As travel restrictions intensified with the growing COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Tom Price, a former US diplomat who has been to over 140 countries, was faced with a dilemma. For years he had been leading Jewish heritage tours throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union and sharing his vast knowledge of the Jewish history of the areas. Without the ability to travel and lead tourist groups, how could he stay busy as an educator?
That’s when someone suggested he start a podcast. While’s he’s not tech-savvy, Tom decided to give it a try, and so “Around the Jewish World” was born. In each 15-20 minute episode, Tom leads a virtual tour to one of the many places he has visited. The podcast is filled with Jewish history and general history as well as personal anecdotes featuring friends Tom has made throughout his travels. Though short, each episode is packed with amazing stories, often highlighting surprising Jewish communities in unexpected places.
Tom caught the travel bug in the early 1970s. Tom had been a camper at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin in the 1960s, and despite not being “a happy camper,” he came back on staff for several summers with his friend Larry Sternberg. During Larry’s junior year abroad, they met in Kabul, Afghanistan and then spent six weeks visiting Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union. When they came back to camp after the travel abroad experience, Tom and Larry Sternberg loved telling stories about their travels to their campers – and the campers couldn’t get enough.
The campers begged Tom and Larry to take them to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union the next summer prior to going on Ramah Israel Seminar. Knowing what a great educational experience it would be to see the history of Jewish life in Europe before visiting Israel, Tom and Larry agreed to plan the trip and ended up leading a group of about 30 Ramahniks through Poland, Czechoslovakia and the former Soviet Union. The trip was a huge success, so they expanded it the next summer and laid the groundwork for the Eastern Europe trips that Ramah Seminar now offers.
One of the things that Tom discovered through his own participation in Ramah Israel Seminar and other travels was that Jews are everywhere. Even in areas where it seems all the Jews have gone, traces of the Jewish heritage can still be found. In the podcast episode on Montenegro, Tom shares the story of a Chabad rabbi he calls a “miracle worker.” At one point, when asked if there were enough Jews in Montenegro to form a minyan, the rabbi responded, “not yet.” He then went on to find hundreds of people with Jewish lineage, and this year will be hosting a community Rosh Hashanah event. Check out the podcast for the full story.
When Tom was posted in Islamabad, Pakistan during his time in the US diplomatic service, he hosted Rosh Hashanah dinner for the entire Jewish community in Pakistan. The first year there were about 15-20 participants, and the second year that number had doubled.
Tom even found traces of a Jewish community in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. He prides himself on being to surprising places where most people don’t know that Jews have ever been.
One of the most impactful moments of Tom’s travels came when he was leading a Jewish heritage trip in northwestern Ukraine in the city of Lviv. Lviv used to be over 40% Jewish and was home to over 70 synagogues – one can still see Yiddish words painted on the storefronts. Now there are only two synagogues and maybe 1200 Jewish people left.
One woman needed to say Kaddish for her father, so the group arranged to have a mincha-maariv service on the rooftop of their hotel. Picture a group of about 18 people, Jewish and non-Jewish, davening on a rooftop in the middle of a city. Suddenly, one person started singing “Am Yisrael Chai” and soon everyone, even the non-Jews, joined in. On the streets below, there were the physical remnants of a once-great Jewish community, and above it all, a small group proclaimed the Jewish people were still alive.
Tom is looking forward to being able to travel again and hopes to lead trips to at least every destination he has covered on the podcast and more. In the meantime, be sure to follow him on Facebook and subscribe to the podcast wherever you enjoy getting your podcasts.