Hotel Pool or History Lesson? Navigating Israel with Three Kids in Tow

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Recently, my family and I took a trip to Israel. While I had several goals for the trip, including having a fantastic time, it was critically important to me that my kids saw the diversity of Jewish life in Tel Aviv. The city is the Baskin-Robbins of Jewish identity with a dazzling array of flavors to behold. Eastern European, African, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Asian, and indigenous Israelis, both religious and secular, seamlessly interact with one another. I prayed at a synagogue where some people donned bathing suits and others wore the traditional Orthodox garb of white dress shirt with black suit. There was no self-segregation, no ethnic or religious enclaves, such as one finds in Brooklyn or other parts of New York. I made a point of explaining this diversity to my kids, driving home that the Jewish people come from all sorts of different backgrounds. I hoped to teach them that one can’t prejudge either religious identification or, more broadly, anything about others, based solely on appearances.
Another important goal of mine was to give my kids a sense of the topography of Israel, especially near Jerusalem. We did so for two reasons. First, I wanted them to see the sites of Jerusalem, where a sense of the sacred permeates the old stone walls, especially the Western Wall, the axis mundi of the Jewish world ever since the Second Temple was destroyed by Rome 2000 years ago. And they were amazed. My older son grinned from ear to ear when he first saw the Wall, thronged by thousands of worshippers. And my younger son, who is still too young to appreciate the importance of the land, nevertheless had a great time climbing up stone walkways, running up and down the steps of the Old City of Jerusalem, and shopping in the Arab shuq (marketplace). Second, I wanted to give them an understanding of Israel in relation to the West Bank and Palestine. As we drove around, we pointed out the checkpoints, fences, and Arab villages in order for them to understand the difference between reality and life back home. I’m not sure how much they actually absorbed, but at least we began the process of showing them, visually, one aspect of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Of course, not everything about the trip was so delightful. As anyone who has ever tried traveling with little ones can attest, the journey itself, including a 12-hour flight, was challenging, to put it mildly. (By the way, I highly recommend that anyone flying for a long period with an infant get a bassinet seat, which they actually attach to the bulkhead so your child can sleep during the flight.) Plus, the high temperatures of the Middle East in August, when the day starts in the high 80s and only rises, makes it difficult to sightsee with kids. We wound up spending far more time in pools and at the beach than I would have liked. But all in all, it was a wonderful adventure.

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