Our first of two trips up north this summer are only a few weeks away. Because of this, we are anxious to start packing and get on the road. For me, it’s an opportunity to head home to the place I was raised. For my husband and our two boys, it is the best vacation spot around.
I was raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) in a small town called Pickford. It’s a quaint little place with only a flashing yellow lights (no red!), but it is home for me even though I left nearly 25 years ago to attend university. I was raised on a small sheep farm outside of town and enjoyed raising animals and growing produce.
These days, my dad and his wife live on Drummond Island, which is Michigan’s largest residential island—about a 40 mile drive east of Pickford. In order to get there, you have to take a car ferry, which is the best part of the trip for our kids. The house sits on a little bay off of Lake Huron and offers a beautiful paradise to all who come to visit, even with the mosquitos and black flies.
Our family likes to go for walks along the water, hunt for puddingstones, pick wild raspberries and blueberries, fish off of the dock, swim, paddle in the canoe, listen to the loons, and ride the various ORVs available to us on the property. We don’t spend a lot of money because there is nowhere to go or anything to buy. It allows us to enjoy the amazing sunrises and sunsets—and all the beauty that surrounds us. It is truly an escape from the hustle and bustle of the Detroit suburbs.
One of the best and most surprising parts of our “up north” vacations, however, are the Jewish opportunities for learning and discovery that seem to come our way. Most people think that the U.P. is absent of Jews, but the truth is, it was one of the earliest places Jews settled in Michigan. The systems of lakes and waterways offered great opportunities for trade and commerce, so there is a strong Jewish history there. If you make a stop at Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinac City, for instance, you will discover a historical marker that tells the story of Ezekiel Solomon, the first Jewish settler to the area in 1761.
If you take a trip to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, you can visit my home synagogue, Congregation Beth Jacob. The community was established in the early 1900s—and is where I had my bat mitzvah. However, there is also a synagogue in Ishpeming and a Hillel on the campus of Michigan Tech University. It’s important to us to teach our boys about the Jewish presence in the UP, both historical and current so that they understand that Jews are really everywhere, and we can learn from the Jewish experience wherever we travel.
Another gift that we receive whenever we head north is the opportunity to visit old friends and community members, like many families who return to their hometowns. People ask me all the time about what they should do when they go to the UP. Some of the “must-sees” are the Porcupine Mountains, Isle Royale, and Tahquamenon Falls. It’s true, these are incredibly beautiful places, but I also try and encourage people to visit with the locals. They will share incredible history, knowledge, and stories with you—and will even take you in and offer you some food and drink. “Youpers (people from the U.P.) are giving people. Everyone helps each other and everyone takes care of their neighbor. These values, which are also important Jewish values, are part of the UP culture—and now part of the lessons I hope to teach my sons.
Of course, the one thing you don’t want to forget is your bug spray. Otherwise, enjoy your time in U.P.