As the sun inched below the horizon in this Mississippi River town, people arrived alone or in small groups and walked up the steps of Temple B'nai Israel on Shabbat.
Only about a dozen Jewish residents remain in Natchez, a city of about 16,400 best known for its elaborate plantation homes. As younger generations moved away, the congregation hasn't had its own full-time rabbi since 1976
It's time we stop kidding ourselves that Israel has survived well through the last three years. The country is unraveling at the seams.
Vail, Colo., might seem like Siberia compared to the more established Jewish community of Los Angeles, yet here in Lionshead (elevation: 10,350 feet) there's some 75 Jews gathered for Shabbat morning services.
Summer is often a season of travel and vacation. Whether travel is a part of our plans for this summer, most of us have had the experience of being a tourist.
Recently, a friend told me that his brother and sister-in-law flew from Newark, N.J., to Israel. The plane was filled with Christian church groups traveling on a Holy Land pilgrimage. When his sister-in-law got up to walk in the aisles, a fellow passenger stopped and inquired, "And what church are you from?"
When she said that she was Jewish, the lady remarked, "I think you are the only Jew on this flight."
Where have all the Jews gone? Not to Israel.
Ricky Nelson, whose hit "I'm a Traveling Man," put him on the map decades ago, has a lot in common with Rabbi Marc Rubenstein.
Like the character in the song, Rubenstein spends a good portion of his time traveling the county in various capacities, from acting as a self-appointed social worker to serving as the rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach.
Rubenstein, 52, born into a Conservative family in New York City, studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem before obtaining his bachelor's degree in religion and history from the American University in Washington, D.C. His rabbinical training was conducted at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York.
When businessman Evan Kaizer traveled to Israel with his wife in 1999, it had been almost 20 years since his last visit, and much had changed, but that wasn't what threw Kaizer for a loop.
"Traveling in the Galilee used to give way to majestic views of the Golan; [this time] we could barely see the Golan through the haze," he said. "Trash was everywhere. Traffic was gridlocked, and at the Dead Sea ... we could not see Jordan, just a few short miles away." When he asked his guide why that was so, the man brushed his question aside by saying it was just a dust storm.
High-power Israeli Defense Force (IDF) squads have been traveling to choice tourist destinations worldwide this summer, but not for vacation.