One of the questions my kids love to ask goes something like "Is Israel big enough that we can drive for 10 hours and still be in Israel?" or some variation on this theme. I think it's part of how they try to wrap their heads around how big Israel is because we're always telling them that it's a small country. My answer "It depends on who's driving." And so it goes. This year's Passover break was such a great time. Our Seder was very kid friendly and the kids had so much to contribute. The younger kids' reenactment of the Jews leaving Egypt, complete with Hanes t-shirts tied around their heads, was quite a hit.
Sunday morning we headed out with friends to the Negev, in the south of Israel. Our destination, Machtesh Ramon, is a giant crater--like a Grand Canyon of Israel. It was supposed to be a 2 hour drive to our camping site, but somehow it took us 5 hours to arrive. You know how it goes-- a few bathroom breaks, a stop at the Kibbutz where Ben Gurion lived, the two-hour estimate didn't include the 3 miles on a non-paved road, which 3 miles themselves ate up half an hour of bumpy, 5mph driving. . . of course, it depends on who's driving.
Yes, we went camping in Israel. In the bit of research I did to prepare, I discovered that actually what we did is referred to as "glamping." Glamping is for those who want to pitch a tent, roast some marshmallows and stare in wonder at all that nature has to offer, but still be able to use a clean toilet, take a hot shower and buy ice cream. I learned a lot while camping in the Negev. For one thing, the Negev is really, really hot--until the sun goes down. Then it progressively gets really, really cold. I also learned that the sky full of stars is beautiful and the surroundings can give such perspective. Another lesson was that I really like sleeping in a bed. The padding and everything under your sleeping bag sounds great in theory, but . . .
Naturally, about 10 minutes after pitching our tent, N looked up and saw a kid from his school and about 10 minutes later, our downstairs neighbors walked over to say hi. What a small world!
Interestingly, we met a couple from the Pacific Northwest who were visiting Israel for a month. They were a bit shocked by some of the cultural differences between Israel and the US. Israel was a much more intimate affair than what they were used to. We tried explaining that during the week of Passover much of the country is on vacation, so it wasn't such a fair comparison, but they hadn't realized that tents would go up so close to one another and they missed the rangers going around and telling people to be quiet and people being silent until 10AM. That would never fly here. Ever. What we experienced instead was a bunch of families camping out side by side. All facets of Israeli life, religious and secular camping out together and everyone had a box of matzah. A real spirit of nationhood. At one point, our kids noted a mom leading a big group of kids in a game. They ran over with their friends, and maybe because they were speaking to each other in English, she switched to English and asked them if they wanted her to explain the game. The kids in both families replied to her in Hebrew that they knew the game and joined in the fun. Times like that I can not only see the progress, but also appreciate that my children are growing up Israeli. After our morning coffee we went to a nearby site for a desert archery class. The fellow running the course was an Australian immigrant from twenty years ago. He asked me what I did and I told him I was an ER doc but that I am working in the urgi-care here. N joked, "she got demoted." He replied that "Your mother came for love of country." And in deed I do love Israel, and traveling around and seeing more only deepens the love.
The next day we picnicked at a National Park about 10 minutes from our house, with totally different topography. Forests and greenery replaced rocks and sand. But again, it's the whole nation out with frisbees, boom boxes, soccer balls, kites and matzah. Israelis seem to have the picnic thing down. I'm talking table cloths and full on meals including spices for the food--and this was Passover!
The next day we went to the movies. During the first year of mourning, it is customary not to go to movies but since we were seeing a children's movie and it was in Hebrew I decided to go. Movies in Israel represent to me a huge marker of progress. In our first month in Israel we made the mistake of taking the kids to the movies. Language did not occur to us. We've since learned that kid's movies are (almost) always dubbed to Hebrew while adult movies just have subtitles. Makes sense. Young kids can't read. Our kids were so mad during that first movie that they staged a semi-revolt. Almost 3 years later they don't even ask, and a few weeks ago when Lital went to a movie with friends and I asked her if it had been in Hebrew or English it took her a few minutes to remember. As for me, I understood most of the film.
Final day we went up North with some friends to a Kibbutz that built mazes out of nature. It was so much fun. Again, the environment was totally different, with everything in a varying shade of green. Families were on the lawn playing tennis, jumping rope, playing catch and the mazes were really challenging and fun. We never quite figured out the last one and when it started to drizzle we took the easy way out.
And by the way, Ben&Jerry's Charoset flavored ice cream was really good.