So far away, yet so together

November 24, 2016 23:17

Our friends thought we were stark raving mad - and as I watched my daughters, aged six and nine, disappear up an escalator with a stewardess whom they had met only five minutes earlier, I wondered whether they were indeed right.

We were sending them for two weeks in Israel, without us.

The plan had been hatched several years ago, when I became determined to give my children a small taste of Israeli life.

Having grown up in Israel, it was important to me that they felt comfortable among Israelis, and improved their Hebrew, which I consider a basic skill for a modern Jew.

I remembered hot summers spent by the pool and camping in a forest with my friends, and wanted my own kids to enjoy the same kind of freedom I had, with no rain - at least for a few weeks.

For several years, I was able to take them to Israel myself each summer, and place them in Israeli summer camps. I was thrilled when they returned from camp each day caked in mud, ran downstairs to play in front of our building with their new local friends, and my eldest chatted away in passable Hebrew.

This summer, however, I couldn't take the time off work to accompany them - so we decided to send them by themselves. Our siblings, who have kids of similar ages, volunteered to host them, and El Al offers a service for unaccompanied minors. In fact, there were several on their flight.

Any qualms I had were magnified by the numerous comments I fielded about how "brave" we were to send them (there were also a few less subtle "Oh my God!"s). But I knew that my children would be in good hands at all times, and that, in this day and age, with international families and high divorce rates, it was not uncommon for children to fly alone.

The deciding factor was that they were adamant they wanted to go.

I needn't have worried. Thanks to WhatsApp, I was bombarded with updates from aunts and cousins, showing that they were having the time of their lives. Their Israeli kaytana (or day camp) took them to the safari, to the theme park and to the pool, where they swung from trapeze bars and leapt into the water from bouncy castles. They watched turtles hatching from eggs on a beach at dusk, ate numerous ice creams, and bonded with their cousins.

Israelis know how to do childhood.

Most importantly, my children got to experience an Israel most tourists never see from the lobbies of their hotels. They stayed in suburbs in Haifa and Jerusalem that are off the tourist map, went to the makolet (corner store) every day, and on the bus. This was the real Israel, albeit on holiday…

Meanwhile, back home, we got to spend quality time with our three-year-old, who asked after his sisters a couple of times, then revelled in levels of attention only single children usually get.

We had one little wobble. On the first night, I received a tearful phone call from my youngest daughter, who was having second thoughts. But this is the same kid who spent her first night back in England sobbing that she wanted to go back to Israel.

Ultimately, I am certain that their two weeks of independence boosted their self-confidence, improved their Hebrew, and built up their love of Zion. They get an outstanding Jewish education, but immersion in a language and culture is the best way to get to grips with it, and when it comes to Israel, I see no reason to leave that until they are practically adults.

I'm just relieved they were willing to come home.

November 24, 2016 23:17

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