It's hard to explain to people who don't live in Israel just how much fun the holidays are. This is true family time. Josh has off from work for the entire week- plus of Pesach, and I work like crazy before and after the holiday to make up for not working during it. This means that we have 9 or 10 family days to enjoy together. And it's not a time that we travel or take a vacation - it's a time when we enjoy the offerings right in our own neighborhood and take the kids around their country to explore and enjoy. For those still living outside of Israel the concept of 'Chol Hamoed' is a difficult one to fully observe. Yes, Hallel (the portion of the morning service that is added for holidays) is still said, although most people say it as they rush through the davening to get to work. Yes, people are not eating hametz. Yes, their kitchens remain kosher for Pesach for the duration of the holiday. However, the spirit of the holiday is lost. In Israel, people are dressed in their holiday/Shabbat clothes; they travel the country; they have special time to spend with their family and friends; and there is a special feeling in the air.
As we have for the past 10 or so years, we had a lovely Seder with our good friends, the Frankls. We try to dress up each year for the seder to make it more interactive for the kids. Matan was a very cute "wise" son, Yehuda was an Egyptian task master and Amichai and I were hail. This meant that I dressed in white and that Amichai spent all night saying, "Now mommy? Now mommy?" as he waited for the moment to send hail (in the form of little white Styrofoam balls) crashing down on all of our heads. He really enjoyed that part of the seder!
The first day of Pesach and the last day are holidays like Shabbat where we don't drive and where we enjoy time with friends in our community. The in-between days are called "Chol Hamoed" and they are special days when we spend time exploring the country. There are activities set up throughout Israel for families, as many people are off during this time and are running around enjoying their time.
So, the first day of Chol Hamoed we went to Ein Gedi. This is a natural reserve area where there are fantastic hikes through water that end at gorgeous waterfalls. The hike proved a bit too challenging for us with our little people, but we enjoyed ourselves for a few hours and the older kids had fun playing in the water. Sunday we headed to Sussya. Sussya is an ancient city that was inhabited from 400-800CE and now has a modern day yishuv situated right next to the ancient area. They had a fantastic festival there which included a tour of the ruins, pottery making, a drum demonstration, a climbing wall and zip line and many other interesting finds.
It was amazing to sit there, overlooking the gorgeous area as Josh and Matan davened Mincha in the ancient shul of Sussya. The kids were also quite taken with the tunnel that was an escape route for the people who lived there. The tunnel goes from the synagogue straight out of town, and the kids ran through it a few times!
The next morning, we had an adventure in Rechovot. Rechovot has a very interesting outdoor science center (part of the Weizman Institute) where there are oodles of interactive activities. You can learn about gravity, weight density, etc with the objects that are there for you to turn, jump on, ride on and more. From there, we went to the Ayalon Institute which houses a secret,pre-State bullet factory that was used for three years from 1945-1948 to produce the majority of the bullets used in the War of Independence. This was an absolutely fascinating tour that showed us how a group of people worked underground - under the bakery and laundry facility of the kibbutz to secretly make bullets for the impending war. The guide told us that this was such a secret operation that the planners of it kept it completely quiet. They went to a group who was planning to create a kibbutz together and said to them, "How would you like to do something really important for the country? We can't tell you where we will send you, and we can't tell you how long you'll be there. We can't even tell you what you'll be doing. We can only tell you that it will be very dangerous and very hard work." And of course, they accepted the task. It was really an amazing tour with an incredible moral - we can do anything that we set our minds to as a people and a nation - and we can make sacrifices that may be difficult for us but that will be incredibly beneficial to the greater good. It is the core message that we are attempting to teach our kids and a major idea behind our Aliyah.
The kids told us today that this was the highlight of their vacation. I love that their highlight wasn't an amusement park or a sporting event - it was a kibbutz with a hidden factory where people risked their lives to make bullets for the creation of our state. Amazing.
Finally, today we took the kids on a short hike nearby. On the way home, we noticed a sign that said that we could pick flowers for 20 shekel. It was a huge field full of flowers and for only 20 shekel (about $5.00), we could pick as much as we wanted! was so cute to watch the kids running through the field, picking beautiful flowers to adorn our table for the end day of the chag. I look at those flowers now and it gives me goosebumps seeing that these beautiful flowers were picked by my own kids in their own Land. Eliav actually walked through the field saying, "Mommy, look at these butiful flowers. Butiful, butiful..." It was so cute.
Tonight we have the end day of the chag and then Thursday Josh is taking the older boys camping for a night with another dad and his three sons. And then we can all collapse on Shabbat and admire a chag well done!