New travel book reclaims tradition

Ben Frank’s new travel book might seem unorthodox, but he says he’s just reclaiming tradition.
The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond veers from the travel-guide path that he followed in his previous books.

“It’s the rare Jewish travel book that includes a little bit of memoir, a little bit of observation, a little bit of discovery of Jewish communities, and I wanted to do it in the tradition of Jewish travel books,” said Frank.

In the 12th century, as Rabbi Marvin Tokayer notes in the volume’s foreword, Benjamin of Tudela crisscrossed three continents and catalogued the lives of Jewish communities. And in 1971, Ida Cowen, whom Frank leans on for this book, published her Jews in Remote Corners of the World. The Scattered Tribe, published last month, aims to cover some of the same ground.

“I think we got away from that style a little bit,” said Frank.

Frank, 77, is a former newspaper reporter and, as a travel writer, has authored several books about Jewish-themed travelling: A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine and A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America. In fact, he said, the only two countries in Europe that he hasn’t yet seen are Albania and the former Yugoslavia.

With The Scattered Tribe, though, he has upped the exoticism quotient and tried to help travellers differently.

“A lot of travellers and tourists go places and don’t do any research ahead of time,” Frank said from his home in Florida. “They should know the history of the Jewish community that I have in there and what kind of community it is today. And there are also a lot of non-Jewish facts there.”

Far-flung Jewish communities often attract more than their fair share of oddballs who have led unusual lives, and Frank includes their stories as windows onto the communities.

While the 301-page book concentrates on unusual locales, as the subtitle makes clear, the book begins in Russia, which his ancestors called home and which remains meaningful to him – and ends in Israel, where he finds some of his previous interview subjects who took the plunge and moved to Israel.

But he also thought it appropriate to end in Israel, after beginning with his own Diaspora roots in Russia and traipsing to remote Jewish destinations.

“Now [since the creation of the state of Israel], we have a voluntary Diaspora…but Israel is still the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Or, in the words of Mrs. Joseph Sebbag of Tahiti, after being asked how she likes living in the paradise that Westerners know as Tahiti, “paradise is only in Jerusalem.”
(Tags: Travel)

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