Along the way, I was stunned by the beauty of the sky, the ocean and intercoastal waterways, the egrets, grey herons, cranes and iguanas, and a special visit to see manatees that took my breath away. (I had hoped for a glimpse of an alligator but they were apparently shy.)
I marveled at how exotic it all felt.
At the same time, I also winced a little at the evidence of vast wealth I saw everywhere I looked. The largest Jewish communities I visited -- Orlando, West Palm Beach and Boca Raton -- are basically rolling in money. The Jewish high school where Limmud was held looked so modern, so gleaming clean and white, it could have been finished twenty minutes before I arrived. Clearly, being Jewish in these places is very different than being Jewish at home.
And that's partly the point of my travels.
I travel in order to share my music far and wide with Jews across North America -- and to experience a little taste of what Jewish life is like beyond the borders of my home state. As Abigail Adams was believed to have said upon returning from France with her husband, the future President John, "Travel is broadening." And so it is.
What I found everywhere I stopped were friendly, welcoming people who were curious about what Jewish life is like in the rainy Northwest, and who embraced me and my music warmly at every stop. I never felt like a total stranger, because I was among fellow Jews, fellow travelers, and we all sensed that. Yes, we have differences of opinion and some of them are, frankly, too onerous for me to bear for more than a day's visit; but underneath it all we share a common spirit of hope, generosity and love that is our heritage.
And that is why, the day after arriving home, I feel so grateful for the opportunity to travel and to give my songs and stories away. Because I come home with new perspectives, new questions to consider, and above all new friends.
Thank you, Florida, for a wonderful visit and for a joyous Chanukah on the road.
Buckets of peace to you and yours.
Stay tuned. Next month I'll head to Seattle for house concerts and a day at Limmud Seattle. Details coming soon!
Let's all learn something from these darker days, and revel in the light that is soon to return.