Written from Luang Prabang, Laos, about a Shabbat Experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand
We were frantically looking for accommodations in Chiang Mai. Everyone told us that the province was booked solid, that we'd have a hard time finding a place that would have availability, let alone availability with a double bed and a hot shower. But the never-fail hostelworld.com brought us to what promised to be the BEST hostel in Thailand. We surfed around on the site until we found this little link: "Celebrate Shabbat with our Jewish neighbors!" Huh? Shabbat? In Thailand? But there it was in black and white. "Call Larry to celebrate shabbat with an American Jewish family" accompanied by his phone number.
"You have to call," Matt said.
"But what if it's weird?"
"You have to call."
Matt knew as well as I did that Friday, January 4 was the date in which my brother and father would be observing Yahrtzeit for my mother. Yahrtzeit is the calendar date in which a prayer is said every year to note the death of an immediate loved one. I don't usually observe the Jewish calendar date, but this year it was quite close to the American calendar date, and it was hard to know that my dad and brother would be together at synagogue, and that not only would I not be with them, that I'd be half a world away.
So I called Larry on Thursday, a day before Shabbat. An excited voice answered the phone, promising Matt and I a delicious kosher meal, along with Shabbat prayers and stimulating conversation with his daughters. "My husband's not Jewish," I told him, and was reassured, up and down, that this was fine, that he was excited to meet us, that we should be there at 6:30.
We arrived at 6:25, and were greeted by Larry and his three beautiful daughters -- Ayelot, Rivka, and Tamar -- as well as a young friend from Germany who endeared himself to this lovely family. Dinner was, of course, delicious (kosher Thai food) and conversation was more than stimulating. Larry included Matt in the Shabbat blessings in a way that made us both feel comfortable, and we passed a few delightful hours at his dinner table, then took a walk around his neighborhood.
I think that the most amazing thing about the experience is that it's one that I never expected to have. If you would have told me before we left that I'd be saying Shabbat blessings in Thailand, I would have laughed at you. If you would have told me that we'd come across a Chabad house in Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Laos, I would have thought that you were out of your mind. But here we are, and here they are, and even though Larry didn't know that a million miles away my family was saying Kaddish for my mother, I managed to feel connected to my family and my faith across a few oceans and several continents. There's something perfectly timeless about that, something that reminds me about what it means to be Jewish, and that you take your history with you, no matter where you are in the world.