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  • Writer's pictureEric

Der Mensch Tracht Und Gott Lacht

Loosely translated: if you want to make G-d laugh, tell him your plans!!



CROATIA

Anyone reading these lines has created plans.

Probably a million times.

A dinner party. An evening out. A simcha. A trip.

But simple stuff too – tomorrow’s diary.

Logistics.

Naomi Boutique Kosher Tours is all about logistics.

We work, on average, 3 times as long preparing a tour as the length of the actual tour.

In fact, people always ask us whether we have time to enjoy the tours, with so much responsibility….

We explain that we MUST enjoy the tours, because if we don’t, our guests won’t either.

How do we go about this? 1. As mentioned, we spend weeks in advance of each tour, trying to cover every possible detail regarding its major and minor aspects: the accommodations, the programming, the menus, the guides, different weather alternatives, obtaining supplies, airline baggage restrictions... it’s a list of 140 subjects that we tick off one by one while still sitting in our office.

2. We pray. A lot!! 3. Once we’re on tour we face up to the facts. As the Israeli soldiers have proudly declared for decades:

"זה מה שיש, ועם זה ננצח" In English: “This is what there is and with this we will win!”


A huge part (like 99.99%) of what happens on a Naomi tour is in HIS hands. We just do our “Hishtadlut”: that’s the other 0.01%. We’ve invested all the intellectual capacities with which we were endowed to prepare for the trip, but we know that what we plan and what HE plans are not always the same.

Had I written this a couple of months ago some people might have thought I was trying to be holy, super-spiritual and other-worldly.



Today, EVERYBODY is nodding in agreement!

Thousands of us, who expected to be sitting one week from tonight surrounded by children and grandchildren, relatives and friends, neighbors and strangers are now anticipating making Seder for just ….us. The Halachah tells us that even a person making Seder alone must ask and answer the questions.

“היה לבדו שואל לעצמו מה נשתנה הלילה הזה” And EVERYONE always asks… how could that ever be??

A Jew, alone, for Seder?? Well now we know...

Anyway, back to planning a tour.

You may have gained the impression that I am talking about when “things go wrong”. Perhaps you think we throw up our hands and say… רבות מחשבות בלב איש ועצת ה' היא תקום… resigning ourselves to the imperfection of human planning.

But I’m NOT talking about that AT ALL.

I’m talking about the MANY occasions when we have planned what we believe will be a lovely tour: beautiful hotels, great food and wine, interesting guides, fun activities etc. Then, all of a sudden, there is some unexpected occurrence which raises the experience from a 9+ (we’re modest) to a 15 (out of 10!!). As if the Creator has smiled down and shouted… “SURPRISE!! Enjoy!"

Thus it was, and is, with Kruno on Brač.

Where? What? Who?

Country – Croatia.

Island in the Adriatic off the gorgeous Dalmatian coast - Brač (pronounced Brach with the “ch” as in “peach”).

Kruno?… well here’s the story.

Our first trip to Croatia (of about 10 trips to date) was in 2014.

Rabbi Wein’s Destiny organization invited us to organize a tour that summer to connect with the 100th anniversary of the breakout of the Great War. (Trivia – it only became known as the First World War after the Second World War broke out!! Think about it.) Sarajevo was in former Yugoslavia and the most tour-friendly part of former Yugoslavia was the “HOT” destination of Croatia. Hi-ho, hi-ho it’s off to work we go!!

So now, free of charge, as we don’t know when we’ll next have the pleasure of your (or anyone else’s) company we are going to share with you how we go about planning a tour to a new destination.

We learn from Pirke Avot that the world stands on 3 pillars. So do Naomi tours. They’re just different pillars. Ours are Judaism, Activities & Monuments. J.A.M. for short.


It’s like a recipe:


1. Make an itinerary. It’s easy: copy where all the other companies go. That takes care of the monuments – the palaces, the bridges, the piazzas, the architecture, the history.

2. Then add for flavor the Jewish places of interest. In our case, ONLY if they are really interesting… like a gelateria (see blogs 1, 2 & 3). Or an incredibly beautiful shul. Or a memorial which comes with a tear-jerking story. We don’t look for every Magen David.

3. Take a map. Find hotels which make long road journeys unnecessary.

Try to stay 3 nights minimum in each hotel. Then find TOP hotels and beg them to cook Kosher with a Mashgiach watching their every move! (That’s the BIG challenge)

4. Find all the other service providers: guides, bus companies, ship charterers, meat and wine smugglers, schleppers and anything else that executing the itinerary requires.


And that’s how we found Brač. Every tour of the Croatian islands goes there.

It has beauty (as they all do), it has the most sweet-smelling pine forests, it has a place in world history.

“The stones from island Brač have been used for building some of the well-known world structures.

The high quality stone enabled building a number of famous constructions in Croatia too. The most significant are the Palace of Diocletian, the Cathedral of St James in Šibenik and the Cathedral of St Lawrence in Trogir which have been under World Heritage (UNESCO) protection. The White House in Washington, the Parliament House in Vienna and Budapest were built from stones originated from island Brač. The whole dynasties of famous Croatian stone masons were educated at the quarry near Pučišća during the Renaissance and Baroque period.” From website Plavi-Horizont.hr

It has the highest peak on the islands, offering a magnificent vista point overlooking the entire region - Vidova Gora. It has one of the world’s most famous beaches - Zlatni Rat.

We’re going to Brač!!

So you need to understand.

For a Naomi Tour, a bus is the option of last resort. Our tours try to avoid at all cost the “on the bus, off the bus” feeling. Give us a plane, a helicopter, a balloon, a horse, a camel, a boat, a raft, a bicycle, a scooter, a pair of legs… ANYTHING but NOT A BUS.

