbat, (the Jewish holiday and day of rest which happens every Friday night to Saturday night), in various Jewish communities in Europe. I had told countless people that after learning so much in my studies about contemporary Jewish life in Europe, I was looking forward to taking part in it firsthand. Yet, once in Poland, everything moved so quickly and all at once, I got caught up and forgot until a few days before my first weekend trip, that I already needed to make Shabbat dinner plans. I grew worried that I would spend a Shabbat in Europe, not actually experiencing Shabbat in Europe.
While I was lucky to end up with two Shabbat dinner options the Friday night in Vienna, that might not always be the case for Jewish students facing similar situations abroad. University faculty and program provider staff can help ease the minds of Jewish students travelling abroad, by being prepared to provide them with resources for a range of Jewish opportunities, specific to their unique needs.
Read on to learn the best resources to support the unique needs of Jewish students as they travel the world during study, volunteer, intern, or teach abroad.
General travel resources for Jewish students
To best support your students, it is a good idea to be aware of a few basic concerns Jewish students may have about living in another country. Depending on the time of year, Jewish holidays can often make students feel like they are spending more time out of the classroom than in the classroom. In addition to the task of finding a new place to celebrate the holidays, Jewish students might worry about missing classes and making up tests, in a completely different environment.
Program staff can accommodate these students’ needs and make sure they have plenty of time to complete assignments, by taking an advance look at the Jewish calendar and noting when the holidays fall. Hebcal displays both major and minor Jewish holidays for each year, and even allows you to customize, print and download your calendar of Jewish holidays. Not only is this resource useful for professionals, but it can help Jewish students studying abroad plan their schedules ahead as well.
Additionally, many Jewish students traveling abroad question how they will keep their dietary restrictions and wonder where to find Kosher food. Sites such as the Yeah That’s Kosher blog, provide suggestions on Kosher places to eat in countries all around the world. Students who keep Kosher may approach their staff ahead of the abroad program in order to make a food plan.
Beyond religious needs, Jewish students will look for ways to stay involved with Judaism and to meet other people. That’s why KAHAL is one of the best resources for Jewish students traveling abroad. Professionals and students can reach out to KAHAL Your Jewish Home Abroad. KAHAL connects Jewish students studying or traveling abroad with Jewish connections, resources and tools to engage with Judaism while exploring the world. Wherever students travel, KAHAL helps them find transformational Jewish experiences with local Jewish families, students, organizations, and community leaders in a super-personalized way.
Home to the largest still growing Jewish community in Europe, Berlin is filled with opportunities for Jewish students. During my time in Berlin I heard the President of the German Jewish Student Union (JSUD) speak on a panel. JSUD is a great resource for study abroad students looking to meet local Jews their own age and take part in a variety of activities ranging from advocacy to cultural gatherings. Similar Jewish Student Unions exist around the world, united under the umbrella of the World Union of Jewish Students.
Yet, that is only one organization—how about one place that compiles events from many organizations? The Jewish community in Berlin maintains their own website which includes a community Jewish event calendar for young people. With a careful eye on this calendar, Jewish students are sure to always find something to do!
5. Hong Kong—JCC Global
The first synagogue in Hong Kong, Ohel Leah, opened in 1902 and today is a complex which hosts the Jewish Community Centre (JCC), the center of Jewish life in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong JCC includes a Kosher supermarket with over 2,000 products, two synagogues, weekly Shabbat dinner, and a variety of programming for those of all ages. There are over 1,000 JCC’s worldwide which serve as a great entrance into discovering a new Jewish community. If your students spend time in Hong Kong, make sure they know about the deal not to miss: the Hong Kong JCC offers a special, reduced membership fee to overseas university students!
6. Prague—Moishe House
The Friday night I spent in Prague, I hoped to experience two sides of Jewish life in Prague. First, I attended services at the oldest synagogue in Europe, the Old New Synagogue, and then I got a feel of the Progressive Jewish scene at Shabbat dinner. KAHAL connected me to Moishe House Prague, where I spent the evening with ten locals in their 20’s, talking and eating. Moishe Houses provide a space for young adults to create their own meaningful Jewish communities, all around the world. You don’t need to live in one to be a part of one—students spending time abroad will find that Moishe House is a great way to get involved with local, young Jews through regularly planned, exciting programming.
7. Madrid—Find A Community World Union App
While Orthodox Judaism is certainly traditional to many Jewish communities in Europe, Progressive or Reform Judaism is increasingly becoming a trend in communities where it never before existed. For non-Orthodox Jewish students looking for a familiar, egalitarian atmosphere, The World Union of Progressive Judaism created an app called Find A Community, which students can download to their iPhone or Android phones. The app connects you with Reform, Progressive and Liberal Jewish communities worldwide, to arrange for home hospitality, holiday and Shabbat services.
One such community the app connects you to is the Reform Jewish Community of Madrid, the first Progressive community in the capital of Spain. The congregation has an American Rabbi who relocated to Spain from France—for students feeling homesick, this English speaking Rabbi and the warm, welcoming Spanish community can help students feel right at home.
Support your Jewish participants!
Fortunately, with some persistence, a lot of emails, and the warmth that seems to be a global trait of Jewish communities, I found a place to go for Shabbat dinner in Vienna during my first full week abroad.
After attending services at Stadttempel, the oldest, still standing and functioning synagogue in Vienna, a friend and I approached the Rabbi, and asked if he knew of a place we could go for Shabbat dinner. He directed us next door to the Alef-Alef Kosher Restaurant, and if that didn’t work out, offered us seats at his own home for Shabbat dinner.
Yet, many Jewish students don’t know where to start looking for the resources they want while abroad. To avoid the frenzied, sometimes chaotic last minute planning, there are many resources for Jewish students spending time abroad to use, and university and program staff can guide students in finding them. This short list of the best resources for Jewish students traveling abroad is only the beginning, but hopefully, will serve as a helpful tool-kit for assisting Jewish students exploring their options around the corner and around the world.