I had lunch today with a dear friend who had just returned from a vacation with his son in Iceland. Not Ireland….but Iceland. A small and beautiful country of great forests, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, volcanoes, mountains and very friendly people. But no ice in Iceland and no Jews…. Well, almost none. The estimated Jewish population in the capital Reykjavik is 93.
Until 1944 Iceland belonged to the Kingdom of Denmark and achieved its independence in 1944. Except for the natural resources of the country whose total population is less than 400,000 people, the country has little to offer. But tourism thrives and the economy of Iceland is dependent upon foreign tourists who bring many kronas into the cash registers of the country.
Prices are exorbitantly high…. 395 American dollars per night in a very good hotel. Restaurant meals are very costly. Life for tourists is not cheap in Iceland.
Over our salads we talked about convenient places to visit and places to avoid. My friend and his wife would like to travel to Cuba by way of Spain. I prefer to visit in Mexico by way of New York. We pondered and wondered which of those two places were safer and we agreed upon Cuba. Havana has a sizeable Jewish community and two active synagogues…. One Ashkenazi and one Sefardi.
I had been in Mexico twelve times over the course of many years. I love Mexico, its history, its culture and its beauty.. There is a very large and prosperous Jewish population in several of the larger cities and Mexico City has kosher restaurants, cafes and supermarkets.
On our very first visit to Mexico City in the 1980’s my wife and I were not familiar with kosher dining facilities. We were told not to drink the water (only bottled mineral water) and to avoid ice in all our drinks. Every day my meals consisted of baked fish in tomato sauce. And my ultra-kosher wife limited herself to dos huevos duros….two hard-boiled eggs, morning, noon and evening meals. At a supermarket we were able to buy bread and crackers that were recommended by an observant Jewish friend.
That was my wife’s first-and-only trip to Mexico. I traveled there eleven more times alone.
My last unhappy visit was in 1993. I was walking in the early evening by myself past the central post-office adjacent to the beautiful central Alameda Park. A very tall young man approached me and began conversing with me in Spanish. Suddenly, he pulled out a large knife and demanded the gold ring on my finger, a gift from my mother-in-law in Tel-Aviv. It was tight on my finger and very difficult to remove it. I wet my finger to make removal easier but still had difficulty. He told me that if I could not remove it, he would cut off my finger together with the ring. Finally, success. The gold ring left a deep mark on my finger.
Then he cut off the gold chain with the Magen David from my neck which was bleeding from the knife which he held against it.. Next he slit the pocket of my trousers and my wallet fell to the ground which he then picked up and fled.
There were few people nearby and my cries for help would have been futile.
Most of my pesos and dollars, together with my passport, were locked in my suitcase in the hotel room, so I was secure with sufficient money and travel documents. I have not been back to Mexico since.
My friend and I were of the same opinion. It’s nice to travel but there is no place like home. Israel is home. We may not have geysers or volcanoes but we have many places of scenic beauty, of ancient history and of a loud, boisterous, bickering but loving Jewish population.
Iceland has no ice and no Jews. We have plenty of Jews and could certainly appreciate some ice in this extremely hot summer weather. Without the ice I’ll have to survive on my grape or cherry frozen Artic bars.