And so, I was feeling a bit nervous. I want our boys to have great memories of their childhood, as does any parent. And when we stay home for just about every holiday, I sometimes worry that they aren’t going to look back with fond memories.
Fortunately, I was quite mistaken. And now, reflecting on our time spent at home for the past 8 or 9 days, I’m amazed by just how much fun we managed to have within a 20 - 30 minutes of home. We did our seder by ourselves this year and we encouraged all of the kids to get involved. This meant that Yehuda rewrote the song “Echad Mi Yodea?” to a family theme. “Who knows six?” he wrote, “Six is the number of Sussman boys!” and on and on. Matan wrote 30 questions that were age-appropriate for each sibling so that he could ask them during the seder. I wrote a story about what it would have been like for the Sussman family to run from Egypt and Josh had a game of Taboo with a Pesach theme ready to go. The kids created a play showing all of the 10 plagues which Matan, of course, directed and which they all spent two days practicing to perform. We set up blue fabric at the front of the house and we “went through the sea” when they returned from shul, and then we had a lovely seder.
All dressed for Seder
With that behind us, it was time for our first free day. We went to the Deer Park which is only about five minutes from our home and the kids all had an amazing time. They have a number of fantastic ropes course types of activities that really challenge the kids and make them push themselves. Matan, in particular, impressed all of us during the day. He decided, for the first time, to go on the zip line – the largest in the country – spanning 400 meters (and 120 meters high). And he had a great time (just as long as I didn’t have to go – I was thrilled to give him the opportunity). They also have a ropes course set up in the park that is about 25 feet above ground. Attached with a harness, you have to walk over narrow ropes, swing from hanging step to hanging step and more. Before it was Matan’s turn, a 15 year old girl got stuck on the steps section and started screaming. It took about 15 minutes for her father to calm her down and to get her to finish the course. And I prayed that Matan would not create a similar scene!
Next, it was Matan’s turn. It turned out that Matan was probably barely at the minimum height to be able to accomplish the course. When he got to the steps section he simply wasn’t tall enough to get from one hanging step to the next. I was immensely proud, however, of how he handled himself. While he was clearly quite scared and had a catch in his voice as he asked us for help, he continued to try to get to the next step. Finally, after quite awhile, the person running the course came up into the trees and swung the step towards him. Catching it with great relief, Matan thanked him and started on his way. The crowd that had formed below let out a surprising cheer and Matan finished the course with no more problems.
The next day, I took the three little kids to a great petting zoo and interactive animal center that we have five minutes from home in Elazar. Eliav, the future veterinarian, wrapped a snake around his neck with glee, rounded the stables on a horse, danced with a turtle and enjoyed feeding the llamas.
That evening, Josh took the older 4 boys on an overnight camping trip. They camped about 25 minutes from home in the mountains and had a fantastic time. This was Eliav’s first introduction to the camping experience. The Sussman rule is that you aren’t invited to camp until you are potty trained and ready to keep up with the big guys. He passed the test with flying colors and had a great time. The highlight of the trip, as far as I could tell, for the boys was when they drank “Golani” coffee in the morning with our friend, Itay. Itay instructed them about the “Golani” way of making coffee and regaled them with stories of his service and of his days making coffee for the other soldiers.
Finally, on the last day of Chol Hamoed we went to a natural spring (ma’ayan in Hebrew) in Bat Ayin, which is also about 10 minutes from home. Set in an incredible valley between two mountains of Gush Etzion, this natural ma’ayan invites swimmers to enjoy. We barbequed right nearby, watched Yehuda jump into the freezing cold water, played ball, and watched those on the zip line from below, as they sped by from one mountain to another.
My worries have definitely evaporated. While it is wonderful to show the kids other areas of the country, it’s also such a gift to have so much to do close to home. Without leaving the vicinity, the kids had a fantastic vacation exploring their land – and making memories that we hope will last a lifetime…right in their own backyard.
As I tucked the kids into bed the night before school started, I asked them what their favorite part of the holiday was. Since the teachers always ask, I wanted to prep the kids and to have them ready with an answer for school the next day. Yehuda said that he couldn't answer the question, because it would be too hard to decide what was the most fun - after having such a great holiday.
Now that's what I like to hear.