By Eli Freund ~
Many people dream of sitting on the beach, in Hawaii sipping on a Mai-tai, but Ben Frank, author of the book “The Scattered Tribe” decided to add a different meaning to his worldly travels: Personal and spiritual transcendence. Frank, a former resident of Connecticut and travel writer for the New Haven Register, JAXFAX and various Jewish publications, writes a thrilling narrative about his journeys to the far reaches of the earth to find Jewish communities in exotic locations.
Starting his journey in the cold outskirts of post-war Russia, Frank steps into the footsteps of his grandmother, an escapee from WWI Bolshevik rule. The author recalls the journey from oppressive rule on the Trans-Siberian railroad: “She couldn’t go west as World War I was still on and the Germans were fighting the Russians. So she had to go east and went on the Trans-Siberian railway. That’s why I have a chapter on Siberia and the railway, I wanted to see and experience her journey.”
While his travels for the book were somewhat personal, his greatest aim was to discover Jews in unimaginable places. Places such as Cuba, Vietnam and Tahiti, which were largely devoid of Jewish inhabitants since the dawn of time, are suddenly starting to make an appearance. When Frank arrived in Cuba, he was surprised by the resilience in the Jewish community there, largely forced into secrecy, “I was surprised how they worked together and felt strongly about Judaism and Israel and I wrote about their life, especially how it is to live in Castro’s Cuba, a police state.”
But when Ben Frank takes a large step back from his work he wanted to provide his audience with a Jewish travel narrative, instead of just a travel guide, which these days is a rare commodity. “Travel books are fun, adventurous, and for the arm-chair traveler,” Frank says. “I did not want to make this a travel guide; nothing against guides, I wrote three Jewish travel guides.”
While Frank has an aversion to travel guides, he himself, in his heart, will always be a travel writer, having more than 40 years of experience in the field. Frank’s love for travel permeates throughout the book, weaving a tapestry of Jewish diversity in his extensive expedition.
Being such a niche book, the author doesn’t discourage any subset of reader and suggests this book for “Jews and non-Jews alike, who are interested about oppressed people in exotic lands.” Frank definitely provides an armchair reader that many people will clamor for, so if you have free time on your hands, pick up a copy, because you’ll be pleasantly surprised.