I‘ve given a few different irreverent answers when people have asked why I’m undertaking this physically demanding (and not cheap) journey to climb Kilimanjaro. If you must know, there’s some truth in each of the replies. Yes, it’s a bucket list item; yes, I plan to do a headstand at some point along the way (hopefully at the top!) and yes, it IS much cheaper than buying a Porsche like other men my age buy when they have their mid-life crises. It’s true that I’ve used these replies to justify to myself why I’m doing it, but the fact is, I only thought of these answers AFTER I made the decision to take this trip. What made me DECIDE to take the trip in the first place was a single line on the brochure. Amid all the features of this particular excursion – and there were many – one stood out to me: “Spend Shabbos at 14,000 ft.”
I could not stop thinking of that line. Observing Shabbos with a bunch of Jewish guys I don’t know in an area so incredibly distant from what I’m used to – we’re talking an entirely remote part of an entirely remote part of the other side of the world here.
I am in the home stretch (literally) with the packing of my suitcases. I’ve never been one to stress about packing for trips, but since on this trip I won’t have the luxury of swinging by a Target along the way to pick up a forgotten item or two, I’m actually focusing on what (and how) I pack.
Traveling to Tanzania is a grueling affair. It involves more than one layover and more than one 8-hour flight. And that’s just to get to the point where I begin a several-day hike up the highest mountain in Africa. Needless to say, the mantra I’ve been following all week is PACK LIGHT!
So then you’re probably wondering why am I bringing a Costco-sized bottle of kosher grape juice with me?
I’ll tell you why…
One of the guys in our group sent the following message to the rest of us yesterday on WhatsApp:
I had a great chat today with the community leader in Arusha. His name is Yehuda.
I asked him if there was anything he needs that he can’t get in Tanzania.
He mentioned that he has only two English translated Artscroll Stone chumashim. He also needs a shechita knife and as much grape juice as we can bring.”
A few words of explanation. The “community” the “community leader in Arusha” leads is a Jewish community (yes, there is a community of Jews in Tanzania!). Chumashim are bound books featuring the Five Books of Moses (also known as: “The Torah” or “The Old Testament”. A common publisher of Chumashim is Artscroll; a “shechita knife” is used to do the ritual slaughter of kosher animals; and grape juice is used as a non-alcoholic alternative to wine when saying Hagafen, the holy prayer over the fruit of the vine.
Just like the rules of keeping kosher are stringent, so too are the rules for the tools used to prepare kosher food, especially meat. You don’t just go out and get a knife. Immediately, another guy in the group is looking for a knife. After a while we get a message that the guy has found two knives. They cost $800 (Canadian, but still…). Other guys are pledging to help pay for the knives. Still other guys are procuring Chumashim. We all do what we can do. I happen to have a Costco-sized bottle of grape juice which now I’m going to have to fit into my luggage.
It’s all connected. I wanted to experience an ironic Shabbos on a mountain where things are completely foreign on one hand, while still entirely familiar on the other. In so doing, I am given the opportunity to help another Jew fulfill a commandment given to yet another Jew while on a different mountain. That to me is the epitome of Judaism. Doing G-d’s work down here, not as a single solitary individual, but as a single communal people.