Jonathan Muskat

How to vacation during the Israel-Hamas War

For most American Jews, the question must be how should we go on vacation, not whether we should go on vacation. This coming week is the beginning of yeshiva break for many American yeshiva day schools and high schools. I am aware that there have been calls that families should not go on vacation during yeshiva break this year because of the situation in Israel, and I understand the reason. In Hilchot Teshuva (3:11), the Rambam writes that a person who separates himself from the Jewish people and does not take part in their hardships, but rather goes on his own individual path as if he is from another nation, does not have a portion in the world to come. How can we go on vacation when our brothers and sisters are putting their lives on the line defending us and our land? How can we spend money on vacation when all of Israel finds itself in an economic crisis because of the war? While our soldiers are at war, we should spend most of our vacation acting on their behalf, learning on their behalf, davening on their behalf and doing chesed on their behalf. We should use the money that we saved for a vacation to support Israel at this time.

I know that this is an uncomfortable topic of discussion, especially as many of us are about to leave on vacation to places other than Israel. I would say the following. To tell people not to vacation may not be a realistic goal for most families. In theory, it would be nice for parents to spend a week and a half with all of their children sitting and learning Torah or completely engaged in chesed projects, but it is not practical. Children need a break and sometimes parents need a break, as well. I was talking with a couple about this and one parent said that we shouldn’t go on vacation during yeshiva break because of the situation in Israel. And the other parent responded, “Well, are you going to sit your child in front of a television for the next ten days?” I also think that family trips can actually be an opportunity to create meaningful memories and to help forge bonds among family members at a time that is free of the stress of the school year. Therefore, I think that the question is not whether to take a vacation, but how to take a vacation at this time. We must be cognizant of what is going on in Israel during our vacations and shape them accordingly. What this means in practice is the following:

  1. Each day during vacation, carve out significant time to recite Tehillim and/or study Torah as a merit for our soldiers who are fighting for us in Israel. This should not simply be a one-minute recitation of Tehillim such that we are “yotzei” and then go on with the rest of our day. Rather, part of our vacation itineraries should include a daily Tehillim and/or Torah study session even if it means that we miss a particular attraction of tourist site that day.
  2. Find opportunities during Yeshiva break to have your children perform acts of chesed for Israel. That could mean helping pack clothing, boots or other items that are being shipped to Israel, or writing letters to chayalim, volunteers or hospital patients in Israel. The fact that your children have free time from school means that they also have free time to engage in additional acts of chesed.
  3. Each day during vacation, write letters and/or make phone calls to your politicians and let them know that you support Israel. Have your children write letters and/or make phone calls, or at the very least, have them present when you do this so that they know how it important this activity is.
  4. Give tzedakah. Push yourself to give tzedakah until it hurts. It may be important for you to go on vacation with your family, but we cannot ignore the continued plight of our brothers and sisters in Israel. Let your family know that you are diverting money that was supposed to go to a night out at a restaurant and an expensive attraction and you are using those funds and additional funds to donate to a cause that support the Israeli war effort.
  5. Consider posting few pictures on social media, or none at all, about your vacation in an effort to be extra sensitive to our many brothers and sisters who are in so much pain.

What to do during yeshiva break is not an all or nothing calculation. It is not either we visit Israel or we don’t go on vacation at all. I think that that is too difficult a demand for most families to bear. At the same time, we cannot just go on vacation and forget our brothers and sisters in Israel. Make the Israel-Hamas War an integral part of your trip with your family wherever you vacation. Hopefully, through our continued tefillot, chesed, political advocacy and tzedakah and our sensitivity not to publicize our vacation on social media, God should grant us a speedy victory over our enemies, a return of all of our hostages and a safer and more secure homeland for our people.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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