I'm sitting on board an El Al flight to Tel Aviv, my two youngest children sleeping on either side of me.
Across the aisle, my husband and older two kids rest soundly. The man at the other end of our row is quietly studying Hebrew scripture. He wears a kippah and has a trimmed beard, clearly pious but not Hasidic. I prefer land to sky, but this man's presence calms me in a way I'm not used to feeling when I fly. The experience is quintessential El Al. While I'm glad my family sleeps through it, I smile as I think about all the other uniquely Israeli experiences we are about to encounter during our 10-day Passover vacation.
Taking our children to Israel has been our dream since we became parents. My husband and I share a deep connection with the Jewish homeland, and we hope our children develop a strong bond to it as well. We keep that goal in mind when we plan our trip for our kids who range in age from 4 to 10. With the help of an outstanding tour company, with whom we connected through JUF, we establish an itinerary packed with features made for our young first-time tourists.
We take a jeep ride on the Burma Road, explore military equipment at the Tank Museum, use our shovels to find buried artifacts with Dig for a Day, take a tour of the underground tunnels in Jerusalem, plant trees, and spend meaningful time at the Kotel .
But for me the real magic occurs when we experience Israel as Israelis do. It's unanimous among my children that their standout favorite part of our trip is the visit to Ein Gedi, whose waterfalls and pools make a spectacular playground for kids to explore. Because it is Pesach, my kids are not only immersed in the gorgeous fountains, but also in Hebrew chatter from all the Israeli families surrounding us at the national park. Passover time there is like winter vacation here, with the whole country experiencing a giant respite together. Yet during Christmas vacation in America, my children are inundated with a holiday that's not their own. In Israel they get to feel like everybody else, enjoying the same holiday together.
We keep Passover strictly, not only avoiding bread and grains, but also turning our house into a chametz -free zone where only kosher for Passover food is allowed for the eight days. While the stringent rules of Pesach help us to remember our ancestors' slavery, they don't exactly make us feel free. Not so in Israel. Instead of being bound to my kitchen, I get to enjoy delicious meals in restaurants with my family, complete with pasta, pizza, hamburgers on buns, and pancakes. These are delicacies we usually swear off during Pesach. Yet with each delicious bite at our meals in Israel, I feel as if my children gain a deeper understanding of all that it means to have a homeland where being Jewish is a way of life.
Our trip ends on the beach of Tel Aviv during the last days of Pesach. There's no better way to experience Israel like an Israeli than spending time on the Tayelet during a holiday. Both days we are there, the beach is packed with families, couples, and teenagers all mingling together. Along the boardwalk, a group of young men show off their strength with different acrobatic moves. My husband, a former college athlete, often jokes with our children that he is the world's strongest Jewish man. After watching these young men do all sorts of tricks just by using their muscles, our kids declare their dad the world's strongest American Jewish man. It's no contest that these young Israelis have him beat! The kids love teasing their dad, but more than that, we can see how much they love seeing this kind of physical talent from other Jews. It makes their own athletic goals seem all the more attainable.
Upon our return home, my children start talking to me about making aliyah or becoming a lone soldier. They tell me they like being in a place where they don't have to explain their Jewish customs, where they can just be. Perhaps one day they will fulfill their wishes to live or serve in Israel. It will be up to them to make decisions about how to nurture their relationship with Israel as they get older. For now, I'm grateful to have been the one to help establish their roots with our Jewish homeland.
Mimi Sager Yoskowitz is a freelance writer, mother of four, and former CNN producer. Her work has been featured on various sites including Kveller, Brain, Child Magazine, and in the anthology, "So Glad They Told Me." Connect with her at mimisager.com.