Last summer, I had to decide whether to cancel my family vacation to Israel in the midst of the war. Eventually, we canceled our vacation after the FAA suspended all American carriers, including the one we were to fly on, from flying to Israel. This summer, we made it to Israel and we had a blast. We were able to see my 94-year-old grandmother, meet two of my cousins’ babies, and spend lots of time with family. We also enjoyed the beaches, visited the Kotel and other ancient sites in the Old City of Jerusalem and throughout the country, rode on camels in the Negev, explored caves at Rosh Hanikra, drove through a Safari in Ramat Gan, played in the Sea of Galilee, and soaked up the air conditioning in the malls whenever we could.
Below are 10 things we learned while in Israel:
1. “Israel is boring.” But, here, “boring” does not mean what you think it means. In this case, one of my daughters mistakenly began saying “boring” instead of “hot.” And, Israel is indeed very hot, so she’s not wrong in her assessment. How hot? Israel is so hot that all limits on ice cream are removed. So hot that frozen strawberry drink replaces water. So hot that one might even permit one’s 2-year-old daughter to drink dad’s ice coffee.
2. The Israeli character is found in roads, amusement parks, and playgrounds. Or as Tuvia Tenenbom says in “Catch the Jew,” “‘This is the land – intense in every square foot of it.” But, I would add that the same people who honk and flash lights at you on the road will stop short to let an old woman or a parent and child cross the road unharmed. And, the same children who push and struggle over every inch at the playground also go on to serve and sometimes die to protect the next generation of kids.
3. All that children need to be entertained in Israel are cats and soldiers. Cat spotting and soldier spotting was a daily pastime for my kids while here. And, anyone who thinks the cats are not in charge of this country are fooling themselves. As for the soldiers, who we saw in malls, on buses, and near the Kotel, my older daughter was particularly excited to see and meet brave women soldiers, and while in Jerusalem, she participated in a note writing project addressed to soldiers. She wrote, “Thanks for saving us.”
4. There are many kinds of Jews here: Jews in black hats. Jews in bikinis. Jews with many different shades of skin. Jews who speak many languages. Jews who escaped oppression or worse from all over the globe. Fun Jews. Serious Jews. All of these Jews make up this beautiful and diverse country.
5. There are many other people who live here who are not Jews. From the Baha’i, whose beautiful shrine and gardens we saw in Haifa, to the Bedouins we met in the Negev desert, and the Arabs we interacted with in Akko and Tiberias–they too are a significant part of Israel’s makeup.
6. Children can live for at least two weeks on chocolate sandwiches, drinkable yogurt, and ice cream.
7. There is truly something special about Jerusalem. Even young children can feel it in the air, in the stones, in the spirit of the Old City. We spent a long time at the Kotel with my children (and visited it twice) and they inherently understood its significance. Both of my girls told Hashem (God), “I love you,” kissed the wall, and really took in the moment. Of course, my younger daughter complained that God did not answer her profession of love, adding, “he’s stuck in the wall.”
8. This is a small country, but it is somehow vast. While here we visited modern malls, ancient cities, the desert, mountains, parks, and beaches. We rode on high-speed highways and rode on meandering camels. We saw high art, pop culture, street culture. We experienced spirituality and a connection to our history.
9. The food here is divine. The land of milk and honey offers so much more in the way of sustenance. It is the land of watermelon and chocolate, cheese and bread, cakes and cucumbers, hummus and shakshuka. And above all, thank Hashem, it is the land of frozen coffee.
10. The most important lesson of all comes from my 2-year-old. She passes on this advice for using the toilet in Israel: “The little button is for pee and the big button is for poo!”