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WOLFE'S WORDSFebruary 12, 2010
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Grief Tourism
by: Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
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"Tsaar" is the Yiddish word for grief.

Is your idea of traveling visiting scenes of "tragish" (tragic) and horrific sites? Have you ever heard the terms "Dark Tourism," "Grief Tourism" or "poorism"? This is when travelers seek "tragedye" (tragedy) by traveling to sites associated with death and suffering.

As a New Yorker, I've seen Ground Zero. Yes, I've visited the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz in Poland.

Chuck Vadum ("A Visit to Terezin") wrote, "Visiting a concentration camp is not an enjoyable experience, yet I believe it is an intensely valuable one. It provides you with a focal point for everything you've seen in films and read in books about the Holocaust. It also helps you to view events in your own life with a new perspective..."

Yes, I've seen The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the former hiding place where she wrote her diary during World War II. Perhaps this is MY way to trying to understand something about humanity.

Danny Gold ( wrote, "Poorism," grief tourism and dark tourism are terms which refer to methods of travel that focus on the less positive aspects of foreign countries, whether it be sites of previous massacres, cities torn apart by recent wars, or broken down slums of the third world." He continues, "The world is to be experienced, be it in gaudy foreign nightclubs or destitute shanty towns. No one seems bothered when people line up for tours to gawk at Hollywood mansions in the hills, or cruise along the different 5th avenues of the world. I'd rather have people visiting shanty towns, having their eyes opened to what life is truly like for most of the world than being blinded by the dizzying falsities and gilded wastefulness of the opulently wealthy."

No, I'm not interested in the Titanic 100-year memorial cruise, scheduled to sail exactly 100 years after the ill-fated voyage on 4/10/1912. The cruise departs from Southampton, UK, and will follow Titanic's original itinerary, passing Cherbourg, calling at Cobh, crossing the Atlantic and arriving at the site where the Titanic sank exactly 100 years ago. At this exact site, a "denkom" (memorial) service will be held to pay tribute to the brave passengers and crew who perished on that fateful night. The journey continues to Nova Scotia for a visit to the cemetery where the Titanic victims were interred. "Der prayz"? (The cost?) From $3,900 per person, double occupancy. According to Marie Drennan (, this particular sailing is selling rather quickly and is at 60-70% capacity already.

I get sufficient enjoyment just re-reading the late Sam Levenson's 1973 book, "In One Era & Out the Other." Levinson's mother, who did not live in our clock-eyed world, didn't need a "kalendar" or "luakh" (Jewish calendar). When asked, "When was I born, Mama?" she replied, "How could I forget? You were born on the night the Titanic sank."

Nor would I go aboard Royal Caribbean's gigantic 3,100-passenger Navigator of the Seas and stop at a north Haiti beach. Royal Caribbean deposits the tourists on the picturesque peninsula of Labadie, which was unaffected by the Haiti "erd-tsiternish" (earthquake). This island has been called "private paradise"; it has pristine beaches and spectacular water activities.

I question how Royal Caribbean can dock in Haiti despite nearby devestation. Tourists are going to parasail, snorkel and chow down barbecue close to where 100,000 to 200,000 people have died: infants, "kinder," teenagers, mothers, fathers, the whole "meshpocheh."

How can a "pasazhir" (passenger) enjoy a private-themed water park at this time? Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The population lives on less than a "dolar" a day. "Shlimazel, vohin gaist du? Tsum oreman!" (Bad fortune. Where goest thou? To the poor man!)

CEO, Adam Goldstein, said that changing cruise itineraries to avoid a Labadie port call would only cause further pain to Haiti, as Royal Caribbean is an economic engine for the country. "It would just be adding on to the disaster circumstances they are already facing there."

On January 2, 2010 I wrote the following e-mail to the website, :

"I've been reading about the term 'grief tourism' and 'dark tourist.' Yes, many Jewish and non-Jewish people travel to sites associated with death and suffering. Jews visit The Anne Frank House and the extermination camps. Perhaps they do so in an attempt to understand "mentshhayt" (humanity). However, when I read that the Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas is stopping at a north Haiti beach, I felt that was crossing the line. What do our rabbi's say about "grief travel"?

Rabbi Reuben Lauffer responded:

"As you point out it is not an easy thing to quantify. Is touring Auschwitz acceptable but the beaches of Haiti not? Yes, I think so. If they were stopping at Haiti to show them the catastrophic destruction and loss of life that sounds like it could be something very beneficial - to show people, thank God, who are most detached from death and devastation - the aftermath and perhaps teach them to be just a little kinder and gentler in their own personal lives. But not to treat the calamity as if it never occurred, or even worse, that it did but it does not effect me in any way is a travesty and I would hope that people had more empathy and common sense than that."

When I asked Rabbi Anchelle Perl the same question, via e-mail, he replied......

The timing for the Cruise was somewhat off [even in bad taste] but it wasn't their fault. Perhaps if they had stopped and included a formal gathering of prayer would have been better accepted.

In general "grief tourism" is important. It keeps alive the memory of its location and its larger meaning i.e. visiting the concentration camps. Keeping the memory of our past and building from it for the future is a very important principle in Jewish life."

In conclusion, the "gut nayes" (good news): Passengers will be able to donate to Food for the Poor's Haiti Relief Fund via charges to their onboard ship account...and Royal Caribbean will make a minimum $1 million contribution to the Haiti relief effort through support of various organizations involved in the relief effort.
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of a new book titled, "Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers." To order, click here:
Marjorie Wolfe
19 Market Dr.
Syosset, NY 11791
$13 (plus $3.50 postage & handling, USA)
$13 (pus $5.00 postage & handling, Canada


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