Unit: Religious Travel
One in a series of lithographs by Carl Werner, 1865.
Travel has been implicated in Jewish religious life since ancient times. Pilgrimage festivals that brought Israelites to the Temple in Ancient Jerusalem to make sacrificial offering were high points of communal worship. Following the destruction of the Second Temple, visiting Jerusalem to pray or to spend one’s final years was the aspiration of generations of pious Jews. In the diaspora, other sites regarded as sacred—the graves of Hasidic rebeyim or of zaddikim among Moroccan Jews—have become destinations of devotional travel.
A considerable number of modern Jewish travel practices incorporate religious practice. For example, travel to sites where the Holocaust took place frequently includes a group memorial service, lighting candles, or reciting Kaddish at cemeteries and leaving written petitions (kvitlekh) at the gravesite. Tourist practices in Israel can incorporate prayer at the Western Wall and other shrines, text study, life cycle and holiday celebrations (for example, Passover at resorts), and the purchase of locally crafted ritual objects.
Jewish travel practices involve a variety of media, both to document past trips and to plan future ones. Jewish travel writing has a long history, ranging from Benjamin of Tudela, who chronicled his visits to Jewish communities throughout Europe and the Middle East in the 12th century, to an array of contemporary authors. With the advent of modern tourist culture in the 19th century, a plethora of materials—maps, itineraries, advertisements, guidebooks, promotional films and videos, websites—has been created for the would-be Jewish traveler. While on their journeys, Jewish travelers have kept diaries, made photographs and films of their visits, or compiled scrapbooks of memorabilia upon their return home; they collect postcards and purchase souvenirs, some mass produced especially for the Jewish tourist. Travel iconography (airplanes, hot air balloons, ships) also figures prominently on Jewish holiday greeting postcards.
Over the course of the past century a variety of media have been implemented to simulate the travel experience—such as stereopticon sets facilitating armchair travel to the 'Holy Land' and Hasidic board games in Yiddish that enable players to traverse the Ashkenazic Haredi diaspora. Conversely, media are incorporated into Jewish tourist sites, rendering engagement with them a part of the tourist experience itself—their stagecraft and dramaturgy, signage, sound and light shows, orientation films, their websites, webcams, and computer databases, the scripted itineraries within the site and guided tours (self-guided, audioguided, live guides), historic reenactments, scale models, installations, exhibitions of artifacts, and museums, as well as the CD-roms, videos, slides, tapes, posters, books, clothing imprinted with images and text, and other objects that are often for sale.
At the core of these phenomena there is an inherent tension between immediacy, mediation, and remediations; between the imminence of travel (“actually being there”) and the memory of travel (“having been there”), and between the various ways that media intensifies or dissipates the feeling of being in the place, whether physically, imaginatively, or virtually. Memorial books dedicated to destroyed Jewish communities in Europe become lieux de mémoires in their own right, are increasingly being digitized and circulated on the Internet, used as preparation for travel, expanded on the basis of travel, and integrated with genealogical and memorial projects.
Several key questions emerge for the study of media and Jewish travel:
- What sites are/have been sites of Jewish travel, to what ends, and for particular communities?
- How is the travel experience understood vis-à-vis the religious experience. As a religious obligation in its own right? As a way to enhance and intensify religious practices such as life cycle rituals? As an invented tradition? As civil religion? As the sacralizing of secular practice?
- How are works of media imbricated in Jewish travel? In particular, how do these works of media help to define and even produce the travel experience as a religious experience?
- What is the impact on the religious travel experience of media that attenuate space, “read” space, simulate space, create virtual spaces?
Key geographic sites
Jewish travel sites range the world, including not only the Holy Land/Israel but also the international Jewish diaspora, and yet they are selective destinations. The study of media and Jewish travel can be organized around one or more of the following:
- Jerusalem/Holy Land/Palestine/Israel: In addition to sites of Jewish religious interest, the archeology of ancient Israel, and modern Israeli life, this is a prime destination for Christian (especially Protestant) travel, in which Jews and Arabs figure as travel facilitators and tourist attractions in their own right.
- Eastern Europe: In addition to visits (by many more non-Jews than Jews) to sites where the Holocaust took place, Jews increasingly visit places where Jews now live as well as former family hometowns and archives to do genealogical research. These tours often take on a ceremonial or ritual character, may be understood as religious obligation to remember the Holocaust and honor those who died, and may be expected to be personally transformative, for example, the March of the Living.
- Jewish cemeteries, including graves of rebeyim (Hasidic religious leaders) in Eastern Europe and graves of zaddikim (saints) among Morrocan Jews, are destinations of religious pilgrims, genealogists, and Jewish heritage tourists.
- Synagogues, especially buildings of architectural interest in major cities, are destinations for Jewish tourists, often for reasons other than worship, though visits to them may have religious significance (feeling of moral obligation, memorialization and commemoration as sacred duties, engagement of religion and its significance through practices other than religious observance). In addition to active synagogues, tourists visit restored buildings and seek out abandoned synagogues (e.g., on the Lower East Side and throughout Poland).
- Jewish neighborhoods in major cities—New York’s Lower East Side, Marais in Paris, East End of London, Old Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam—are increasingly destinations that entail tourist productions: organized walking tours, Jewish heritage maps and guidebooks, local Jewish museums, often former synagogues, Jewish restaurants, synagogues, cemeteries, bookshops, interpretive centers, historic houses (Anne Frank’s House), etc.