Field Trip 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Before I tell what it’s like to go on a nature walk with Israeli school parents,
let me say that I love walking outdoors like I love few things in life. I try to
walk every day around the parks of Modi’in for exercise, and my mind just
wanders and it’s great; it’s an addiction. But walking in the country is the
ultimate.I’ve gone with my family on walking tours of the English
countryside, and they’re the most glorious, memorable vacations I’ve ever had.
We went with groups of British vacationers – very, very nice
people. Nothing deep, nothing intense, but very friendly, good people.
And the walks were like that – long, meandering, with the least possible
structure; no rush, no competition, no challenges – just open up your
So are we clear? Again, I love walking, especially in the country,
and going with groups of people is just dandy with me. But going on a
walk with my kid’s class and his classmates’ parents is something I
doing a few years ago after about the third or fourth time. On this
wife and I have worked out a compromise – she goes, I stay home. She
suffers less than I do. I really, really suffer. Being on these walks is
being in the army again, only this time you’re not allowed to complain;
sake of class morale, you have to pretend you’re having a good time.
problem is not the nature walk. The problem is what Israeli school
parents do to
the nature walk, to the whole experience: They turn it into a military
Once there was a walk through the forest with the kids and
parents of the whole elementary school – and I’ve never seen so many
sticking out of the waists of so many men wearing jeans. There was even a
carrying a rifle. While the Education Ministry guidelines called for
proportion of adults to be armed, they did not call for a suburban
had cops and cop cars with us; I seem to recall a helicopter as well. A
of hundred elementary school kids and parents go for a weekend walk in
forest, and it looked like we were on our way to invade
Ordinarily, though, you just go with your kid’s class, with no
more than about 30 people altogether. This way the experience is more
more social, and the adult peer pressure and status competition is more
First you drive to the appointed spot in town to line up in a
convoy. A few of the habitually involved parents are walking up and down
of vehicles, talking into cellphones. There are lots of 4x4s, lots of
company cars, lots of fathers with dark sunglasses pushed back on their
heads. Soon we’re moving out. The cars in the lead are driving at least
I lag behind; maybe they’ll lose me.
We get to the place in the foothills
or the forest and somebody’s guiding you to a parking place. Then “the
meaning the five or six insiders, the leaders, the officer corps – work
logistics. The word is passed down to the grunts, to the nobodies – you,
you and you drive everybody to where we’re going to walk, then drive
park, and Gidi will take you back over there in his moving van, okay? WE
TO and from, then we’re sitting or hunching uncomfortably in the van,
up and down an extremely bumpy trail, and the reunion begins. What does
remind you of, Asher, hah? Remember in Golani? Hah hah hah hah hah
hah. Remember? Hah hah hah hah hah hah...
Finally we arrive and
the other drivers jump down from the van without a word to Gidi. I
maybe he feels he’s being taken for granted as our chauffeur, so I tell
“Thanks for the lift, Gidi.” He looks at me like I’m crazy. Where do you
you are, England?
We’ve got this one dad who runs all the nature walks –
nice, smart, friendly, considerate guy, but everyone knows he is in
the kids picked up an iguana or something and were going to take it on
and our platoon leader saw it, strode forward, took the big lizard out
kid’s hands, announced, “It is forbidden to take animals out of their
I am returning it to its natural environment,” deposited the thing far
returned to his post. No pets on this maneuver. Son of a gun has command
I should mention that the foothills and forests surrounding
Modi’in, with all due respect, are not the English countryside for
least not to my taste, so this may affect my attitude. Except for the
seasons, which keep getting shorter, the greenery in the area looks
pretty dry and dusty. And with regard to the regimentation that seems to
overtake these class walks, I’ve gone on walks run by the Society for
Protection of Nature in Israel, and it was completely different,
free. I think the reason is that on SPNI walks, people generally don’t
other, they’re not going to see each other again, so they don’t have to
much what the others think. In Israeli schools, a class pretty much
together for 12 years, which means the classmates’ parents stay together
years, and as the schools here are neighborhood schools, this means the
classmates’ parents will be seeing each other all the time.
that on these nature walks, you don’t want to get a reputation as a
a complainer, or a weakling. So let’s hear it – does everybody want to
walking farther and steeper? Yes, commander!
One time we’d been walking
about two and a half hours, we were on our way back, and I see the
huddling, and soon our leader is saying that if we want, we can take
route that’s a little longer, a little narrower and a little steeper,
more scenic than the planned route, it’ll take us past a stunning gorge
breathtaking valley – but only if we want to.
For most of the scenic
route I was so busy looking at the ground so I wouldn’t slip on the
rocks that I
missed the scenery. At one point it got so steep that a lot of us had to
down on our asses. I should also mention that while I love walking, I
Near the end, the commander stops and announces, “In another
three minutes we’ll be meeting in the shade over there for sikum.” This
Hebrew word for “summation.” It’s what they have at the end of every
exercise – actually at the end of every Israeli group project, every
goal-oriented endeavor. Summation. Sikum. The leader gathers everyone
to discuss what went wrong, what went right and how to do better the
time. Onward and upward.
Why do you need a sikum at the end of a
freaking nature walk? I’m afraid I went AWOL for it.
And I’ve gone AWOL
for these class outings ever since. I don’t dislike the other parents as
individuals, not at all; in fact, I’ve always felt completely at ease,
lucky, that my kids are growing up with theirs. They’re great neighbors,
too. It’s just that I find these folks hard to take as a group, with
on, following each other around in the wilderness. I guess I should
I didn’t like the army much.
When it comes to the nature part of the
nature walk, though, my view is simple. Even if Jerusalem could only
built where it is, I wish that Modi’in, one of its bedroom communities,
somehow have been built in England’s green and pleasant land.