Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ben G. Frank, author of the Scattered Tribe Interviewed in Jewish Journal, Ft. Lauderdale,

Local author visits world's exotic Jewish communities

  • Author Ben G. Frank of Boynton Beach admires the amulet known as a hamsa and used by Jews and Arabs, on the door of a home in Essaouira, Morocco.
Author Ben G. Frank of Boynton Beach admires the amulet known as a hamsa and… (Submitted photo )
July 2, 2012|By David A. Schwartz, Staff Writer
Ben G. Frank's wanderlust and curiosity about Jews in far-away, exotic places has taken him throughout Europe and to Cuba, India, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), Morocco and Tahiti.
In "The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond," Frank, a Boynton Beach resident, writes about his travels and the Jews he has met along the way. "I never tell people where to go," Frank, 78, said. "My job is to write about Jews in these countries and I do." He said he used to write about synagogues and restaurants until he realized that when Jews travel, they want to go to Jewish communities and meet fellow Jews.
Frank said he is not surprised to find Jews in almost every country he visits. "Jewish history tells us there's been a wide dispersion," he said. "It's kind of like threads. The Diaspora has threads and Jews move around the world."
But Frank said that when he decided to visit Tahiti, he wasn't sure that he would find any Jews living there. He said he did some research and learned that Tahiti has about 250 Jews and a synagogue.
Frank first visited Cuba in 1991. Now, only about 1,100 to 1,200 Jews remain there, he said. "We almost lost a generation there. Seeing kids in the Sunday school in Cuba is amazing after all these years."
Frank has been to 88 countries but he doesn't have a favorite. "They're all different in a way," he said. He would like to return to France, where he has been many times, and to Paris. "It's one of the most beautiful cities in the world," he said.
He also wants to return to Japan, which he has visited twice. "Japan has an interesting culture," Frank said, and is of greater interest now that he has traveled throughout Asia.
The Asian continent is a very important place for Jews to visit because they never learned about its Jewish history, Frank said. Jews have been in India for 2,000 years and at one time about 400,000 Jews lived there, he said. Today, about 5,000 Jews live in India with about 4,000 living in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, he said.
Frank said he has never been to Australia and New Zealand. "There's a really good Jewish community there," he said. "Then I could really have covered the large Jewish centers in the world."
Juan J. Walte, 72, a retired journalist who lives in Boynton Beach, said he liked "The Scattered Tribe." "You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy it," he said. "It's pretty general and the history of each place is fascinating. It's a good travelogue."
Walte called Frank "the modern wandering Jew." He went back to his ancestral city, Odessa, and followed his aunt's trip on the Trans Siberian Railroad to China, Walte said.
Walte said he made about 15 trips to Cuba from the late 1970s to mid-1990s as a reporter for USA Today and the wire service United Press International but learned about the Ashkenazi and Sephardi backgrounds of Cuba's once thriving Jewish community from the book.
David Trachtman

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