Antarctic Wonderland

This year we missed what turned out to be a terrible Wisconsin winter to spend 80 days—January to March—aboard the MS Prinsendam. Beginning and ending in Fort Lauderdale, this was to be the final Grand Voyage of the Prinsendam and the grandest of voyages it was! We sailed through the Panama Canal, visited a number of ports along both coasts of South America, went 900 miles up the latte-colored Amazon River and dropped anchor at the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia. From Ushuaia we headed south past treacherous Cape Horn and then, finding calmer waters, spent an entire week in the bays and inlets of the Antarctic Peninsula. On our final day within the boundaries of the seventh continent we actually set foot upon Antarctic land in the pristine village of Grytviken, where we walked among Emperor penguins and elephant seals, yielding to them the right-of-way at all times, and laid a stone upon the grave of heroic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Antarctica was unexpectedly jaw-droppingly out-of-this-worldly beautiful.


When we returned to the ship at the end of our last day in Antarctica I ran across Henri and Marlyn, regular attendees at our shipboard Sabbath gatherings and active members of their home Temple in Paris. I mentioned to them that I was planning to speak about the Jewish view of heaven the following Friday night.

“Well then, Rabbi,” Henri quipped with a twinkle in his eye, “I’m not sure you’ll see us at services this time. After this splendid week in Antarctica, we’ve already been to heaven!”

Shark Encounter

Friday, April 13, 2018

What do you do when you're driving along in one of our National Parks and you see a line of cars parked along the side of the road? You stop your car to see what they're looking at, right?

So today I'm walking on a path along the shore in Fakarava (an atoll about 145 miles NE of Tahiti) and I see a group of people standing near the water. Right in front of them an occasional dorsal fin surfaces, then disappears into the shallow water. I immediately say to myself, "dolphins," but as I draw nearer the people are whispering, "sharks."

Sure enough, a local man has lured a family of 5 reef sharks toward the shore, feeding them cut-up bits of some nameless (to me at least) white fish. He is standing knee deep in the water and petting the sharks as they feed and thrash about him. "They won't bite," he tells me in French and they are clearly not terribly hungry as, by now at least, he has to coax them to eat. I wade in next to him and ask, "Moi aussie?" indicating my desire to pet them. He says, "Sure," in English.


What a thrill. This is evidently not the first time he has done this so I ask him, in French, "For the tourists?" But he indicates, "No." I am aware that only an occasional cruise ship comes to these shores so I believe him, and besides, he doesn't ask for money for this marvelous display. He does it for himself--a sort of shark whisperer. 

The big one he has named, Marcello, but the four smaller ones are nameless. Marcello is about a foot wide at the mouth and about 8 feet long. His color is greenish-brown. His back feels like medium sandpaper but the fins are smooth.

I petted one of the smaller ones as well before this lovely group of satiated sharks drifted away.


Who Knew?

Like hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers each year, we spent the better part of one day in Aruba back in April 2014 while our ship was in port. We had just been to Curacao and had visited its famous sand-floor synagogue, so we jumped to the (false) conclusion that Aruba, a tiny, essentially sun-sand-and-surf destination with a population of only 100,000, wouldn't be home to much of a Jewish community, let alone a synagogue. But this past autumn, when we were planning our winter sojourn, how wonderfully amazed we were to discover that not only did Aruba have a synagogue, but a full-time resident Rabbi as well! That surprising discovery sealed the deal for us; this is where we'd "winter" and, lo and behold, this is where we are!

Aruba has an extensive Jewish history, dating from the 18th century. In 1962 the community got together to build a fine, modern Temple near downtown Oranjestad.  The Rabbi is Argentinian Daniel Kripper and as we've been happy to discover, he's quite a scholar. The good Rabbi and his wife, Flora, have hosted us for Shabbat dinner and taken us to their favorite beach on more than one occasion. Synagogue members who live nearby have graciously driven us to services each and every Friday night. The services have been delightful with spirited singing that resounds off the sanctuary walls. The volunteer Hazzan is a police inspector with a booming voice and a hug-friendly personality. The Temple president, former Director of the Aruba National Park Service, even took us around the entire island on tour.

