Discounting good well being – a given on each record – what are the three most necessary issues in your life? For me, it is a comparatively simple query to reply: household (I’m together with shut mates, as they’re like household), Judaism and journey. I merely can’t think about an existence the place these don’t play a component. (Be aware to those that know me: I’m not together with music on my record, as a result of – like oxygen, meals, water and shelter – that falls into the class of life’s primary wants).Whereas household and non secular beliefs are the anchors that preserve me grounded, nonetheless, journey is simply the opposite- a chance to unfold my wings, uncover different cultures, and reside somewhat on the sting. But I’ve simply returned from a magical journey that allowed me to mix all three of my life pillars.As a lot as I like to journey, Vietnam was by no means actually on my bucket record. As an ex-pat American, I couldn’t think about visiting the nation that had been concerned in shattering the lives of so many individuals in such an inhumane and pointless trend. As a Jew, I wasn’t all that fascinated with touring a vacation spot that had just about no Jewish historical past or “content material” in anyway, to not point out the truth that it takes over 24 hours to get there, full with prolonged layovers and completely inedible (kosher) airline meals.After which my son determined to maneuver there.Having backpacked all through Asia when he was a college scholar, he fell in love with Vietnam and was decided to return. He has now been dwelling in Saigon (apparently, it’s nonetheless OK to name it that along with its re-branded identify of Ho Chi Minh Metropolis) for over a 12 months, educating English. He isn’t alone; younger, educated, personable Westerners are in excessive demand to show what is really the common language (I watched with fascination as Asians from completely different nations spoke English to grasp each other, simply as I’ve seen Europeans in Europe and Arabs within the Center East do). He will get paid “Western” wages in a rustic the place 50 cents buys you a beer, and a wonderful residence could be rented within the Metropolis heart for lower than $300 a month. Add to that a nation that’s lovely, pleasant, has unbelievable meals and everyone owns/rides motor scooters – what 25 year-old wouldn’t need to reside there?!As I began to consider this journey – which might require extra planning that regular to accommodate my Shabbat observance and kosher/vegetarian dietary necessities alongside all of the websites I used to be decided to see – a thought got here to thoughts: Since I used to be going to all this hassle anyway, why not convey alongside some like-minded vacationers? Lengthy story quick, I teamed up with a journey agent pal of mine to develop a “Shabbat-friendly tour” of Vietnam, with the intention of promoting it to the lots. Longer story quick, with the clock ticking and no promoting price range, solely three members dedicated to hitch me: my siblings. Sure, completely unexpectedly, my two older brothers and youthful sister determined – independently – that this not solely appeared like a tremendous journey, however an unbelievable approach for us to re-connect. Not that we wanted a bonding expertise, thoughts you – we’ve all the time been extremely shut, however with a 14-year age hole, the 4 of us had by no means been alone collectively on a visit. And with no mother and father, kids or important others alongside, this was destined to be a journey that may both strengthen or destroy the bond now we have all the time been so pleased with and grateful for.I’m happy to report the journey was past superior. Vietnam is justifiably one unbelievable place. And although Jews have been few and much between (extra on that in a second), and the 2 couldn’t be extra completely different, comparisons with Israel saved on popping into my head. Each nations are comparatively small, and are surrounded by not the friendliest of neighbors. Each have been war-torn and have come by with flying colours. FOR THEIR dimension, each have amazingly numerous topography – inside a 24-hour interval I went from needing a parka within the northern highlands to shorts within the South. Mountain ranges, seas, forests and farmlands can all be skilled in a single day’s drive. Spiritual cities (in Vietnam’s case, filled with Buddhist temples) exist alongside vibrant, secular cities (aside from the oceanfront in Tel Aviv and the therapeutic massage parlors in Saigon, the 2 are usually not that completely different!) And each have a fierce meals tradition. Although I’m preferential to shwarma, falafel and schnitzel, Vietnamese eats are among the greatest on the earth. And fortunately for my “tour group,” courtesy of the aforementioned Buddhist inhabitants, vegetarian meals couldn’t be simpler to come back by. Or extra scrumptious. In three weeks, I don’t assume I ever ate the identical dish twice. And we did handle to eat two kosher meat meals within the nation, which is the place the actual Jewish content material of Vietnam kicks in.Good outdated Chabad. I dare you to go anyplace on the earth these days and never encounter an image of the Rebbe someplace. In Vietnam they haven’t one, however three Chabad homes, each fairly distinct, reflecting the cities they’re in.My first Shabbat was spent in Hoi An, an historic coastal city which readers of Journey and Leisure journal lately named “The Finest Metropolis within the World.” That is perhaps a little bit of an overstatement, however there isn’t any denying that this UNESCO World Heritage Middle is magical. And, like all beautiful coastal cities in Asia, it’s overrun by younger Israeli backpackers contemporary from the military. So it was no shock that the Chabad there – the most recent and likewise (mistakenly) smallest – was filled with these people in search of a style of house. Not Friday night time companies, thoughts you – my brothers and I accomplished the minyan – however comradery and meals. And scrumptious meals at that – a standard Shabbat meal of salads, fish, hen soup and roast hen with all the edges. And single-malt Scotch that was poured all night time by the visiting younger rabbi who had been “seconded” from Israel and was spending his final Shabbat amongst his new mates earlier than returning house.My second Chabad Shabbat was spent of their Vietnamese “headquarters” in Saigon (the third, which I didn’t get to go to, is in Hanoi; all three are “serviced” out of Saigon, guaranteeing they’ve rabbinic protection/supervision and kosher meals provides). It’s certainly fairly the operation, and so busy that two rabbis and their households are stationed there full-time. Rabbis Menachem and Avrami Hartman (sure, they’re associated) have been there for 15 and three years, respectively. Along with overseeing all Chabad operations within the nation and their very own “home,” additionally they function a faculty (primarily for their very own children, of which there are a lot of!), a kosher restaurant (open 9 a.m.-9 p.m., six days every week) and bakery (the challot and babka we had have been second to none). Friday night time dinner, as in Hoi An, was packed, however the crowd was completely different. In Saigon, it’s an older demographic, principally People stationed there for work. In typical “small Jewish world” trend, nonetheless, I used to be seated subsequent to a Toronto couple from my outdated neighborhood. It was an exquisite, heat, comforting (and scrumptious) night, an oasis within the chaotic insanity of Saigon simply outdoors its doorways.My final day in Vietnam, I visited the Cu Chi Tunnels, an immense community utilized by Viet Cong troopers of their resistance to American forces. This web site, along with the Struggle Remnants Museum within the coronary heart of Saigon an hour away, are harsh reminders of the brutality of warfare and the destruction it leaves in its wake. But they’re additionally symbols of reconciliation and forgiveness; the Vietnamese have moved on with their lives in a remarkably dignified and optimistic method that may be a marvel to look at.So it’s that I boarded my airplane again to Toronto that night with a renewed sense of well-being. For 3 intense weeks, my life’s anchors – household, Judaism and want for exploration – had been put to the take a look at and never solely survived, however thrived. I can’t anticipate my subsequent “Shabbat-friendly tour” journey.Ken Gruber is a Toronto-based author and could be reached at email@example.com. Reprinted with permission of the Canadian Jewish Information.