Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cars vs. Buses

After some deep meditation on the theme of where in Israel I should go, somehow I feel strongly compelled to visit both the Negev and the Golan. We could sit around discussing why exactly I feel this way. Or we can concentrate on getting me there!
Inevitably my line of thinking has raised a fierce internal debate: the respective merits of car and bus travel in order to cover relatively vast distances within Israel.
Merits of driving: Getting quickly from place to place; hence, the ability to see many more places. That’s less time attempting to keep an inquisitive baby confined to a bus stop and more ease in stowing away the litany of luggage that comes with her.
Merits of riding a bus: That whole part about driving being faster and more direct is nice in theory, but if you a) don’t know where you’re going and b) are a bit challenged when it comes to following directions, it may be argued that these results may not be experienced. In a bus, on the other hand, you get to sit back, relax, and enjoy the countryside (disclaimer: unlikely to occur with a baby). The company also adds some local flavor. Last summer in Jerusalem, for instance, an older man sat down next to us and started up an extensive conversation in Hebrew, which culminated in him offering Ayelet a wafer cookie (containing nuts, open package, not to be refused). Upon seeing that she readily ate it, he gave us the remainder of the package to take home.
In short, I made the decision that buses are the way to go. As such, I had to mentally release some of my half-baked, driving-intensive plans (We can go to the Museum of Bedouin Culture! And a spa! And the burial site of Ben Gurion! All in half a day!) Instead, it looks like I’ll have to resign myself to a few dedicated locations for longer periods of time – places that are bus-accessible, at that.
I spent several frustrating hours playing games on, such as randomly inputting various cities and pressing “Find trip!” only to find that the trip entailed three transfers, or wasn’t traversable by bus at all. Eventually I determined that Katsrin is a major hub in the Golan; that getting from the South to the North inevitably means stopping in your choice of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem; and that it inexplicably takes twice as long to come back to Tel Aviv from Mitzpe Ramon than it does to get there, even though the way back has no transfer. Maybe there are more stops on the way back because everyone wants to get to Tel Aviv and no one wants to leave? I ignore the logical conclusion of this theory.
I keep coming back to wondering how Ayelet is going to survive multi-hour bus travel. Only one way to find out…

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Call To Action

Freedom. The Firstborn. Adventure. In the desert.

While these are all words generally associated with Pesach, surely what’s on everyone’s mind at the moment, I am, in fact, referring to something else: I’m coming to Israel next month with my first-born Ayelet! And yes, we will experience freedom and adventure. Possibly in the desert.

This, clearly, is an amazing opportunity, which I am being offered under the auspices of the iCenter, where I am an iFellow. However, just like the Israelites found, the idea of freedom can be a little overwhelming. Where to start? And then, just as my mind’s-eye’s itinerary starts making frantic zigzags up and down the country, a realization hits me: I have an almost-two-year old. Help?

Guidebooks and websites do purport to have resources for those traveling with kids. Yet most of these prove to leave me scratching my head. Simply put, they’re a little out of our age bracket. The picture of Ayelet kayaking or riding a camel, for instance, is enough to make me laugh (a little nervously. This is, after all, my firstborn). Then there’s items like hiking trails (are they stroller-accessible?) or leaving notes in the Kotel (doable, if a little esoteric, but she’s totally going to be that kid who’s standing there pulling them all out).

Well, let’s find out! I’m starting this blog where I’m keeping track of my experiences – and I am hoping it will be a resource for others traveling to Israel with small children too. I’d also like to ask you if you could help me in creating this resource by:

a) Suggesting places I should go to check out. Anywhere you’ve been/haven’t been but would like to go; with kids or without kids; I’m flexible, and willing to do some legwork to find how to make places work for the little people.

b) If you are in Israel (or will be May 31- June 20), I would love to meet up and have you be part of our adventure!

Thanks very much in advance for being a part of my chavaya, and wishing you a Chag Sameach!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

To Find a Place for Shavuot

On a mission:
To find a place (no, a chavaya!) for Shavuot!
What I do:
Like any resourceful individual, I scour the Internet, in Hebrew – OK, I cheated, Google Translate – and English too. I feel on the one hand like a total outsider: I find lots of articles complaining about how it’s become so popular to travel in Israel on Shavuot and how all the hotels up North in a certain year got completely booked up, yet, frustratingly enough, a lack of detail as to exactly which. On the other hand, there’s a certain ease of accessibility. At the click of a mouse, our reservation at Beit Maimon for the days leading up to Shavuot is booked! What people did before is unclear. It adds an air of concreteness to know Real People stayed there, all the more real when they describe all the imperfections: “The service is *Israeli*!” I can relate to that.
I find on a “Kosher Holiday” website that the Haon Holiday Village offers a “Shavuot Holiday,” yet after repeated calls and emails, I finally hear back that, however promising it appeared, this “Kosher Shavuot Holiday” somehow includes neither special Shavuot programming nor dairy meals. No blintzes?! Next…
Then somehow I find it: Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi. The concept of The Kibbutz has completely captivated me since my days watching Shalom Sesame – it’s a big farm! All the kids get to live together! Just when it couldn’t get any better, Tirat Tzvi is a Religious Kibbutz. Separate men and women swimming hours! A petting zoo! And… it so looks like a Kibbutz!
Excited, I don’t really think things through as I reach for and the phone. So there I am, attempting to communicate with this kibbutznik named Devora – who somehow thinks I have an 18-year-old. “Um… she’s between one and two,” I try in Hebrew. Except I forget the whole “shana,” “shanatayim” thing. “18…months?!” Anyway, once we get through that, she asks a harder question: for my Israeli phone number. I manage to communicate I’m actually in the US. But I think she heard “Mars.”
“Really?” she gasped. “Why didn’t you say something?” she asks in Hebrew.
Because that would take out half the fun!
After several intermediary calls attempting to divine each other’s email addresses, I called back probably about a fourth time – except someone answered the phone who wasn’t Devora. And she spoke English!
“You do?” I asked, a little too incredulously, trying to hide my disappointment.
Yet, even more devastating than the deadly Hebrew-English switch, I had just started in with, “This is Deborah” – and yet she knew exactly who I was! The whole kibbutz is talking about me! I imagine I’m the incompetent-yet-well-meaning American who has no clue what she’s getting herself into… all of which is true, of course…
I can teach things too, I try to justify to myself – like English! The girl-who-wasn’t-Devora didn’t know how to say “expiration date.” Well, I thought as she repeated it slowly after me, it’s not like a financial transaction is going to solve Global Peoplehood fair and square (Tourist versus Authentic Kibbutznik?) But maybe it’s a start?
Secretly I want to call Devora back at odd hours, just to chit-chat. Alas, moving on…
What Ayelet does:
Well, not much. Plan-making isn’t her forte. Plan-breaking probably is. But I try to forget that.
I had the thought, after the fact, of what Ayelet would think, when she’s a little older, of my conversations with Devora if she could hear them played back (as long as I couldn’t, because that would be terribly embarrassing). Will she be an American who is inordinately proud of her mother and how she’s able to get by in the tongue of our people? Or will she be proficient enough in Hebrew, perhaps even herself a savvy Israeli (?) who would probably not even let it get to the end of the recording before exclaiming, “Nu, ima, really??”