We'll be back home for a brief fortnight (two weeks) and then it's another cruise aboard the MS. Maasdam for Passover in the South Pacific. We'll be at sea for my 70th birthday so I'm sure the Indonesian wait staff will sing happy birthday to me in their native tongue. Then it's back home for the start of yet another senior softball season.  Life is Good.


Bon Dia from Downtown Oranjestad, Aruba

Way Out in Left Field

So my senior softball teammate, Brian, tells me that a friend of his is coming to softball practice today. The friend lives nearby and wants to check us out, see how we play, see if he fits in, see if he might be interested/able to join us.

The guy shows up and introduces himself as Paul.  It's clear he has "baseball chops"--plays well at first base and can hit the ball well.

After his turn at bat, he comes out and stands near me.  He says, "I hear you're a Rabbi."  I say, "Yes, but how did you know?"  He says, "Brian told me.  I'm a Member of the Tribe as well."

I say, "What's your last name?"  He says, "Stiegler."  I say, "I knew a Stiegler family in Minnesota."  He says, "I grew up in Minnesota."

I say, "Ione (pronounced, i-own)."  He says something rude, the equivalent of, "You're putting me on."  So I say, again, "Ione."  He says the same thing. Thinking that he might be thinking I'm saying something in a foreign language (after all, Ione is a rare first name), I say, "No.  Ione Stiegler is the name of a woman who lived near us in Minneapolis."

He says, "Ione Stiegler is my mother."

Ione is in her 90's now and was a good friend of my late mother, Ann.  We lived at 1611 Upton Avenue North.  They lived at 1607, right next door!

I gave him a big hug.  Turns out he lives in Middleton, almost "right next door" to us now!


Crossing the Atlantic 22 April 2017

Aloha Everyone,

We just finished our last study session aboard the MS Amsterdam as we sail from Portugal's Madeira Islands toward Fort Lauderdale at the conclusion of our fabulous 111-day Grand World Voyage.  Today's session was entitled, "16 Sabbaths at Sea:  Questions and Answers."  At the final Friday night service I told everyone to bring a pen and paper to this session so we could play a version of one of their favorite games, trivia, very popular aboard cruise ships (along with bridge).  So, at this morning's class I asked a series of short-answer questions based on my 12 and Patti's 3 Friday night presentations, which included sermons, lectures, discussions and also, a delightful mid-Passover children's story about how the dolphins helped our ancestors cross the Red Sea (a personal elaboration on Rabbi Marc Gellman's original).  We had a good turnout for the story that particular Sabbath as it came on the heels of our joyful seder, attended by 162 standing-room-only passengers (and a few crew members as well), so I figured everyone would remember the story and, sure enough, they all answered that question correctly.

In this final study session today we reviewed each of the 15 presentations in order, gave handouts to those who boarded mid-voyage or missed a service or two, and tied up a couple of loose ends.  Toward the end of today's class I said, "There are only two copies of my book left in the gift shop and I really don't have room in my suitcase to take them home. They'd make wonderful gifts for your children and grandchildren and I will personally inscribe each copy."  And guess what?!  Right after class they sold out and one person who didn't get to the gift shop on time promised they would order it online!

I went around the ship telling everyone that "the book has a little bit of sex and some violence in it, so they've placed it in the gift shop next to the liquor and the cigarettes," which is true. That line seems to always get a laugh.

This voyage has been a real successful experience for us and everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, have said they will give us great reviews and would we want to come back next year?  All we have said is that we like next year's Grand World Voyage itinerary (sold out even before we concluded this year's) very much so we'll see what the future might bring.  It's been good to get back in the Rabbi saddle once again but as the voyage progressed the demands on our time increased so it reminded me of why I was so eager to retire as early as possible!

We will be back home in four days and hope to see you on land!


RD and Company



An Incredible New Year's Greeting

Alas and alack, just as we were beginning to settle in for a cold Upper Midwest winter, our agent unexpectedly greeted us with a late December call. "We are offering you a World Cruise" she said, "and we need an answer soonest."  Can you imagine our excitement? It's the dream of a lifetime!

Since that moment it's been a whirlwind of visa applications, clothes pressing, suitcase packing, bill paying, and making all kinds of other arrangements for--whenever I write this I can't believe it's coming true--all being well, a 111-day 'round the world voyage!

