Visiting Synagogues Around The World

Places of worship have long been points of interest for travelers. Solemn and usually quite ornate, these buildings provide a window onto a community’s history and values and often give visitors a much-needed pause while pounding the sightseeing pavement. Cathedrals are typical for this kind of touring. But have you ever thought to pay a visit to a synagogue?

My fascination with exploring synagogues began on a trip to Willemstad, Curaçao, home of Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas built in 1651. Several years later, I had the opportunity to visit the Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin, Kerala, India. Constructed in 1568, it is the oldest “active” synagogue in India – “active” because there are fewer than 20 Jews left in Cochin, most having emigrated to Israel. Coincidentally, I learned about the Jews of Cochin from an exhibit at the 6th and I Synagogue, a historic synagogue in Washington, DC, that is now used primarily as a community center and arts space.

The Jewish diaspora is thriving in many parts of the world. Yet in places like Cochin and Mumbai, the local Jewish community is dwindling, giving impetus to visiting some synagogues before they are shuttered or left to become museums. The following are some of the synagogues I have seen or wish to explore on my travels.


Hotel employee uses marching band to quit job

While it may not be as epic as former JetBlue Flight Attendant Steven Slater’s “SlipQuit” meltdown back in August 2010, this (now, obviously, former) employee of the Providence Renaissance Hotel also went out in style. After three years of employment at the hotel, he made it loud and clear that he was quitting by enrolling a group of his friends to form a marching band. Watch the video to see him hand his (very angry) boss a letter of resignation and then walk out the door with the band cheerily trailing behind. No word on who the unnamed employee is, what position he worked at the hotel, whether or not the incident disturbed guests, or the story behind the “lost time accident” sign, but after watching this we’re thinking employees in the tourism sector deserve a break.

Warning: there is some strong language in the film when the employee describes his former boss.

Gawker’s Worst 50 States

I’ve been following Gawker’s newest series, The Worst 50 States. I’ve been enjoying following this series. In an effort to pin down not only the best states in the US of A, but, more importantly, the worst states, Gawker compiled a Gawker-invented rating system in order to rank our fair fifty. Granted, this rating system consists solely of the viewpoints of those on staff for Gawker, so the viewpoints are just about as biased as you would deem Gawker (Which might be not at all according to you!), but there’s some interesting stuff in there. Yes, they’re focusing on the bad more than the good, those damn pessimists, but all in all, fact or fiction, the commentary on the 50 states is makes me laugh. And, I’ll just throw this in there, I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states and much of every summary they make rings true to me. They’re not done wrapping up the states yet, but check out their analysis of most of the states here.

If you’re inflamed, saddened, or curling over with laughter after reading what’s so bad about your home state, come back here and tell us in the comments how Gawker made you feel.

Is Providence, Rhode Island the Country’s Most Creative City?

Summer in New England is so pleasant and so cliche, I didn’t arrive in Rhode Island expecting to find much more than craft breweries, lobster rolls and some wicked good times. And they certainly have those!

But no sooner had I parked the car than I stumbled across a storefront packed with bizarre costumes, alien heads and smiling ogres, looking across the street at City Hall.

What, I wondered to myself as I snapped photos as fast as possible, was going on in Providence?


I’d inadvertently found the home of Big Nazo, a performance troupe dedicated to the absolutely mind-bending, warming up for an event that evening on Westminster Street at Roots Cafe. Ringleader Minio Pinque introduced himself and started in on the upcoming show calendar for the group, as I gawked at half-finished suits.

A troupe member donned what can only be described as an alien helmet to demonstrate the huge range of costumes Big Nazo uses, everything from enormous full-body get-ups to small masks that jazz up more traditional costuming. Later that evening, a marching band would be coming by to practice for its upcoming engagement with Big Nazo. (One of their numbers was “Crazy in Love.”)

The city is of course home to the Rhode Island School of Design, which accounts for some of the creativity in the air. The current show to see is Cocktail Culture, on view until July 31. The exhibit is a fascinating trip from pre-Prohibition days to the Jet Set era, a museum show surprisingly au courant despite its throwback themes. There is only one reference to Mad Men.

Other art spaces proliferate. The aforementioned Roots is a cultural hub, as is Art Space 220, a downtown collective that encourages creativity with shows and funding. Brown has its own spectacles, like a greenhouse filled with exotic plants and open to the public. An over-educated botanist mentioned that the attraction of the moment in the area was the blooming of a corpse flower at the University of Connecticut. 90 minutes away.

The creativity even extends to breakfast. The favorite joint is Julian’s on Broadway, with Star Wars action figures in the bathroom and neon signs on the wall. Nobody bats an eye if you order Bloody Marys at 9 am, like a table of eight did, nor a massive breakfast that could feed two, like one big, big guy did. As for me, I did what I always do when in New England. I got the hash.

Grace Hotels opens first U.S. property, Vanderbilt Grace, in Newport, Rhode Island

This week, Grace Hotels announced the official acquisition of their first U.S. property, The Vanderbilt Grace.

The Vanderbilt Grace, formerly known as Vanderbilt Hall, was commissioned in 1909 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and opened as hotel in 2008 after several years of restoration. The original owner died aboard the ill-fated RMS Lusitania in 1915. Before before its acquisition by Grace Hotels Vanderbilt Hall formed part of a collection of hotels and private clubs owned by British entrepreneur and philanthropist, Peter de Savary.

In recent years, the property has undergone an extensive renovation to restore the hotel to its original Beaux Arts glory. Today, the property features 33 rooms and suites, two restaurants, a cocktail bar and spa and fitness center with indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The building dates from 1909 and has a rich history: it was one of many mansions in the area owned by the Vanderbilt family.

This summer, the hotel is opening Muse by Jonathan Cartwright, a fine dining experience created by celebrated New England chef, Jonathan Cartwright. Chef Cartwright is best known as Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux at Vanderbilt Grace’s sister hotel, The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, Maine.
Guests can expect local favorites, such as New England Clam Chowder alongside classic Cartwright creations including Pan Roast New England Pheasant Breast with Mushroom and Cranberry Puree, Braised Red Cabbage and Madeira Sauce.

The boutique hotel brand, started in 2007, has properties throughout Europe but is just now branching into the states.