Lots of folks have jobs that involve lots of travel, and I consider myself to be lucky to be among that group. Occasionally in my work, I get to take a journey that involves not only travel, but a real opportunity to become a part of another community, at least for a little while. When that journey is to a beautiful location, that’s even better. And when it is in a part of the world already on the “bucket list” then it is just about perfect.

The month of November began with the URJ Biennial Convention in Orlando, Florida and ended with a flight home from Auckland, New Zealand.

After coming home for a few days from Biennial, Sheila and I flew to Sydney, losing two days in the process! We took off on Monday and landed Wednesday afternoon. The purpose of my trip to Sydney was to participate in the World Union for Progressive Judaism Annual Conference and the Shir Chadash Music Festival. The Conference saw participants from throughout the larger Pacific area including Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and even more from around the globe. Each morning, Sheila and I were shown around the greater Sydney area by really enthusiastic members of the community. We saw wil life, architectural standouts, fascinating historical sites, and we ate great food.

In the afternoons and evenings, I either rehearsed, song led, or participated as a speaker in the workshop program. The real high points for me revolved around the music and the fact that I got to sing with Danny Freelander, Max Einsohn (who spends a lot of time in the area), Charlie Kramer and Shannyn Gelbart. Danny and I performed on Thursday night and all of us, with a volunteer choir, led by Judy Campbell, performed in the Saturday Night program. The community was warm and welcoming, and some of the music was straight out of the camp song book. We really felt as though we belonged. Thanks, Jocelyn Robuck, for the great care you took to make us feel comfortable.

Sunday, as the event is Sydney was drawing to an end, Sheila and I left for Auckland, New Zealand for the next part of the trip. The next assignment was in a camp outside of Auckland, but we had five days off before then. We had made reservations at a near Lake Taupo in the center of the North Island. To say that it was beautiful would not do it justice. Everything we saw was spectacular: The lake, the volcanoes, the geothermal pools and lakes of boiling mud, the Maori villages (the original New Zealanders). And the food was spectacular. One of the most diverse populations on the globe has created one of the most diverse menus.

And one of the most diverse groups of Jews. After our five-day break ended, it was back to the Auckland area to a rented summer-camp and the Shabbaton of the Jews of New Zealand, at least many of the ones from the Auckland area. One of my favorite campers was Steve, an 18th generation Maori and 7th generation Jew. His story is fascinating and too long to go into here (look for more later!). The families attending the Shabbaton were unified in their desire to keep Judaism going for themselves, their kids, and their grandchildren in an environment that is not really ideal. A lot of their stories sounded very much like those that we hear in Texas of far-flung communities, long travel times and small Jewish outposts among the larger cities.

Max was in Auckland as well, and we had the chance to song lead together. It is amazing how extensive is the reach of GFC and the music of the Reform Movement. I taught workshops and delivered a keynote on “Creating Jewish Community”. Sheila gave one of the most popular sessions of the event revolving around personalized health care and ethical medical decision-making.

By Sunday, it was time to leave the Shabbaton and make our way back into Auckland. At the Shabbaton Camp, Sheila and I had stayed in dorms and walked to the bathroom – Just like GFC Kibbutz! It was exhilarating. Then we were back in a beautiful hotel. Roni Israeli and Guy Sagiv, the Shlichim for New Zealand, spent most of the next two days with us in Auckland, showing us the sights and making sure that we saw plenty of the native beauty for which New Zealand is famous.

Roni and Guy were the original reason that we were I New Zealand. I can’t thank them enough for everything that they did to make the trip great. We will be back. Gotta meet the Hobbit!

(BTW – Remember the start of the trip? Well, in the interest of full disclosure, right before this whole journey began with the Biennial in Orlando, we went to see Stevie Wonder in San Antonio!).