By researching the itineraries of others, the reviews, suggestions on Tripadvisor etc, we attempt to collect the best of everyone’s experiences. And then, studying Brač, we found our solution. One of our favourite activities ANYWHERE on the planet – an ATV Safari!! (FYI Cambodia is the wildest and the Sahara desert, Morocco, is the most incredible).


What’s an ATV aka “quad bike”? It’s a cross between a tractor and a motor-cycle. It’s on road and off road, it’s open to the air and the sun. It’s GREAT fun. (It’s so much fun that one couple for whom we organized a private tour of Croatia had SO MUCH fun on their ATV on Brač that on their return home the husband bought one as a birthday present for his wife. Rumor has it that HE enjoys it regularly!!)


Off shoots an email to the ATV Safari company which generates a prompt response. It tells us of all the great stops they make during the Safari.

First, the island’s famous winery… mmm... “Sure it’s delicious, but doesn’t work for us”. Second, the incomparably magnificent beach... oh the beach, the beach… that all the visitors love… with the added attraction of being clothing-optional... mmm... “No, sorry, wrong crowd”.

Well, they suggest, there’s the olive oil museum…


NOW YOU’RE TALKING!!! So now we have the activity … an on-road, off-road ATV tour, taking us around the island and a stop in the Oil Museum. Just that you should know, they tell me, the Oil Museum offers a snack which is included in the package. Mmm… can we get more info?


And that’s when we were introduced to Kruno, owner of the olive oil museum. His emails seemed to show genuine interest in our “special snack needs” and he asked what we could eat and drink. I explained that we are VERY strict about our Kosher diet and that this was our first visit to Croatia so we didn’t know what was available locally. Fresh fruit and water would be great I explained, thanking him for his kind interest.


But he wouldn’t give up. What else? I put him in contact with the Mara d’Atra, our Rav Machshir for the tour, the Chief Rabbi of Zagreb, Rabbi Kotel Dadon. I told Kruno… whatever the good Rabbi allows, we’ll be happy to eat.

And that was it. End of conversation… See you in a few months, bye!


The next time we heard from Kruno was the day prior to our scheduled arrival to Brač. Please would we bring bread to be dipped in the olive oil to do a tasting. Fine, no problem.


We arrive to the island. Our ATV’s are lined up.

Blue sky. Blue sea. Warm breeze.

Excitement in the group as they are about to leave their comfort zone. It’s amazing how few of our guests ride motorcycles or engage in any activity requiring a crash helmet.

Anyway, now they’re primed. Couples get close to each other on their machines, with the passenger holding on to the driver in a variety of embraces. For sure a psychologist could interpret the different styles – hands on shoulders, arms clutching bellies, knees squeezing thighs – everyone suddenly in their twenties again, when it was still permissible to show warmth to your spouse in public!


Off we go!!

Our guides lead us slowly at first, to ensure that all the drivers had full control of the beast they were riding. A little faster as we hit the road, inhaling the scent of the pines as we go, hypnotized (almost) by the iridescent blue-green of the clear waters all around. We stopped for the view. We saw the famous beach. We passed the quarry. Heaven on earth. Quiet. Gorgeous. Romantic. And then it was time for a break.


Turning a corner in the small village of Skrip our guides points to the small building in front of us and the sign: Olive Oil Museum. But what we ALL saw was not the building, not the sign. In front of us was a sight for sore Jewish eyes, tired from hearing the oft-repeated calumny that the Jews are hated in Europe. No-one could believe it.


Between the flag of Israel on one side of the door and the flag or Jerusalem on the other, out strides a man I had never met, embraces me warmly, shouts “Shalom Chaverim” to the group and invites us inside.


There was Israel flag bunting throughout the museum. There were kosher products bought locally for us to eat and drink – cheeses, tapenades, juices, fruits and vegetables with Israeli flag toothpicks. Everything offered Kruno had checked with the Rabbi. He asked us to bring bread as there was none available….. This was the beginning of an amazing friendship which continues to this day.



He tells us his story. He tells us of his visits to Israel and hid deep love for the country and the people. He tells us that we are all children of Abraham. On the wall hung a certificate, spotted by Yuyu, one of our guests. She almost exploded when she saw it. Kruno’s daughter had donated her hair for children with cancer in Israel. The certificate, in Hebrew and English from Zichron Menachem hanging on a wall of a tiny oil museum in Skrip, on the island of Brač. Who would have dreamed...??



The next time we visited him his guitar-playing friends greeted us with “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem” and other classics. He asked the guests who of them had served in the IDF. Anyone who had served was NOT ALLOWED to pay for the refreshments he was providing.

(Don’t worry – Naomi Tours paid for everyone!!)

He asked us each time thereafter to bring him a specific item from Israel… a Raful hat, a flag, a T-shirt commemorating the 70th year of the state….


He met Rabbi Dadon. He now has a hechsher on his olive oil. He was invited to


Zagreb last year for Pesach.

He was seated on Rav Dadon’s Seder table in the majestic Esplanade Hotel, our home in

Zagreb.



Six years later we still receive every Shabbat, every chag, a meme from him. Wherever he travels he shows us pictures of his visits to the Shuls. A truer Ohev Israel you could never hope to meet.

But I hope you meet him one day. And he was never in our plan, never on our itinerary. But he was on HIS plan which was SOOOO much richer than our plan. We thought we knew what would be; we didn’t have a clue!! B”H


In conclusion, there’s still a week to go until Seder night. “May HE who changes ALL plans see fit to enable OUR plans for Leil HaSeder so that we can once again sit together with loved ones and those in need. And when we read of the obligation of a person sitting alone to ask the questions and answer them, may it be THY will that once again we will ask – how can that ever be?!?!”

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