This past December, my husband and I had the privilege of joining Dan Eleff of dansdeals.com and Moishie Hershko of B&H Photo on a once-in-a-lifetime kosher expedition to Antarctica. For 11 days, a group of 51 Orthodox Jews from all over the world set sail on One Ocean’s RCGS Resolute for the southernmost continent on earth.
Many of us began our trip in Buenos Aires, Argentina, partaking in the beautiful Shabbat hospitality of the Beit Chabad of Ricoleta before heading south to Ushuaia, the city at the end of the world. We wandered the rustic vistas of Tierra del Fuego National Park and endured an unexpected detour to the sleepy hamlet of Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. We faced the daunting waters of the Drake Passage and explored the wild and unspoiled beauty of Antarctica, all while enjoying the culinary creations of Shua Lurie and Armand Kadoch of Montreal’s L’Orchidee Traiteur.
We had many significant milestones on this trip. To name a few, we observed an incredible group Shabbos in Antarctica, as well as a fast day in a place without sunrise or sunset. We can take credit for the southernmost-held shiurim (classes) in Daf Yomi, Chofetz Chaim, and Pirkei Avos in history. We also completed the Book of Psalms and held the first-ever siyum — a ceremony celebrating the completion of a section of the Talmud study — on the Antarctic continent.
Some members of our group set foot on their seventh continent. Others were away from their families for the first time. We saw hundreds of penguins, thousands of icebergs, countless sea birds, and magnificent glaciers. We climbed a mountain overlooking Paradise Bay and plunged into the frozen water below. We traveled to a land where only the bold dare to venture and returned with a fresh perspective on the world we left behind.
Somewhere along the way, a group of strangers became a family. I could write hundreds of pages about the untamed wilderness we explored and the wonders we encountered. The true beauty of this journey, however, was in the kedusha (holiness) and achdus (unity) that our group brought to every port of call.
We represented a cross-section of the Orthodox Jewish world: those who grew up in it, and those who grew into it; Bobov, Gur, Skver, Satmar, and Lubavitch Chasidim breaking bread with Litvish and Yekke Jews; women from Jewish communities across the Northeast and Midatlantic learning the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim and Pirkei Avos together as they traveled the endless expanse of the Southern Ocean. The Daf Yomi shiur (class) given by a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) from Israel enjoyed by a bright-eyed zayde from Kansas, a caterer from Montreal, and adventure seekers from Lakewood to Melbourne.
One by one, stereotypes were challenged as our journey continued. Whether you were from New York or Florida, Israel or London, whether you wore a shtreimel, a black hat, or baseball cap, the barriers fell away and we saw the people behind the minhagim (customs). We pulled back the curtains of each other’s secret worlds and were faced with what we thought we were least likely to see: a mirror. I discovered that when you light Chanukah candles together at the bottom of the world, it doesn’t matter if you are just an ordinary Jewish girl from Queens whose lineage was lost in the Holocaust, or a direct descendant of the Baal Shemtov. We stood together with the only label that matters: Jew.
As we disembarked the Resolute, we said our goodbyes and faded back into our regular lives. I was left with the profound impression that though our physical world may be bigger then we could have possibly imagined, our Jewish world is much smaller than we realized.
I will leave you with the words of Ernest Shackleton, as true today as they were a hundred years ago when he wrote them about his incredible journey to Antarctica: “We had seen G-d in His splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”
For more information about this trip, visit dansdeals.com.
By L. E. Nizhnikov
L. E. Nizhnikov was born and raised in Queens, New York, and has made Silver Spring, Maryland, her home. L. E., her husband Alex, and their five children can be found in Kemp Mill when they take breaks from traveling the world.