Tisha B’Av signals the beginning of the Israeli summertime, the time when freedom arrives and vacation really begins. Until now, the kids were all – willingly or not – signed up, set up and sent away to kaytanot for the toddlers, day camps for the school kids, overnight camps for the teens, and any other form of organized activity that gathered in the younger generation and kept them busy and off the streets for a few weeks.
I remember summertime as “free and easy”; a time to lounge around and do nothing much of anything. It was a time to go to the library, the beach or to just meet with friends. But the world has changed. Today, the thought of leaving kids blissfully alone and unscheduled sends shudders through the souls of loving parents. (And, of course, if both parents are away at work, leaving kids alone and unattended is not exactly a great option.)
Now that Bein Hazmanim is here, yeshivot empty out and the great Annual Israeli Summer Exodus begins.
Israelis who are so inclined pack up and take off to foreign shores. Those who do not wish to leave the holy confines of Eretz Yisrael (or cannot afford the plane fare…) all head in one direction… North. In the winter, for Chanukah, we travel South to the warmer Negev or Eilat, but in our warm (read: hot) Israeli summer, we dream of the northern Galil and the Golan. North means cooler, higher and wetter.
A disproportionate number of tourists to the North are more religious and each year witnesses a growing number of newly-certified kosher restaurants. Many go a step further and become bona fide glatt establishments. This welcome development makes the Galil and Golan attractive even in the cold winter months. Formerly restricted to falafel and pizza, we can now order gourmet meals, hot or cold, in luxuriously rustic surroundings, surrounded by either sand or snow, depending on the season.
Summertime is also when Israelis leave their cities to embrace Mother Nature. As the local population flows out, tourists from abroad flow in. The streets of Jerusalem are usually filled bumper to bumper with cars. They now boast bumper to bumper buses (each of which takes up two to three parking places, so parking is still hard to come by). Fortunately, most of the private cars are out on the highways traveling north.
City sidewalks get pretty crowded too, so if you want to get within five miles of the Old City of Jerusalem or any of the tourists sites around the country, make sure you bring a hat, a comfortable pair of shoes, a bottle of water and a hefty supply of patience. On the way, you’re likely to meet a lot of nice people. Israel is always the Land of Many Languages, but in the summer, you can hear languages you never heard before – Sindy, Shunda, Swahili, Cantonese, Swedish, Gaelic – you get the idea. If you don’t manage to communicate, a smile and hand signs go a long way. Just remember, you’re all in this together and, eventually, everyone will get someplace… hopefully the place they want to go.
If the Kotel is your goal, the best hours are between midnight and sunrise. Actually, those are the best hours to come all year long.
Because Sunday is a working day in the Holy Land (six days shalt thou labor…) , it’s sometimes difficult for Shabbos observers to find optimal time for socializing. But summertime solves the problem. Just fill up the gas tank, pack up the kids and head north because that’s where everyone else is going. You’ll meet friends, family and neighbors including your second cousin from your father’s side, the delivery man from the neighborhood makolet, your old army buddy, friends from your years at camp and the woman who shared your room in the hospital when your first child was born. Familiar faces all. They will likely be accompanied by their wives, husbands or kids who didn’t exist the last time you met. Summertime is definitely Old Home Week in the North.
There are those Israelis who vacation outside the country because they feel they’ve seen everything Israel has to offer. But as any serious hiker or lover of the country can tell you, it’s almost impossible to have been everywhere or seen everything. We may be a small country (just as we are “the smallest of all peoples…” Deut. 7,7) but every nook and cranny hides copious treasures – small scale wonders, visible only to loving, longing eyes. You can count the big, bombastic, natural attractions of the country on the fingers of your hands, but the “mini- treasures” are endless.
We have small model deserts, mountains, hills and plains and a long beach line but only two smallish lakes – the Kinneret and the Dead Sea – although the country is full of countless streams, falls, wells, ponds, pools and a few modest rivers. (The Jordan is not exactly the Mississippi…) Hidden trails lead to hidden delights. Vantage points offer limited but breathtaking views. Only the vast skies are expansive – clear, techeilet blue, and spread endlessly across a dizzying, diverse and magnificently multifaceted canvas, the Land of Israel.
And, of course, we have our man-made wonders that rival the architecture of any urban setting. New York, Sydney, London and Paris may be bigger, but good things come in small packages and in my humble (and obviously objective) opinion, only Dubai can rival some of our more sophisticated, modern architecture.
It is virtually impossible to see or savor the entire country on a five- or ten-day whirlwind tour while rushing back to a bus for the next item on the agenda. Eretz Yisrael is a concentration of Divine Beauty. It was made to be heard, smelled, seen and savored (preferably without cell phones in hand). Even the birds make sure to stop off as they fly over on their annual mass migrations.
Of course, what you experience in God’s Land will be the result of who you are and what spiritual baggage you bring with you. Eretz Yisrael opens her heart only to those who truly love her. If it’s a good time you’re looking for, you might as well visit Sydney, London or Paris. Or Dubai (are Jews allowed in?). The Scottish moors, the Black Forest and the Riveria are pretty impressive too. And the Grand Canyon is definitely a celestial work of art. All they’re missing is God’s personal imprint and His Divine blessing.
So pack up and come on over. When you get to Jerusalem, we might miss seeing you. Please G-d, we’ll be up North. Have a great summer!