One of the best parts of living in the Holy Land is celebrating the chagim. A festive spirit suffuses the air weeks before each holiday – it’s impossible not to be swept up in the anticipation. To observe the festivals here is to not only pay homage to the lodestars of Jewish history but to have a part in the script being written in our time. Every one of us has a speaking role in this production.
As a wide-eyed olah still marveling at our good fortune to have made it here, leaving during the holidays has seemed like giving up first class seats for berths in the cargo hold. Although we’ve traveled back to the States each summer since we moved here, mainly to see family, we haven’t missed a chag in Israel.
Now here we are, four years in, planning to hop a plane next week (i.e., Chanukah) for an excursion to a nearby Mediterranean vacation spot popular with Israelis, while good friends hold down the fort at our home in Jerusalem. Yes, it’s a short trip at a bargain price… But what does this mean? Has my idealism gone cold?
No. I am as passionate as ever about the cardinal mitzvah of settling the land of Israel, and as grateful as ever to be raising my family, and my middle-aged self, here. Yet the chance to experience – and expose my kids to – another slice of G-d’s earth is also appealing; I want them to grow up not only as proud Jews but also as world-wise citizens. With school vacations limited to summer and Jewish holidays, such opportunities are limited. So I had to be flexible. I could not have been persuaded to give up the entire chag here, but we’ll still have a few days of spinning Nes gadol hahyah poh.
There is something else – call it the Chabad factor. We will be joining the local Chabad at our destination for menorah-lighting, festivities, and daily kosher meals. As I’ve had the benefit of doing in a handful of places, witnessing shluchim and their families in action infuses a fun sightseeing trip with inspired spirituality. I am excited for my children to have that special experience and to learn that what they have is a gift to be cherished – and shared. The unparalleled work that shluchim do is the single most compelling reason I can think of for living in the Diaspora.
As wistful as I am about spending part of the upcoming chag outside of Israel, I know we can all use a reminder not to take our fully-furnished Jewish life here for granted.