We'll be north of the Equator the entire time although the ship will virtually touch that imaginary line when we depart Singapore about midway through the voyage. We'll be pulling into ports we've never seen and a few we've already visited, but we know each stop will bring new perspectives and maybe a new adventure or two.

Please do stay tuned for the next report.


Ni Sa Bula (a big hello) from Fiji.  My wife, Patti, and I are in the last month of our fabulous 77-day voyage aboard the luxurious Seabourn Odyssey, headed toward American Samoa.

Here are some recent developments relating to matters discussed in the book:

The first is on "The Buzz" page of this website.  Please take a look at the article datelined, "Haaretz Daily Newspaper: Jerusalem."

The second is about the war in Syria.  Because of the conflict, Turkey and some Balkan countries have decided to forego trucking their goods, destined for Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, overland through Syria.  Instead, they have begun shipping the goods by sea to Haifa, trucking them through Israel's Jezreel and Bet Shean Valleys, and crossing the Jordan River just south of "Kibbutz Haziv" described in the book. The goods then make their way overland through Jordan to their destinations.  This is another way Israel is building bridges, both literally and figuratively, to various Arab States in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia.

I learned about the third development when a couple from Auckland, New Zealand, boarded our ship a few days ago.  They immediately bought the book (which I'm pleased to report sold out of the ship's boutique giftshop shortly thereafter) and told us that the "real world" character upon whom (part of) the character of Banjo Braham is based, is, indeed, confined to Israel, most likely for the rest of his life.  However, his New Zealand-based parents, friends of this Auckland couple, are given an annual two-month vacation to visit him, courtesy of the Israeli government.

The fourth and final development I hope will make you smile if you haven't already.  I was pleased to have been invited to present the book to our former congregation in Auckland.  We were only in port for a few hours that day and the only convenient time for the gathering was from 4-5 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. As usual, I read the beginning of chapter 21 as part of the presentation, the bit about "Tipene Solomon."  Because of his work commitments, the real Tipene could not be present.  However, his phone that night and the following day must have rung off the hook as many of those who did attend, evidently, called in to report to him. Two days later I received an email from him, ordering the book.  I was able to ship it to him from the tip of the South Island just before we set sail for Australia.

Now you know the rest of the story!

Vinaka Vaka Levu (thanks very much) for checking in!



Lo and behold, I've begun a book tour!  If you'd like to attend any of these events, please contact me and I can give you directions.  Thanks, RD.

Here's the schedule:

October 3, 2015:  Middleton Library, Wisconsin

November 1, 2015: Temple Beth El, Madison

November 20, 2015: Aspen Jewish Congregation, Aspen, Colorado

January 27, 2016:  Auckland, New Zealand

January 30, 2016: Wellington, New Zealand

February 9, 2016:  Melbourne, Australia

February 12, 13, 2016:  Sydney, Australia

March 11, 2016:  Honolulu, Hawaii

April 11, 2016:  L'chayim Group, Madison, Wisconsin

October 18, 2018: Oseh Shalom Book Club, Bluffton, South Carolina

October 22, 2018: Capitol Lakes Residence, Madison, Wisconsin


October Post by our dear friend, Marie Galletta, in Adelaide, South Australia

Rabbi David Kopstein’s Book

Orders are now being taken for copies of Rabbi David Kopstein’s book entitled “The Rabbi Who Knew Too Much” which is to be published in early November in the USA. I can’t wait!

So Hurry, Hurry, Hurry! and put your orders in now! Each book will be personally inscribed by the author and we are negotiating a special price for a bulk shipping.

Rabbi David’s book is based on actual events and touches upon the issues of ethnicity vs. patriotism, socialism vs. capitalism, the demise of the kibbutz, our relationship with Israel, whether “to keep silent when we should have spoken out,” and other interesting topics.

Beaver’s Pond Press warn that most folks who read a rabbi's book expect to learn something they don't presently know. But be careful with this one! You may wind up like The Rabbi Who Knew Too Much.

On the back cover of the book are comments by Barry Morrow (Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Rain Man). “Actually, you can judge a book by its cover, particularly one with a title as whimsical and intriguing as The Rabbi Who Knew Too Much. While you’re at it, take a look inside. Jonathan Kadison has a remarkable tale to tell.”

{Marie is editor of the monthly Beit Shalom Magazine which goes to about 250 households in Adelaide}