Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community

Letters from Jewish Australia - No.46


By Rabbi Ronnie Figdor

12th April 1997

It had begged the question at the outset. "What's a nice Jewish girl like you doing in a place like this?" However, this oft-used pick-up line was best left unsaid as Lisa showed us around the sailing ship. Lisa had now been on the Concordia since the end of January-having arrived late into the yearlong programme that began in August with twenty-nine 16-19 year-old students. Now, halfway into the academic year, the floating school had 35 students who doubled up as crew, 6-7 teachers, a doctor and professional crew. During a twelve-month period, Lisa and the 49 others aboard would sail the world while studying the latter years of high school and a little beyond.

Earlier in the day a very emotional 18-year-old Lisa Feldman and shipmate, Stephanie Mathers, had turned up in shule desperately looking for some Jewish life. "I didn't think I was going to miss it [Jewish life], but I found it was my only connection to my family. I miss home so much-particularly the Shabbat meals", said Lisa, from a Jewish Conservative background in Chicago. Since arriving in Port Adelaide 4 days earlier Lisa had been in search of the Jewish community and had all but given up hope when she arrived at the conclusion of the Shabbat service, overcome by emotion that she had finally arrived "home".

Totally cut off from their parents while afloat for most of the year, the students about the Concordia, the official sailboat of Montreal private school, West Island College, can only have access to the ship's phone, fax or e-mail system in an emergency and have to wait up to weeks before reaching land and a connection to home. "My connection to home is that my parents will be making a Seder with my family at the same time that I do, wherever I will be in the world". According to the ship's log, they will be somewhere between Hobart and New Zealand on Seder night. Although there are two other Jewish girls aboard, Lisa was the only one who practised any Judaism, and will conduct the Seder on her own. "My teachers are very encouraging and I have their full support". It was for that reason that on Shabbat morning Lisa was allowed to leave with a shipmate again in search for a Jewish community. Lisa had her first Shabbat meal in months with the Shabbat zemirot tunes causing her to again become emotional. After Shabbat, she picked up a Haggadah and instructions on how to run a Seder, grape juice and matzah from the shule before returning to report to the ship director.

Virtually the only Jew on the Concordia, Lisa described her Jewishness as having made little difference. "It is virtually impossible to keep kosher aboard and even the most Orthodox Jew would slack off". Purim aboard the Concordia had been a non-event.

Sailing is not new to Lisa, having a father who was a captain and boating instructor for the US Coastguard. She had previously attended the College's month-long summer trip. The summer trip, which attracts private students from throughout North America, had a Jewish population of 40-45% of the students. Around one third of the students come from the United States for the yearlong programme paying up to US$30,000 for the privilege of studying Year 11, 12 or beyond, working as crew, and doing round the clock deck watch. In Perth, six Australian private-school students boarded and disembarked in Adelaide. While I was inspecting the ship [under my rabbinical supervision], ten Adelaide-based students boarded to sail to the next port of call, Hobart, before the Concordia sails onto New Zealand and Fiji, ever so slowly making her way back to Hawaii, then onto Seattle for the June 28th graduation there.

The "small" tuition fee also covers five-star accommodation in the students' quarters-a room 2m x 2m with two double bunks. Explains Lisa sheepishly as she shows us her quarters, "You see, we take it in turns to go into the room and get onto the bed because the space between the bunks is only wide enough for one person". I must admit that I would even have had trouble lying on the bed without curling up a little.

Lisa has learned independence and trust in herself in the short time she has been aboard. She describes herself as being much more self-sufficient. "You have to learn to deal with others and raise sails at 2 am".

Would Lisa recommend the experience for other Jewish children? "Definitely. Go for it! You have to expect not to be in a Jewish community. You'll be surprised how you'll react-you will seek out Jewish communities on dry land because synagogues the world-over are familiar and they remind you of your family".

Happy Pesach, matey!

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