Last week in Orlando was the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual meeting, a conference that is the largest American Allergy meeting and one that I have attended pretty regularly since beginning allergy training. Now, we could regale you with the latest in food allergy, asthma and biological immune modifying therapies, but.. we won’t. What I do want to touch on is the really nice Shabbat we spent. For the last 30+ years, there has been a group that has gotten together at every American Allergy meeting, called Allergists for Israel. The group was started by a Colorado allergist named William Silvers, and was originally a small group of people who wanted to raise money to improve the training opportunities for doctors in Israel who wish to become allergists. It has grown considerably and at every meeting we have a large continuing medical education event on the Sunday (complete with a Kosher meal) and an attendance of over 200 people. However, Shabbat is really special. Every Friday evening at the meeting, over 150 people get together to share in a “Kiddush”; have some wine, some hors d’oeuvres, to chat and to mingle. Those who wish, join a group for evening services as the event starts, and those who keep Shabbat strictly stay after the Kiddush for a Shabbat dinner. We have tefilot (prayer services) on Saturday morning and evening as well. The executive administrator of AFI, Beth Goldfarb and her husband Richard, are incredible at organizing every aspect of these programs. What is very cool is that while we have been going to these events for many years, the group has continued to grow and evolve. At this year’s Shabbat meal, we sat with Mark and Tali Braunstein, Baruch Jacobovitz and Meir Saadya and his wife Tehila. What do these people all have in common? They are friends of Monty’s! Meir was his lab partner in first year University, Baruch and Monty have been friends since Camp Moshava, and the Braunsteins were in Buffalo at the same time as Daniella and Monty. So AFI is attracting a whole new cadre of young allergists with connections to members of our family!
On Monday we left Orlando bright and early and flew into Miami. The cruise line has busses at the airport to facilitate the transfer to the port. We arrived at the port at around 12, just as check in was starting. The cruise experience started immediately…we were confronted with a sea of people, all milling around, pushing forward to get to the precious check in counter and then get on board. In fact, it was pretty orderly, but the lines were long and the it took over an hour to get from the end of the line to the check in. The lines behind us did not look like there had been a dent made in it; according to the crew there are 2500 guests and over 1000 crew on the boat. This makes it a medium sized cruise ship; some of the new ones hold 4-5000 people. It’s really like a small city; restaurants, entertainment, gyms, pool, sauna, spa, library, casino, even a chapel (presumably for those who spend too much time in the casino). For those who are cruise veterans, none of this will be news, but to those who have not cruised, it’s like being at an all-inclusive but the beach or port changes daily!
Of course, the first question people always ask us (perhaps after “Where are you going?” but not always) is “What are you going to do about food?” This is a common theme on our travels (see Hawaii blogs, August 2016). The truth is, we have been on two cruises, both on Norwegian, and there has not been a problem. In fact, this trip, the boat has a member of the staff who is assigned to take care of all special meals (allergies, vegan, diabetic, etc, and even Kosher). Jocelyn is incredible; she is omnipresent at all of our meals, makes our menus, shows us products that are on the ship that have kosher certification, basically has been our personal maître d! The boat stocks a selection of kosher frozen meals (soup, main dish, desert) and there is also plenty of fruit, vegetables, yogurt, bagels, lox, cream cheese, even lactose free milk! So, all good here so far. Of course, the truth is that non-kosher cruisers get a pretty good deal too, from the looks of the plates in the dining room or the buffet!
A few words on our stops so far. Monday and Tuesday were spent at sea, and we arrived in Cozumel, Mexico on Wednesday AM. The weather has been great, and it was 27C there, and sunny. We signed up for a trip called “Glass bottom Kayak and Snorkeling” which sounded like fun. For some reason, we were the only ones on our boat who thought that combo was worth signing up for. Boy did the others miss out! We were treated to a private guide named Jesus, who took us out in the glass kayak to see fish and coral. He then guided us through a private snorkeling session, where he gave us a running commentary on the fish and formations, occasionally diving to the bottom to point out or awaken a sting ray, snapper, puffer fish and other marine creatures. He even grabbed a huge conch with a live creature inside. Talk about personal service! Then we relaxed with fruit and a margarita (included) and hung out along the beach. Not a bad way to combine adventure with chillin’ out. We went back to the port to take a stroll in Cozumel proper. The island depends 100% on tourism as the main source of economy. In keeping with that it seems everyone who lives there is selling something; tequila, watches, jewelry, spices, you name it. We wandered past the shops and stalls, as we had seen that Cozumel also has two kosher restaurants. We actually found a store with Israelis selling cosmetics and dead sea products and, we were given directions. So, we had lunch at vegetarian Café Rimon, where we had real Mexican burritos, and then visited the Chabad House of Cozumel, which has a meat restaurant and programs for the small community and the tourists that come by. Very friendly and welcoming!
Thursday we docked at Costa Maya, which is a port owned by a private company that owns other proprietary stops that cruise ships use. There are a bunch of stores selling the usual wares, Starbucks (with good Wi-Fi) and lots of restaurants and a private beach. We actually took a tour of Chacchoben, which means “Place of Red Corn”, an ancient Mayan town. There we learned about Mayan civilization, their temples, their worship and lifestyle. The Mayans were very much into the concept that torturing the body is good for the soul; their priests had to have crossed eyes, teeth destroyed and engaged in blood-letting (more details if you want to be grossed out). Human sacrifice supposedly guaranteed the victim a place in heaven. Mayan civilization, with its astrology, astronomy and understanding of medicinal plants did not really survive into the second millennium, although there are many of Mayan decent living in Mexico today, especially in the Yucatan peninsula where we are visiting.
Friday we will be in an area off Belize called Harvest Cay, where we toured the savannah and visited a rainforest where we took a river tour by tubing. It was a lazy river ride rather than the Colorado Rapids, but still a lot of fun and we got to see a new, very pretty country.
Shabbat will be quiet, and then Sunday is a day at Sea, and we arrive Monday AM and will disembark, spend a good part of the day in Miami and then head home.
We wish you all an amazing Shabbat Shalom!
Barbara and Bruce
PS: we have some great pictures to post but the internet on board is too slow! Check back next week and there will be pictures too!
Mazel tov to Davi and Adina Levkovitch on their wedding in New York this week. L’Chaim!
Mazel tov to Aviva and Josh on the birth of a baby boy! Special Mazel tov to Bubby Lori and Zaidi Alvan!
Happy Birthday Isabelle!
Happy 4th Birthday Nadav!
Happy 4th Birthday Elisha!