I stared in shock at the full two-page advertisement. I was perusing a Jewish magazine on Shabbat over a cup of coffee and saw the left page of the advertisement quote a verse from the Torah, “Build me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you.” Curious, I wondered what was being advertised.
The facing page was even more surprising, the text stated, “There’s nowhere you’d rather be… ” could this be an advertisement for building the Temple in Jerusalem? Where else would any Jewish person, reading a Jewish magazine, want to be? I was shocked when I realized it was an advertisement for a bungalow colony in the Catskills.
In a time when all Jews can move to Israel, is it appropriate to be building our sanctuaries in Upstate New York? Are the Catskills where all Jews really want to be over the summer? I certainly didn’t want to be in the Catskills, I wanted to be in Israel this summer.
I moved to Israel 25 years ago, went back to America for ten years, and returned to Israel eight years ago. I’ve always preferred to vacation in Israel than go to Europe, Asia or America. More than just a personal preference not to leave, our rabbis stressed the importance of staying in Israel, even stating that it’s prohibited to leave Israel if not for limited and specific reasons.
Although practically, most rabbis allow vacation travel outside of Israel, the message our rabbis have taught is clear; every moment in Israel is precious. With so much to see in Israel, it’s easy to plan repeated vacations without running out of things to see and places to visit.
When our family vacations throughout Israel we travel Israel’s history on five levels: biblical times, Mishna times, Talmudic times, exile times, and modern Zionism times. The people and events of these times left a mark on the land. There are places one can visit that are unique to only one time period and others where events occurred from one, two or even all the timeline eras.
Traveling the land
Simply traveling the land allows learning the events of our past in a way that history books and even master educators can never teach it. Touching the rocks, feeling the air, and walking the same roads our ancestors walked so many years before renews our connection to our history.
Israel isn’t only a place of history; it is a land of fun and recreation as well. When it comes to the fun in Israel, there are also five levels of fun.
Israel offers its people hiking, culture, cuisine, fun and shopping. Each region in Israel offers a different terrain which lends Israelis a different hiking experience each time they hike. The culture, whether one goes to a concert to hear music, visits a theater to see a play or visits the many museums, Israel’s culture simply can’t be beat.
WITH IMMIGRANTS from every corner of the world, Israel’s restaurants offer the widest variety of food that can be imagined. Kubbeh from Syria, falafel from Iraq and Kurdish shamburak will ensure you never forget your vacation. The fun doesn’t stop there, ride banana boats on the Kinneret, ATVing in the Judean Desert or skydiving over the Mediterranean coast, the adventures really never stop in Israel.
Lastly, whether it’s art, clothes or Judaica, Israel’s shuks, stores and malls offer incredible shopping and souvenirs to remember your trip.
The Jewish connection to the land
On a Palestinian television program called The Supreme Authority, Riyad al-Aileh, a Palestinian political science lecturer stated, “The Jews claim that they were in Palestine 2,000 years ago, If we look at the history, we will see that they were not in Palestine in the past, but rather only as invaders less than 70 years ago.”
Some opponents of Zionism claim the Jewish connection to the land is more contemporary by nature and was invented by modern Zionists.
As a Zionist educator vacationing in the Land of Israel, I couldn’t help noticing that every few feet there are signs (literal and figurative) of the Jewish people’s connection to the land.
Ignoring the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is ignoring reality. Early Zionists didn’t choose the land of Israel randomly from a spinning globe. The Jewish connection to the Land of Israel goes back thousands of years, and the Jewish people have never given up hope of returning home.
Whenever circumstances force me to travel abroad, I stand at the departure gates of Ben-Gurion Airport wondering if I’ve lost my mind. For two thousand years my ancestors waited for the chance to see this land, and now that we finally have it, I’m going to leave it? Of course, I have valid reasons to leave Israel, but even so, how can I leave a place we’ve been praying to return to for so long?
Living the dream of our ancestors in Israel has many great benefits, but one not talked about often is vacationing in Israel. Whether you’re a hiker or shopper, an eater or a skydiver, vacationing in Israel is simply the best. Vacationing in Israel delivers the opportunity to relax, have fun and eat a great meal, all while getting a sense of the Land and the Jewish connection to Eretz Yisrael.
I’m aware that Israel can feel cramped and claustrophobic and that it can be more expensive to vacation in Israel than to fly to resorts in Europe, Cyprus or Dubai. I don’t judge anyone for taking a vacation outside of Israel, I’m just fascinated by the Land we’ve been given and want to enjoy every moment I’m blessed to be in the Land.
The writer is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. He is the author of three books and teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.