Editor’s Note: This article was written several months ago, long before recent events, and the Waldmans have long since returned home.
Corona did a lot to redefine quality family time and in the case of Bitya (33) and Elad (34) Waldman and their three children, it set them on a course of a year’s adventure and learning that will certainly go down in the annals of their family history.
Elad is a computer programmer who works at home. When Bitya, a lawyer, had their third daughter, Sinai, she kept postponing her return to work. “During Corona we realized that we enjoyed being together,” she says. Also, at that time, they had to vacate the Jerusalem apartment they were renting. “The cards all seemed to fall into place,” and they decided that then would be a good time to go on the travel adventure they had always dreamt of. There was no problem with their five-year-old, Be’er Yael, but their seven-year-old, Kerem, wanted to start first grade, and she didn’t want to miss that milestone, which she had been dreaming about it “her whole life.”
Bitya told her that she could spend one month in first grade and then they would only go away for three months and then she could return to school. But after just one day in first grade, Kerem told her parents that that was enough for her and that she was ready to fly. After Rosh Hashana, the family started what would turn into a soon to be year-long adventure in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam and Thailand.
I spoke to Bitya in Nepal, a few hours before Shabbat. They seem to be having a great time. Elad works “from home” wherever that happens to be, the kids are enjoying the adventure and the time they are spending with their parents. And Kerem is definitely having more learning experiences than she would have in first grade. She has a diary in which she writes and illustrates her adventures. “And there are always children to play with,” says their mother. The children are also learning English through communicating with all the people they meet.
The holidays are spent in Beit Chabad which can be found along the way. Shavuot was spent in Beit Chabad of Katmandu. Shabbat is spent wherever they are. There are WhatsApp groups for Israelis who are traveling in the East and the Waldmans post where they are and invite whoever is in the area to join them for prayers and meals. Bitya says that the issues that separate Israelis at home disappear on the trails of Nepal and Thailand and when they meet, they are “one big happy family,” and so joyful to be together.
“We connect with people who demographically, geographically, socially and religiously, we would never connect with in Israel. And I’m talking about other Israelis. We learn about each other,” says Bitya. “Of course we learn about the cultures of the places we visit as well and the people we meet.”
The Waldmans stay mainly in guest houses and cheap hotels with kitchens so they can prepare their own food.
They enjoy the fauna they don’t see in Israel – monkeys cavorting in the trees, squirrels romping, and giant sea turtles; and the flora – the incredible beaches of Thailand, the cliffs of Nepal and the rice fields, as they go from country to country and from experience to experience.
Sometimes they split up when the trek becomes more extreme and Bitya returns with the children and her husband finishes the trek by himself.
Of course they miss their family, who they thought would come visit them at some point but no one has so far.
Bitya and Elad have no idea what they’ll do when they return to Israel at the end of the summer, but they definitely have plans to do another trip of this sort to another part of the world.
“People think that we’re privileged in some way to be doing this but this is a totally accessible experience for most people,” says Bitya. “With a bit of planning, anyone can do this. And it’s an incredible experience!”
While most Israelis take off for the Far East after their army service, while they’re still single, seeking unique cultural and spiritual experiences, this family has chartered their own course and found that even on the beaches of Thailand, and in the jungles of India, you can still be a proud religious Israeli family, and share that with other Israelis on the trail.