Keeping Kosher at Sea

By Lisa Alcalay Klug

Published May 25, 2007, issue of May 25, 2007.
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Tunisia and Malta may not have been typical ports of call for kosher travelers, but this about to change.

On August 14, Kosherica and JSinglesCruise.com are teaming up for a combination family and singles cruise that sets sail from Barcelona, Spain. The ship drops anchor in Spain at Palma de Mallorca, and then at Tunis, Tunisia, and Valletta, Malta. It moves on to Italy — Palermo, Sicily; Civitavecchia (Rome), and Savona — before returning to the home of Gaudí architecture and other popular Catalonian sights in Barcelona.

Such exotic itineraries promise new appeal for the Jewish cruise industry. It’s all part of a move toward expanding ports-of-call for kosher travelers. These cruises also reinforce the idea that there are other attractive routes besides the classic “ABC” options: Alaska, the Baltic Sea and the Caribbean. “It’s a combination of trend and demand; more and more people want to cruise, and more and more are interested in going to Tunisia and Malta,” said Yaniv Madar, president of TotallyJewishTravel.com.

What’s more, Kosherica and JSinglesCruise are slated to sail aboard one of the Costa Cruise Line’s newest ships. The Concordia is the fleet’s largest and longest ship. Its 13 decks boast an equal number of bars, more than 500 cabins with balconies, four swimming pools (two with retractable roofs), a sauna, a Turkish bath, and extensive spa and fitness services.

The more exotic itinerary comes at a premium. Alaskan and Caribbean cruises offer lower price points, starting at $999 per person/double occupancy. Compare that with European ticket prices, which run upward of $2,369. Costs include accommodations, meals and most on-board activities. Port charges, taxes, gratuities, spa services, excursions and flight are extra. Each voyage also features entertainment, daily minyanim, Torah study and lectures, as well as the extravagant dining traditional to luxury cruises — supervised glatt kosher. JSinglesCruise also features daily mixers for singles, and there’s even a pre-cruise coaching session by phone with an experienced life coach.

Offering extensive services dovetails with what Madar calls the “natural growth” of the business requiring “more”: more programs, destinations and services. He said that “2007 through ’08 will break records regarding the amount of kosher cruises planned.”

Kosherica, the industry leader, has nine sailings scheduled between July of this year and February 2008, including its traditional Alaska, Baltic and Caribbean offerings. And Tunisia is also a destination on upcoming cruises with two other companies, Shai Bar Ilan — Geographical Tours and Eddie’s Travel. This summer, Eddie’s Travel, which has four itineraries, is also sailing the Baltics, the Norwegian fjords and the Greek isles. Kosherica first braved the Greek waters in 2006. On its upcoming August 27 departure from Venice, Italy, the ship docks in Bari, Italy, and sails to four Greek destinations: Katakolon/Olympia, Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes, as well as Dubrovnik, Croatia.

New destinations, such as Tunisia and Malta, are doing a lot in order to get more from the “global share of tourists,” Madar said. They’re interested in “shaking off anachronistic prejudices — just like Turkey and Egypt 10 years ago.” The fact that Tunisia opened its gates to Israeli tourists some years ago and is doing a lot to improve security and the service industry is also a contributing factor, Madar said.

These countries also boast Jewish points of interest. Tunisia once hosted a Jewish population upward of 100,000, but it established many anti-Jewish decrees after gaining its independence in 1956. Today it hosts Jewish schools and kosher restaurants.

Israelite mariners from the seafaring tribes of Zevulon and Asher reportedly accompanied Semitic Phoenician settlers to Malta almost 3,500 years ago. And one of the most remarkable figures in medieval Jewish history was kabbalist Avraham ben Shmuel Abulafia, who lived for many years on the Maltan island of Comino.

A contributor to The New York Times, JTA and other outlets, Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of the forthcoming book “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe” (Andrews McMeel).


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