Not home for the holiday

A few weeks ago, we asked j. readers if they had ever had a profound or unexpected Jewish holiday experience while away from home on a business trip or vacation.

We got some great stories, the first batch of which we present here.

However, we are still looking for more.

So, did anything memorable ever happen to you while away from home during a Jewish holiday? Was there an unexpected invitation to a seder or a break fast that turned into something wonderful? Were new friends made? Do you have a memory about worshipping at an unfamiliar synagogue? Did impromptu plans lead to something you’ve never forgotten?

Please email your story (200 words maximum) and a photo of yourself (and anyone else involved in your tale) to Andy Altman-Ohr at [email protected] or mail it to j., 225 Bush St., Suite 1480, San Francisco, CA 94104.

Mom’s return trip to Russia leads to a ‘Great’ seder

For spring break this year, I was fortunate enough to travel with my family to St. Petersburg, Russia. My brother, Samuel, my father, Bobby, and I had never been to Russia — and my mother, Svetlana, hadn’t been back since she left the Soviet Union in 1991. There we were, my family and I in Russia during Passover, with no Jewish family or friends to celebrate with.

My mother dragged us onto the Metro and then made us walk what seemed like forever to get to St. Petersburg’s Great Synagogue, a beautiful temple built more than 100 years ago.

When we arrived for the service, we found they had sold out of tickets to the seder dinner. But the staff at the temple wouldn’t let us leave, squeezing chairs up against already full tables for my whole family.

I even got to read a passage in Hebrew out loud from the Hagaddah. I know how to read Russian, but because I was reading a Russian transliteration of Hebrew, I admit I still don’t know what the meaning of my particular section was!

Since I am Jewish, I know I have family all over the world that I can expect to always be welcoming — and I shall do the same in return. This is one bond between all Jewish people that can never be broken.

Martin Kaff of San Francisco just completed the fourth grade at Lycee Francais La Perouse in San Francisco and is studying for his bar mitzvah in three years.

Buddhist retreat offers a profound sound of silence

My husband and I were attending a 10-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat at a conference center in Yucca Valley. It was Passover, and for the first time in many years, we were not going to be at a seder.

I felt sad about that, but I also was glad to be at the retreat, which was in a beautiful desert setting.

Each retreat attendee had a job to do as part of his or her service to the retreat community. My husband, Ken Homer, had the job of assisting with food preparation. Because many of the teachers leading the retreat were Jewish, a seder with many of the traditional foods was being prepared — with my husband’s assistance.

Since this was a silent retreat, my husband and I had agreed not to communicate with each other at all — in order to allow one another to deeply immerse in the process of meditation and inward focus.

So it was with a bit of annoyance I noticed my husband walking to-ward me with a purposeful air at dinner. He placed in front of me a small plate of charoset and matzah, with “Happy Pesach” written on a napkin.

A deep feeling of love, nostalgia and connection overwhelmed me.

Diane Fischler lives in San Rafael.

Sometimes the questions are easier in a foreign land

Our road to Passover this year really began on Dec. 5, 2000 — the day our daughter Tasha was born.

Five years later, through a journey left for another story, we found ourselves living in Greer, S.C., for the warmer climate. Our first December in South Carolina, Tasha got sick. She wound up in the hospital with viral pneumonia, and was diagnosed as a severe asthmatic. Her doctors all agreed that we should move to an even warmer climate, which led us to our new home in Pereira, Colombia, where I am teaching and writing novels.

This Passover, for the first time I can remember, our family of four didn’t invite any guests to our seder; perhaps because I was recovering from a hernia operation.

In any regard, I think Tasha, now 7, felt less intimidated without any guests, because this year was the first time she asked two unprovoked, relevant questions at our seder.

I guess we needed the time alone, just the four of us, in a foreign land.

Andy Rose used to live in San Mateo, where he was raised and where he met his wife, Vicky, at a College of San Mateo tennis class.

This year in Japan, next year in …

This past Rosh Hashanah, I found myself standing in front of a small sign that read “Kansai Jewish Community Center of Japan.” It felt as though I had crossed out of Japanese territory into some kind of wandering Jewish travelers’ zone.

The rabbi’s family immediately took me under its wings and filled me with delicious, kosher, Mediterranean food.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Strausberg graduated from U.C. Berkeley, lived in the African bush for half a year, became religious and donned a black hat, met his gorgeous French wife, had six children, moved to Israel and has now plopped them in the middle of Japan. The kids speak a mixture of French, English and Hebrew with bits of Japanese, Arabic and Yiddish thrown in for a kick.

The people that drifted through the synagogue during the High Holy Days were also quite a colorful bunch: Israelis married to Japanese folks, random travelers, businesspeople and English teachers like me!

Despite the various reasons for finding ourselves in the Land of the Rising Sun, there was one trait that we all had in common: the chronic wandering Jew syndrome. This year in Japan, next year in … ?

Liat Blum is from San Anselmo; she is currently living and working as a language teacher in Fukuoka-ken, Japan.