Asian flavor, kosher chicken thigh (The Bangkok Shabbat experience)

May 24
Hand me the destination and I'll track you down that kosher chicken thigh.

I'd been recommend by my D.C. rabbi and a family friend to contact Rabbi Kantor, Bangkok's Chabad (orthodox) rabbi who, coincidentally, is also my family friend’s rabbi and my home rabbi’s first cousin.

No surprise, really, that Jewish geography applies worldwide. 

Friday night rolled in, and Caitlan and I headed to Chabad—she had joined me for Shabbat dinner during her visit in Paris and, while not Jewish, she’s familiar with the Chabad environment.

We stepped into a cab, my iPhone in hand with the synagogue's address typed in. I love the taxi rides, staring out the window as the stream of the city blurs—views of the different neighborhoods, of the downtown and side streets, the shrines scattered among homes and markets. 
Our driver slowed after 45 minutes, turning to face us as he shrugged his shoulders, shaking his head apologetically. 
“I don’t know direction.”

Which was great, because neither did we.
We paid and wandered into the Holiday Inn across the street-- the hotel concierge drawing a similar blank. He stepped outside, asking a motorcyclist who talked to a cab driver who motioned us into his car, driving up to a street local who pointed him in the direction of the synagogue ahead.

The temple was barred off—an embossed menorah the only sign of any Jewish context. The security guard—a tall, bald Israeli man—asked for our ID, wanting to know if we had made reservations for dinner.

No, we hadn’t.

He let down his stern gaze, allowing us into the synagogue’s courtyard. Caitlan and I made our way up to the sanctuary, joining Shabbat servicesThe room had no windows—we could be anywhere in the world, tunes of a service that’s all too familiar and surrounded by a community no different than mine from home.

Chabad in Bangkok. The gate barring the synagogue from view.

Shabbat dinner followed—kosher chicken thigh, thankfully, on the menu. A South African, young man sat behind us, pulling over his chair to introduce himself—he had moved from Capetown to London to Bangkok, a lawyer by trade, a Thai boxer in his spare time. He introduced his Israeli friend, an IT professional who missed home in Israel—full plan to move back, he assured us.

The three, Israeli men opposite us hadn’t seen each other in 20 years—now in their 50s, the men reminisced over memories from their past and stories of their adult years. Only one of them lived in Bangkok after having spent time in Germany-- the other lived in Israel and the one directly opposite me had moved to Montreal and now in Aventura, Florida—the city I grew up in before 8th grade.

Small world.

To their left sat an Asian woman and Israeli man, I initially assuming she was Thai, joining perhaps her husband for evening services and dinner.

As we got to talking, I gathered she was an American-born Korean, having owned a store in D.C.’s Union Station and living in Georgetown before moving to Bangkok on a whim. She had met the Israeli man three months back, while on a business in Singapore.

She feels more Asian than American-- though Thais notice she’s different, albeit her Asian appearance, she said.

I've spent such time toying with the notion of identity, coming to terms that identity changes as life progresses. We adapt to context—adjusting the manner we define while maintaining a core sense of values and ideals to structure our lives upon.

The rabbi that evening spoke of the individual purposes and collective mission we each hold. We're to accept our faults while acknowledging our success- for in that way we can embrace humility, "the absence of arrogance in yourself," he explained. Our biggest problems, he said, is our self esteem. And in overcoming the areas we fall short, we’re able to achieve our mission, understand our purpose and perhaps, I believe, come to terms with our identity.
Developing connections is my purpose that guides my mission—one that remains constant among an identity always in flux. The connections within my life help frame the manner I define identity. I am Jewish above all—in part because it’s a community I can connect to no matter where I am in the world.

And here, at Shabbat at Chabad in Bangkok, I met those with connections to parts of the life I come from—the man who lives in Aventura, the rabbi who is my D.C. rabbi’s first cousin; And the people with stories of the life paths they followed, never knowing where it would bring them.

Somehow we all end up where we're supposed to be. It's our mission— the greater plan, if that's what you believe.

Follow your gut, the Korean-American lady told us before turning out that evening. "I never imagined I'd work in Bangkok," 
she said, turning to smile at the Israeli man seated to her right. "I never knew my life path would bring me here."

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