This is the week to get away, they say. I’m writing these words 35,000 feet over Liverpool, England, headed for Tel Aviv, and from there to Jerusalem. From the electronic map on the screen it looks like Liverpool is a short distance from Manchester and Leeds. If you don’t know what Liverpool is famous for, just forget it. But here’s a clue anyway — just let it be.
Here is why this is the week (or two weeks) to get away, as it was explained to me a few days ago by someone not getting away until later in the summer. You see, this Sunday is visiting day in many summer camps, which obviously necessitates parents being in close proximity to home if they are going to be within reasonable driving distance of many of these sleepaway camps.
That is why it was imperative for so many people to see to it that they did something as a couple or even as a family (with those not in camp or too young to go camp) during this past week or ten days.
So as I explained, last week we departed for Eretz Yisrael on Sunday afternoon for the long ride into the Holy Land. I know that travel is relatively expensive, though it is a lot more affordable these days than it once was. On the matter of travel to Israel specifically, there are many economical ways to get here that include stopovers in places like Norway or Azerbaijan if you are so disposed.
If you want to fly nonstop with El Al or Delta it will cost more, but you probably know that is nothing new. What surprises me, I have to say, is how many people I’ve met over the last week or so who related to me that yes, they are getting away this week, but Israel is not on their itinerary.
For example, last Shabbos I met a young man who told me that because he had to be back for visiting day this weekend, he and his wife were flying out last Saturday night to Reykjavík, Iceland. It is certainly different or even unique in some ways, but I asked him why he selected Iceland. I think I followed up that inquiry with a comment like, “There’s nothing there.”
He did not disagree, and added that there were no kosher eateries since there are very few Jews or kosher-observing Jews in Iceland. But, he said, there are great sites to visit — many of them having to do with ice — and they were taking their own food, so all will be well.
Another couple I crossed paths with last week told me that they were off to Paris last Saturday night for a few days. Then they were taking the train through the English Channel into London for two days and then flying home for Shabbos and visiting day.
So far, this summer the calendar has been very vacation-friendly. The scheduling is such that the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, the Three Weeks, and then Tishah B’Av won’t begin until after next Shabbos. And on top of that, it’s a long summer, with Rosh Hashanah not happening until the very last day of September. So in a sense there are really two full parts to summer this year.
But let’s get back to some of those non-inclusive-of-Israel vacations for a moment. I know a family traveling this week to South Africa, and then after a safari for the whole family it is on to Rome and Milan before heading back home to New York.
We are all, in one way or another, products of our experiences. We also like seeing different parts of this great world, especially taking advantage of the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our grandfathers through Europe and cities up and down the continent that were citadels of Torah and also, tragically, brutal killing fields where Jewish blood was mercilessly shed not so long ago.
Like my father and mother before me, though, whose eyes were always on Eretz Yisrael, that has to be the endgame, so to speak, or the ultimate destination of any international excursion. To that end, I have to point out that just the other day I learned about a friend’s brother who travels to India on business fairly regularly. Last week, on his way to Mumbai, he stopped over in Israel to spend Shabbos in Jerusalem.
I am aware that much of what I described above can cost thousands of dollars, and for many, these trips, vacations, or getaways are just not affordable. Also, it is difficult to move around the world with young children. I have to say, though, that on the trip over to Israel, there were a few families traveling with as many as five small children, including some in baby carriages. So, yes, it is difficult and even arduous but certainly possible.
I’m finishing up this essay looking out the window of our hotel room at the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. In a few weeks there will be two flights of people leaving the U.S. and moving to Israel through the ingenuity of Nefesh B’Nefesh. The 5TJT will be on both flights to bring the essence of the excitement of modern-day aliyah to our readers.
I’m sure that none of us knows anyone planning on uprooting their lives and moving to Reykjavík or, for that matter, to Johannesburg, even though there is still a significant Jewish community in South Africa.
What I want to reiterate here is that travel to Europe is wonderful and even important. But there is something a little troubling when it is not incorporated with a hop over to Israel, which is just a three-hour flight from most European capitals. Sure, it’s summer and vacation time and good to get away if you can, but as Jews we cannot get away from who we are, and, regardless of where we live, where we really belong.