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We are presently traveling in India. It is really amazing, so unfamiliar yet so spectacular. People warned us about the poverty, the dirt and the chaos. I guess that because we are from Africa, and having travelled so much including Africa, we had seen poverty and filth. What makes India so intense and interesting is the different religions living side by side - each with millions of followers adhering to norms of dress, prayer, diet, customs and community. Yet each religious group is sure they have the correct version of "the right god".
When we travel we often hide our Jewishness and Israel connection for safety reasons. The guys will wear caps not kippot and we don't discuss Israel openly. In India we feel totally comfortable discussing Judaism with a guide or explaining to hotel staff why we need help with opening our door on Shabbat. Our driver did not find it unusual that we needed 2 dozen eggs that we were going to cook in our hotel room for Pesach food. Everyone here has a holy day and a festival with a bewildering set of customs and rituals.
We recently went to a religious Hindu town called Pushkar. The people there were very intense and pressure tourists to participate in rituals that include making flower offerings in the lake while saying prayers to Shiva, their god. A particularly feisty man was on Gavin's case to participate. The more Gavin refused the more intense the guy's response was. He really believed Gavin was losing an opportunity.
We spent Pesach with Chabad in Pushkar. A radical Hindu town where eggs, meat and alcohol are banned, but a favorite stop for Israeli travelers. We have enjoyed Chabad hospitality in many countries and small towns. We are always blown away by the personal sacrifice that these families make to live in the middle of nowhere, no Jewish education for their kids, sending kids away for school, challenges of getting kosher food etc. I recently walked past Chabad on a main road in Tel Aviv and the Rabbi was dressed in skates and a top hat and dancing around in the boiling sun just to be noticed so he could get guys to put on tefillin.
Our family loves traveling – the more culturally different, authentic and intrepid, the better! When you travel you open your eyes and broaden your horizons, you also see the world is filled with billions of different people each with hopes, dreams and aspirations. Each person with their own world view reflected by their reality around them. Yet walking in a crazy market in India with a mix of people and cacophony of religious views I wonder if this can be a model of peaceful co-existence. Each can see their own view as rights but just get on with living each day while treating their neighbor with respect.