A nation of Jews and Arabs, each doting as much as the other on kids and grandkids, Israel is family-crazy every day of the year. But today it reaches new levels.
It’s Family Day, the annual celebration of bonds that bind siblings, parents, grandparents, and other special people in our lives. We ditched Mother’s Day a couple of decades ago to make way for this celebration, known in Hebrew as Yom Hamishpacha.
It made sense. There have always been people without a mom, who felt left out of celebrations, but most of us have people who we can pay tribute to as family.
The change has also meant that Israel’s kindergartens and schools — which mark the day with elaborate ceremonies — are ready to embrace children with gay and lesbian parents.
There has been a baby boom in Israel’s LGBTQ community. Happily for educators, as this happened they already had a day for celebrating the Israeli family in all its glorious diversity.
I think that other countries could do well to follow Israel’s lead. Yes, we moms lost our breakfasts in bed, but we gain something far more rewarding — a day when we get to see our whole family celebrating the bonds that bind us. And when families across the country are doing the same.
Another aspect of Israel’s family culture I love is that we bond “on the go.” It’s second nature for us to spend family time in the great outdoors — on the beaches, biking and hiking. Recreation time in Israel becomes this wonderful mixture of family, getting active, and heritage.
Why heritage? Because if you choose a beautiful park or an attractive hiking trail, you may well find it’s an archeological or historical site, and get transported back 2,000 years on the way to your picnic. That’s the nature of Israel, and if the outdoor heritage isn’t enough, we have a plethora of museums too.
People ask me why I enjoy working in travel. I think part of the answer is that I love sharing this side of my country with people from around the world — helping them to enjoy this Israel, where travel simultaneously broadens the mind and binds the family.
Sometimes, an international number flashes up on my phone and it’s a potential client calling from America, Canada or the UK, to ask hesitatingly about a family trip.
They often think about bringing three generations, or even four, to Israel, but have convinced themselves it’s a pipe-dream. After all, teenagers and octogenarians have very different interests, don’t they?
Yes — and a successful family trip embraces this. It doesn’t lock everyone in to a single itinerary, doing the same things for ten days from dawn until dusk.
Instead, it creates great shared experiences, such as mealtimes, visits to tourist sites that meet everyone’s accessibility needs, shows and concerts, and time that the different age-groups spend apart. Some holidaymakers go on a water hike while others go to a winery; some go on an app-guided treasure hunt as others head to the theater, and so on.
This is a great recipe for family travel. Instead of grandparents trying to force smiles in the loud and smelly soft-play area or the kids being dragged around the three-hour tour of Bauhaus Tel Aviv, embrace the differences and plan accordingly.
TV programs and movies exploit the stereotype of a family travelling together and rowing. It’s gold-dust for dramas and sitcoms. But it’s not the real world, where people like me are poised and waiting to plan trips that have people enjoying themselves too much to bicker.
Organized well — especially in Israel where there is such a diverse range of tourist experiences — family travel can get everyone smiling, and deepening their connections to each other.