Rabbi Grossman's Reflections

Exploring the Greatness of Israel and Beyond


Not all those who wander are lost

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


Magellan (above) and the eponymous GPS (below)
My first GPS was called The Magellan. The name is a clever reference to the 16th century Portuguese explorer who navigated the globe and is credited as the first person to successfully circumnavigate the earth. My first GPS felt as wondrous to me as the very voyages of Ferdinand Magellan, and it guided me with the same legendary skill as the famous traveler himself. I recall my deep distress when I temporarily misplaced this original GPS, and remember ruminating on the utility of a GPS-type device that could guide me back to my GPS.

In ages past, people were especially enthralled with those rare individuals who dedicated themselves to travel. For most of human history, a journey was hard, expensive, and dangerous. The perils of peregrination were legendary in the ancient world; bandits, pirates, marauders, and wild animals were some of the many hazards faced by wily wanderers. Magellan himself was killed en route and died at the age of 41.

The classical trepidation about travel is captured in Tefillat HaDerech, the prayer we recite before a long trip:

May it be Your will...our God... that you allow us to reach our desired destination alive...and in peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every enemy and ambush along the way, and from all manner of danger…

Marco Polo

With all this fear, it is no wonder that explorers were so few and so venerated. They brought back knowledge from and of distant lands in a time when most of the territory beyond one's home was unknown and unknowable. Marco Polo, whose name has become a byword for voyage and discovery, introduced Europeans to the exotic wonders of the Orient, and opened the minds of the West to the wonders of the East.

The children's book "The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela" by is a great way to introduce your LS student to the Jewish explorer.

Often called the Jewish Marco Polo, Benjamin of Tudela wandered the world, including Western Asia, and wrote accounts of far-flung Jewish communities. Born in 1130, he actually predates Marco Polo by a hundred years. His book, The Travels of Benjamin, was well read and regarded in non-Jewish circles in the Middle Ages and led the way for worldly exploration.

Despite recent altercations aboard certain jetliners, travel is now almost always safe, mostly comfortable, and increasingly inexpensive. Last week, the Icelandic airline WOW announced flights from New York to Tel Aviv for $149.00. We are able to tour today in ways that Benjamin of Tudela could never have imagined. Ramaz takes advantage of the modern ease of travel to allow our students to see the world outside of New York. One of the hallmarks of a Ramaz education is the cosmopolitan sophistication of our students. In the spirit of Benjamin of Tudela, our many excursions help our students develop an understanding of different cities, countries, and cultures, surrounded by their friends and teachers.

7th Grade in Washington DC

Every grade in our Middle School was travelling last week: Our 5th graders visited the Liberty Science Museum in New Jersey, our 6th graders explored Philadelphia, and our 7th graders went to Washington DC. Last week, our US seniors left for the annual Ramaz visit to Poland and Israel, exploring both the tragic and triumphant elements of Jewish history.At the same time, our 8th graders were also on their class adventure in Israel.

8th graders in the Golan

This Shabbat we begin Sefer Bemidbar, the book of the Torah that records the wanderings of the Israelites as they trekked towards the Promised Land. Stymied by sin, that generation never made it to Israel. Indeed, for most of Jewish history, the idea of a visit to the Holy Land was a distant dream. How meaningful it is for our students to culminate their MS and US Ramaz education by making the pilgrimage that their ancestors could only have imagined in their hearts and their prayers.

In their journeys through Jerusalem, our students are bound at some point to drive along a small street in the neighborhood of Rehavia called Rehov Binyamin MiTudela -- Benjamin of Tudela Street. As they ride on the road that bears his name, I like to imagine the spirit of the man inspiring our children to always venture beyond their known world and explore all the greatness of God's earth.

Posted by webmaster on Monday May 22 at 06:41PM
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