By Larry Gordon

For many out there in a number of communities within our readership reach, here comes the big intersession break. Like the yomim tovim that are usually either early or late–but never on time–the vacation break this year is kind of early.

That is because of the nature of the calendar this year. Things seem to be chronologically somewhat out of control. Right now, it is “so far, so good.” But Purim on February 24–it’s beginning to feel and look a little bit like the “traveling around the calendar and pop up anytime of the year” Ramadan schedule.

Let’s not jump ahead of ourselves too fast. Let us just say that on this current cycle it just may be that we are about one year past due for a leap year. A second month of Adar would have been perfect right about now. But we are going to have to wait another year for that.

The good news about the upcoming holidays is that Purim, this year, falls on a Sunday. This is always more fulfilling and satisfying than when it has to be combined with the distractions of the work or school week. When Purim arrives, we do our utmost to set everything aside and focus on the observance of the holiday. But because of its nature and the permissibility to do weekday, workday things, it sort of inevitably becomes diluted. That, fortunately, is not the case this year.

Pesach happens four weeks after that. It will probably still be plenty cool in the weather department up here in the Northeast, and that is good for the hotels that are opening for Pesach in Florida, California, Israel, and so on.

Yes, I know that the overwhelming majority of people reading this (as well as those not reading this) are not going anywhere significant during this so-called winter break or, for that matter, for Pesach. So no, I’m not going to write this with unmitigated presumptuousness or from the perspective that everyone is on the move for the not-too-far-down-the-road yom tov.

This is especially true this year because of the dichotomy between those who will go to some full-service Miami Beach or island resort for the chag and those who will struggle mightily to purchase the usually high-priced items that are mandatory for one to observe the Pesach holiday appropriately. That’s who we’ve been from time immemorial–a compilation of people from every segment of the economic ladder. What is unique to our community, however, is the fashion in which one segment of the population takes and bears responsibility for the other in a very serious and intense way.

A young man who was just in my office the other day and who is in between employment stints–that means he is out of work–and who worked for a while with some success in the mortgage industry told me that in his mid-forties and with five kids at home, for the first time in his life he feels a little lost. He doesn’t know what industry will be the next hot thing that he can learn or adapt to, and he is concerned.

A few minutes later, he also told me that he would be going to Florida at the end of the month with his wife for a quick four-day vacation. I thought that the information he was offering was interesting as well as contradictory. On the other hand, I thought that this man apparently knows how to compartmentalize. Yes, he is out of work and is looking and wondering about doing something new. But he still sees himself and his wife as a couple and parents that need some kind of a break, even if it is a break from the worry and aimlessness he may currently be experiencing. Who knows? Maybe he will encounter his big opportunity on his short jaunt down south in one of those pizza stores on Arthur Godfrey Road.

I don’t think that any of the community assistance programs will anytime soon be financing vacations for any of their clientele. But if they could, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Vacations–or simple getaways or changes of routine–are good and healthy things. There is no question, though, that inherent in vacations are a bunch of problems that make things more complicated instead of easier. Chief amongst those complications is what you are supposed to do with your children if you have the opportunity to take a real storybook-type vacation.

The best vacations are those that allow you that change of venue and routine but also afford you the opportunity to do something productive and beneficial to others. I guess this is why vacations to Israel are so fulfilling and even magical most of the time. Maybe that’s why most of the group trips are called “missions” instead of vacations.

Sure, Israel is a fairly big undertaking during intersession, especially with small or teenage children. At the same time, however, it is quite worth the effort, because in a world filled with empty and uninspiring pursuits, travel to Israel is both fulfilling and extremely inspiring.

I don’t know if Israel qualifies as a conventional vacation destination. I can only speak for myself, but I cannot recall a time in Israel when we did not come back to New York utterly exhausted. Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, are fast-paced, round-the-clock locations where the streets and restaurants are always bustling.

If you want an audience with a chassidic rebbe or rosh yeshiva there, rarely is there anything resembling a 9-to-5 schedule. If you secure an appointment, it might be at 10 o’clock at night and you might have to wait an hour or two more for your turn to arrive.

Over Chanukah, on the night I had yahrzeit for my father, I left our apartment thinking I would go to the Kotel for Ma’ariv at about 9:00 p.m. But then I figured that I would venture instead into the backstreets of Geulah in search of a Ma’ariv minyan. I took a taxi to Malchei Yisrael Street, exited the cab, and just walked a block or two until I asked someone where I could find a Ma’ariv minyan. It was simple. The first person I encountered led me to a building that has a sign outside that says it is Zichron Moshe. Here in New York we would call this a “minyan factory.” It’s the kind of place where you can probably daven Shacharis with a minyan until late in the afternoon and you can find a minyan for Ma’ariv all night long.

No one ever seems tired in Israel. If your eyes feel a little heavy, all you have to do is gulp down another cup of coffee. The shops that serve caffeine are busy all night long, with the tables at Coffee Bean and Cup ‘O’ Joe always filled to near capacity until way past midnight.

So here comes the big break–the midpoint of the school year where almost everyone gets an opportunity to retool or recharge their batteries, so to speak. It’s been anything but a mundane or ho-hum year so far. With the aftermath of Sandy still being dealt with and the associated difficulties and challenges involved in crawling back to normalcy, one may wonder who is in the frame of mind to get away and try to forget. Sometimes it’s just easier to stick close to home and keep on doing whatever it is that you’re doing. There is even a name for that now–it’s called a staycation.

We are hitting the road this week too and will report from our location next week. I know what you’re thinking–there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. Stay tuned and travel safe. v

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