Jews in Antarctica
Some vacations are good for a bit of relaxation, a little sightseeing and maybe a decent tan.
Others can change your life.
Mt. Lebanon-based Amazing Journeys aims to do just that. Under the direction of Malori Asman — a mother duck, of sorts, to thousands of Jewish singles over the years — this 10-year-old company helps like-minded people connect with each other, while showing them the world.
Asman, having just returned from leading her 10th cruise tour of Alaska for Jewish singles in their 30s 40s and 50s, seems to have travel in her blood, and a palpable excitement for sharing her passion.
“It’s like taking a child to Disneyland for the first time, and watching the world through their eyes,” she said of showing Alaska to new groups each year.
Asman, a married mother of three, began leading cruises for Jewish singles in 1993, when she was the vice president of cruises for Forbes Travel and also on the board of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
“I knew there had to be a way to get these two groups together, and I thought of Jewish singles cruises,” Asman said.
When Asman approached the JCC’s then-director of singles’ programming, Bill Cartiff, about the idea, however, he was leery at best.
“Bill said, ‘I can’t even get people to pay $10 in advance for a dinner. How are we going to get them to pay $500 for a three-night cruise?’” Asman recalled.
Nonetheless, Cartiff’s supervisor loved the idea, and 50 Jewish singles from Pittsburgh and a few surrounding cities went cruising to the Bahamas with Asman and Cartiff.
The following year, the pair, along with Asman’s co-worker Michele Rosenberg, planned a four-night Caribbean cruise, which drew 75 singles.
After a weeklong cruise in 1995 drew 150 people, Asman realized she was on to something.
She began offering two cruises a year — one to Alaska — as her clientele began to expand well beyond Pittsburgh.
“The word spread quickly,” Asman said. “This became a nationwide thing very quickly.”
In 1999, Asman left Forbes Travel, and began Amazing Journeys. In partnership with the JCC, Amazing Journeys now runs between eight and 10 trips a year, and attracts Jewish singles from all over the world, including Australia, Mexico and South Africa.
As Amazing Journeys’ clientele expanded, so did its destinations. The group goes virtually everywhere, including upcoming excursions to Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Russia and Scandinavia, and Vietnam and Cambodia.
And, for the first time, in celebration of its 10th anniversary, Amazing Journeys will lead a trip to Antarctica next February.
“It sold out in six days,” Asman said.
“In this time of a slow economy, Amazing Journeys is booming,” she said. “People still want to travel. And singles want to travel with other singles.”
Cartiff, who is single, sees Amazing Journeys as providing a much-needed service for Jewish adults who may have difficulty meeting other Jewish singles.
“Very few cities offer programming that brings Jewish singles together,” Cartiff said. “We live in a world right now where to stay connected Jewishly is a challenge. We provide a stable and consistent outlet for Jewish single adults to stay connected Jewishly, and to do so with like minded people.”
“Nowhere in our advertising will anyone find promotions of love,” Cartiff cautioned. “We don’t want that to be the expectation. These are trips with a great group of people and with great leaders. Love may be a by-product of what we do, but we don’t want people to expect it.” Asman agrees.
“We don’t want people to come looking for a spouse,” she said, adding that the trips are more about “networking and making new friends.” Such connections, however, could lead to a spouse down the line.
“Your future husband may not be on this trip, but his sister might be,” she said.
While Amazing Journeys does not sell itself as a means to find a mate, that, in fact, has happened for more than 50 couples, according to Asman.
Nicki Berlyn, of New York, and Marty Katz of Sydney, Australia, met on Amazing Journeys 2007 cruise to Alaska. They are getting married next week in Hawaii.
“It’s just a nice environment,” said Berlyn, who was encouraged to travel with Amazing Journeys after raves from friends who had previously vacationed with the group. “Everyone’s relaxed, and you can get to know people in a way that traditional dating doesn’t allow you to do.”
Because Amazing Journeys brings together Jewish singles from all over the world, it connects people who otherwise probably wouldn’t meet.
Such was the case for Beth and Michael Margolis, who met in 2004 on an Amazing Journeys cruise to Alaska, and got engaged on an Amazing Journeys Mediterranean cruise less than a year later.
Beth, who was from Columbus, Ohio, believes she never would have met Michael, who was living in Tucson at the time, had it not been for Amazing Journeys.
“We lived 2,000 miles apart,” said Beth. “We never would have come into contact with one another.”
“The thing that was really nice about traveling with Amazing Journeys is that we did meet people from all over the country. It was nice to know there are really cool singles out there. And it helps you establish new friends and develop a network of singles,” she added.
The Margolises now live in Boulder, Colo., along with their son, Ezra, who was born this past January.
“We call him our ‘Amazing Baby,’ ” Beth said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)