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With no Jewish life around, you need to create it from scratch, even if only for yourself.

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Arik Fochtman carved a menorah out of a piece of driftwood he found on a rocky Norwegian beach, and lit candles on Chanukah at sunset - 11 AM

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Imagine that in the place you are at, the definition of Jewish life is basically… you. The challah you bake is the best on the island, matzo balls made of Norwegian crackers are still closest to the original as you can get and if, by any chance, you wish to make chocolate hummus, there’s nobody to stop you from taking this quite controversial step.

It’s not that any of those is actually something that makes you Jewish, it’s just something that most of the time you’re so used to, that you take it for granted. And to be honest, there’s nothing wrong about that.

For me, as I see it right now, the Jewish identity and all that it brings into my life could be compared to the city that you were born in and never moved out. You know all the tourist attractions, the streets and random places, but most of the time you never really visit them, because they’ll be there, you feel that you’ll always have time to go to this museum that you pass everyday on your way to work, or that one park that one day trippers always ask you about.

Moving to Norway was quite a spontaneous step for me. After living in Israel for more than a year, working in Samar, a totally secular, amazing kibbutz in the middle of Arava Desert, I felt I just needed a change.

I wanted to feel some cool wind, look at the endless ocean and listen to the soft sound of thin ice cracking beneath my feet, while I’m crossing a frozen puddle on a chilly morning. North of Norway provides me with all of that and far more.

Sitting by the dining room window and gazing at the majestic mountains of Lofoten, the sharp edged cliffs and snow covered peaks is my everyday morning routine. Litløy is a remote island with a historic lighthouse built more than a century ago and permanently hosts only a few inhabitants, amongst them two cats, a few minks and a bunch of cheeky otters. Life here is pretty off grid, and days pass on hard work and gain at the spectacular views.

Carrying wood up to the house, facing exactly 249 stairs is demanding, but it also gives me a lot of time to think in solitude, detached from everybody else, things I knew and people from my community.

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With no Jewish life around, you need to create it from scratch, even if only for yourself. For me it is baking a round challah with za’atar every Friday and sharing it with whoever wanted to try it, listening to Chava Alberstein songs, offering help with online projects to various Jewish organisations or reading about history, customs and traditions of holidays that I thought I knew everything about. I never really did any of those things regularly before, I was never so curious about all the things that I was so, as I thought, already familiar with.

What comes next and is deeply satisfying, it’s the level of creativity one can reach while seeking for solutions needed.

  • Making a sukkah out of fishing nets, because the island lacks any sort of leaves or branches,
  • Carving a chanukkiah out of a piece of driftwood found on a rocky beach,
  • Lighting candles on Chanukkah at 11 AM, because that’s when it gets dark after just an hour of dusky daylight 

Then there’s browsing the web in search for recipes for artificial honey to dip the Rosh-Hashanah apple, knowing that in order to get a jar of real one you would have to spend couple of hours on a ferry to the nearest city of Sortland – and also, with weather so rapidly changing, you never really know, not only when but if the trip can take place that day at all.

This photograph, taken by a drone, shows the isolation facing anyone trying to live a Jewish life on the Island of Litløya in Norway (Photo: Christoph Bouvier)

And yet, because of all that, what I guess before I might have called inconvenience and now I’d rather say challenges, I find great joy in every celebration, mostly because I make it all by myself, even despite being here almost on my own. Few people who live here with me are always invited to any celebration.

I try to explain all the traditions especially through food, wich always brings people together. Various versions of challah and babka are the absolute winner, but no-one will say no to some good Mandelbrot as well. 

All this journey, these experiences made me try to redefine, to understand, what is for me my Jewish identity, how important it is in my life, and how it influences people around me.

There are still many questions to be asked and many answers that may never come but what really counts is that I’m on the path to get to know something more about myself.

Who would ever suppose that this will happen now, when I’m the only Jew on a remote arctic island?

Arek “Arik” Fochtman was born in Poland and studied in Berlin. Currently on a Scandinavian adventure. Chef in the making, combining family traditions, my own Israeli experiences with future diaspora possibilities mainly through culinary arts and building awareness around Jewishness. 

He is a member of the Global Jewish Pen Pal program

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

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