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Touring Alaska: Shabbat in the Inside Passage

Touring Alaska: Shabbat in the Inside Passage

(Photos: Faygie Levy Holt)
(Photos: Faygie Levy Holt)

My husband loves going on cruises. Me, not so much. But there was one destination we both agreed we had to see from the deck of a ship: Alaska’s Inside Passage. While I looked forward to the majestic scenery, I wasn’t exactly excited by the frozen kosher meals I had arranged for us to dine on during our Alaskan adventure. And if the meals we received the first night onI was more than a little excited! board our cruise were any indication, it was going to be a long trip with us feasting on nothing but peanut-butter sandwiches, fresh fruit and veggies.

Thankfully, G‑d had another plan.

The next morning, as I was standing near a bank of elevators, someone came over to me, and asked if my husband and I were the other “kosher” couple. I answered that yes, we keep kosher.

“We’ve been looking for you!” he said, explaining that there were five other couples on the cruise ship who were Shabbat- and kosher-observant, and they were eating their meals together. Not only that, but a tour group from Israel was also on board. The group, which numbered about 30 or 40 people, had arranged for daily minyans and kosher meals. We were invited to join them for breakfast and dinner every day—meals that included freshly baked bread, salmon and eggs.

Needless to say, I was more than a little excited to relay this information to my husband. Goodbye, peanut butter! Hello scrambled eggs, roasted veggies and toast with butter!

Still, the food didn’t compare to the beauty that we enjoyed during our one Shabbat at sea. Just after lighting Shabbat candles (though we could not light an actual candle at sea), my husband and I went down to join the Friday-night prayers. I ended up standing by the door to a card room that the tour group had transformed into a makeshift synagogue.

Throughout Minchah and Kabbalat Shabbat, the door to the room remained open, drawing some curious glances from cruise-goers on their way to dinner or a show. A few people peeked in and smiled. One woman broke off from her group and asked if she could join us for services. I didn’t hesitate to welcome her and share my siddur.

A few minutes later, a man came in with his children and asked if he could pray with us. His two daughters sat behind me, while he and his son joined the men. An extra siddur was somehow found for father and son.

Then there was the older gentleman. Well-dressed and obviously on his way somewhere, he was drawn to the doorway by the Jewish tunes and Hebrew words.

He stood quietly, sadness in his eyes as he listened to the prayers. I asked him if he wanted to join us. He shook his head. “It’s been many, many years since I’ve been inside a synagogue.”

I assured him it would be fine if he came inside the room, but he turned and left. The look in his eyes said it all: His Jewish soul had called out and, for those few minutes, he had answered it.

It wasn’t just the praying that turned into a welcoming gathering for Jews on board. As our little group settled down for Friday-night dinner at our usual table—where, to my delight, loaves of fresh-baked challah were waiting for us—I happened to glance around the room. Sitting right behind us, at the very nextThe door to the room remained open, drawing some curious glances table, was the father who had brought his children to our services. The rest of his family was there, too.

After a little chit-chat and the recitation of Kiddush by one of the men in our group, the mother at the other table said: “I didn’t even think of getting challah for Shabbat.”

I reached into the basket on our table, pulled out several challah rolls and passed them to the other family. They were unbelievably happy to have this little taste of Shabbat on vacation.

Needless to say, what was supposed to be a cruise full of packaged meals and solo praying became one of the most moving, inspiring and amazing Shabbat experiences of my life.

Editor’s Note: If you will be traveling on a cruise over Shabbat, consult a competent rabbinic authority. Also see: May I Go on a Cruise on Shabbat?

Faygie Holt is an award-winning journalist and regular contributor to and other media outlets. She is also the author of “The New Girl” and “Trouble Ahead,” the first two novels in her Achdus Club book series for girls. Learn more at her website.
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Adonai's Anointed Pittsburgh September 20, 2016

Nice to know this info. ALASKA is THE ONLY CRUISE I plan to ever take. Tx for the pix. Reply

David Levine Hobe Sound, FL via September 16, 2016

Cruise Shabbat Services Most cruise lines have Shabbat services and they're great opportunities to meet Jews from places the world over because no matter what their level of observance at home they seem to gravitate to Shabbat services while traveling, especially on cruise line services. It's wonderful to meet Jews from Europe and get the latest perspective from them and from places around the USA. I recall seeing one man at a ship event from Texas. He was a big man with an accent not completely Texan but close. Imagine the shock when I saw him again at Shabbat services and he said that he was originally from Brooklyn, not far from my wife's old neighborhood. What was especially encouraging was that so many from around the world have high praise for Chabad and its success in bringing Jews home. Reply

Faygie September 15, 2016

Thanks Fran! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Fran. I'm glad you enjoyed the article! It truly was a wonderful experience. Reply

Faygie Levy-Holt September 15, 2016

Thanks Judith L! It is great that the staff is so accomodating and helpful for Shabbat. And I agree, it definitely reminds you that we are part of one small Jewish family. Reply

Fran P. September 15, 2016

Kosher Cruise Thank you so much for your wonderful article. I went right along with you. Chabad in Alaska? Wonderful. Reply

Judith Levitsky Highlands Ranch September 14, 2016

We've been to Alaska on the Oosterdam and several other ships. Every cruise has Friday night and shabbat services (it's not uncommon that my kids or I would run them). And they always put out wine and challah. Isn't it great? You feel like you to belong to a small and close knit family. I always look forward to shabbat on a cruise! Reply

Faygie September 13, 2016

Thanks Judith The Baltics, wow! Must have been amazing. Thanks for reading my article. Reply

Faygie September 13, 2016

Thanks Dina Leah Hi Dina Leah,

Thanks for reading the story and I'm glad your friend got to spend Shabbat in Anchorage. I was lucky enough to visit both the Chabad House and the Jewish Museum during my trip, though not on Shabbat. I agree they are both great for Jewish visitors and residents of Alaska. I've written several articles about the museum and you can find them by using the search engine above and typing in the "Alaska Jewish Museum". Reply


We went to Alaska and the Baltics on a Kosherica tour. Check it out Reply

Dina Leah Maine September 12, 2016

My friend on another cruise to Alaska had a different but wonderful experience My friend & husband celebrated their 50th anniversary on a cruise to Alaska. They spend Shabbat at Chabad in Anchorage where they not only enjoyed services and Shabbat meal, but next door is a museum of the Jewish history in Alaska which goes back to the 1800s. There are some wonderful exhibits.
Check Chabad for their house in Anchorage, or Google the museum. She said it was a wonderful experience. They met several people whose families have been in Alaska for decades or longer. Currently the mayor of Anchorage is Jewish as well as the first mayor of Anchorage was Jewish.
So, if your cruise leads you to spend Shabbat or any time in Anchorage, check out Chabad and their Jewish museum. It's a not to be missed experience. Reply

Faygie September 12, 2016

Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Reply

S U.K. September 12, 2016

Beautiful I was really earmarked to read this experience, it shows that HaShem always looks out for His faithful ones. How lovely so many guests joined in and bringing along children.

Thank you, for the superb photographs.

May HaShem continue to bless your journeys with Kosher experiences. Reply

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