Summer in Israel: Fasting, vacations and war - opinion

Summer in Israel is always hot, and I don’t mean only the weather. It’s intense. I guess when temperatures rise, tension rises in our small land.

 ‘FASCINATING HOW kids can set their minds so much better than adults’: Recent snap of two of the writer’s children.  (photo credit: Courtesy Hadassah Chen)
‘FASCINATING HOW kids can set their minds so much better than adults’: Recent snap of two of the writer’s children.
(photo credit: Courtesy Hadassah Chen)

Finally in my plane seat and I can’t believe it. I made it.

Just a day ago, the thought of taking a flight seemed such an impossible thing to do for me.

Let’s rewind time a drop to the end of the school year and a long summer ahead full of bubbling plans.

Summer in Israel is always hot, and I don’t mean only the weather. It’s intense. I guess when temperatures rise, tension rises in our small land.

After signing up my kids to three different day camps, with three different carpools, again, it feels busier than my day in the middle of the year, and I find myself running around even more, though now I am also trying to organize some kind of summer break for the family.

In Italy, we used to finish school on June 15 and go back on September 15 – three full months of vacation. We would literally leave Milan and come back not recognizing our own city.

The Italian flag waves over the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy May 30, 2018 (credit: REUTERS/TONY GENTILE)The Italian flag waves over the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy May 30, 2018 (credit: REUTERS/TONY GENTILE)

First, we headed to the mountains, and then to the sea. I remember playing the memory game in the car with my siblings to see what had changed in our neighborhood and how ads with bikinis on the streets had been replaced with welcome back to school advertisements.

We would run to meet our friends and not recognize each other, “You became so tall. You became skinny. You cut your hair...”

Life was fun

Summer in Israel is optional. If you merit to go on vacation, and only the Lord knows how you might squeeze in a week with your loved ones somewhere by the sea, which for us Jerusalemites is a lovely idea, or go camping up north, and if you’re really lucky, you might get on a flight to Greece or Cyprus, our closest neighbors... for a week! Zehu (that’s it).

Boys’ religious school in Israel finishes on the day before Tisha Be’av, which fell on August 6 this year. My sisters in Italy will have already finished their first month of vacation and will be changing suitcases for the second month and destination, while I am still going to PTA meetings for my son.

Girls’ school finishes at the end of June, and then they have day camp for another three weeks. It’s run by the school in the school, the only difference is that you don’t have to wear the school uniform, but you need to wear very tzanua (modest) clothes according to the strict rules as applied in school. So, thick socks and long sleeves in 38 degrees for some fun days in the sun jumping on floaters in the school’s yard.

All my girls loved it, and I never heard them complain about not being able to finally wear a little dress and flip flops, as school is over. They know that they come home from day camp and can change and walk around in their underwear. I don’t care.

Fascinating, how kids can set their minds so much better than adults. If I think back to the day after my school was over in Italy, we were all packed and secured in cars or trains eager to already get to our summer home away from the city. And we complained. Ah, Europeans. So spoiled.

Our family week away was finally squeezed into our busy summer schedule between end-of-day camps and the beginning of the much-hated Nine Days. Those famous days of mourning when you can’t go in the pool or sea, have fun or parties, or listen to music, lead to the big fast of Tisha Be’av. I guess we deserve it after what all our ancestors went through 2,000 years ago by the destruction of the second Temple here in the same Jerusalem where I complain, now, of traffic jams while sitting comfortably in my Jeep.

Herzliya is our preferred destination every year, and the more I live here, the more I realize that we have the whole world in this little slice of land called Israel. A little bit of Miami, a little bit of Switzerland and a little bit of Italy (okay, maybe not the Amalfi coast...). No need to get on a plane  – we’ve got it all here.

Our week by the sea feels like a month for us. We stay just among ourselves, no outside guest is allowed. We talk, we fight, we shop, we eat and we love.

We come back a week later, and we enter our house as if we had left for three months and took three planes and trains to get back, when we were just two hours away by car.

Life’s perspectives

We get over the Nine Days and make it through the fast and feel the vibes of unity on this day. It’s usually about this time of the year that war breaks out in our holy land; and just like the new ice cream flavor hits the shelf, we hear the new name given to this summer’s war.

Sunrise 2022

Families in the South are back to running for shelter every 10 minutes. They’re back to listening for sirens, hearing them all over Israel and guessing when they will be heard again. They’re thinking about how far the rockets can fly nowadays and waiting to hear backslash from the rest of the world that we are killing Palestinian children and are hated by half of humanity. Mostly, the ignorant don’t know that we have the best army in the world, which has been running the most surgical operations against the enemy, managing to hit targets without hurting anyone around. Try to explain this to the Italians, who are busy sunbathing in Sardinia, while they express their total disapproval of this war from their tanning bed, dressed in their usually topless bikinis.

They do not know about us, this war, our army, our land and our magic – nothing. Just like the rest of the world and all those influencers busy selling lies to hungry viewers looking for someone to blame for their problems.

Jews and Israel

We’ll be okay, though. We always are in the end.

So, as I plan my week ahead in Miami, where I have been invited to speak at the famous Jewish National Retreat, I will be staying at the fancy Doral (Trump) Hotel. However, Trump’s name has been dropped momentarily from the invite, in order not to alarm people that Donald Trump might actually be there and serve you tea.

I feel the tension rising, as my kids start wondering what a week without me will be like.

My flight is booked for the night right after the end of the fast. As I light candles with my children at sunset, I see my husband all dressed in Shabbat clothes, making his way to the synagogue, when his phone suddenly starts ringing.

“Tzav 8” is how we call getting called up as a reservist by the army to come to a base, even if it’s Shabbat.

We all look at each other in shock. My girls look at me, and I look at him. My husband goes into the bedroom, changes into his uniform, takes his Siddur and recites the Shabbat prayer by himself in the house. With a smile, he blesses the kids, as usual, and proceeds to do Kiddush. We silently and quickly eat our Shabbat meal earlier than we ever have.

Tension is in the air. He rises and, like Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, he kisses each of us and leaves the house.

My kids look at me and say, “Mom, you are so lucky to have married such a hero.”

Okay, let’s not exaggerate, he is just going to his base under the ground, where he is probably safer than us here on the 11th floor of a huge building in Jerusalem, but I see their point, the whole scene was very Hollywood. How will I get on a flight in 48 hours, with my country at war, my kids nervous, and my husband in the army? But I did.

This is life in Israel. My husband came home just in time to take me to the airport, reassuring the kids and humanity that it’s just another summer war, and today is just another Israel day. Now I’m flying to Miami with my heart in Israel and bubbling with excitement about my new adventure.

Take care, my friends, have a great rest of the summer and stay safe. 

The writer is from Italy, lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four kids, and heads HadassahChen Productions. She also hosts a weekly talk show on Arutz7.