Free at last, free at last

I felt native, like some character out of an Arik Einstein song

Free at last, free at last (photo credit: Courtesy)
Free at last, free at last
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sooner or later most immigrants here are bound to experience I-have-arrived moments when they think to themselves, “Walla, now I feel Israeli.”
I felt that the first time I voted in an election in this country in 1988, the first time I patrolled along the Lebanese border in the reserves a year later, and when I greeted my oldest son in a parking lot near Erez as he returned safe and sound from Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009.
And I also felt it intensely two weeks ago – 35 years after making aliyah – sitting on a bench on the bank of the Jordan River as one grandson slept, another waded in the water with his father, and two of my three other children and their spouses were behind me strumming a guitar and banging on a cajon while singing Ishay Ribo songs.
It was the location that made me feel quintessentially Israeli.
You know how when you raft down the Jordan River you once in a while see people sitting on an isolated bank under some trees and wonder, “That looks cool, how’d they get there?” Well, we got there, and it gave me an enormous sense of satisfaction.
We got there by turning off the road from Kiryat Shmona to the Golan Heights somewhere near Horshat Tal, making a right onto a dirt road, then a left onto another dirt road, and then another left through a half-opened gate until we reached an orchard where we parked between fruit trees.
“Are you sure we’re allowed in here?” I asked my third son, Skippy, my overdeveloped superego always taking over.
“Don’t worry” he replied. “Nobody owns the river.”
Skippy, who knows the site and how to reach it from his IDF training in the area, then led us through a tunnel made of reeds where Moses’s basket could have been hidden, and onto the banks of the river. It was Hol Hamoed Sukkot – the intermediate days of the holiday, when tens of thousands of my countrymen were flocking to the same parks and beaches and watering holes across the land – and we were completely alone, undisturbed by someone else’s radio or screaming kids, just sitting there watching the river flow.
I felt native, like some character out of an Arik Einstein song.
I ALSO FELT satisfaction that I had finally found family vacation nirvana – not because of the location, but because of how I got there: I didn’t lead but rather just sat back and followed.
I had no clue how to get to this slice of the Jordan River bank, I just followed my son, and through that simple act of following my son, the burden of responsibility for taking care of family vacations that I had carried for so long suddenly slipped off my shoulders.
“Vacation” with small children is a misnomer, as anyone who has ever had small kids can attest. There is nothing free and easy – nothing vacation-like – about schlepping small kids around in search of wholesome entertainment, fun family time and memories.
“Honey, don’t call this a vacation, call this a family consolidating experience,” I always told The Wife before we set off for family trips when the kids were younger.
Even when the kids got older and were in high school, even when they could pack their own stuff, go swimming without supervision and keep their hands off each other in the back seat of the car, family vacations were not relaxing.
And I’m not talking about them not being relaxing because of particular family dynamics, about who was annoying whom, or who did not want to sit next to whom. I’m just talking about the logistics – figuring out where to go, when to leave, how to get there.
I’m talking about having to deal with the clerk in the youth hostel when the rooms aren’t ready, the cafeteria hostess when you try to find a place in the over-crowded sukkah, and the parking lot guard who won’t let any more cars into the overfilled lot.
I’m talking about constantly having to run interference. With small kids, all of that, all those myriad details fall on the already stressed-out parents.
VACATIONS DON’T just drop like manna from heaven. They need to be both planned and executed. And both the planning and the execution can – if done by the same party – be exhausting.
For many years The Wife and I were, naturally, that party: she was responsible for the planning, and I was in charge of execution.
But sitting the other day on a secluded bank of the Jordan River where one son decided we should go (the planning), and another figured out how to get there (the execution), I realized that things had fundamentally changed. And that realization brought to mind two 1960s icons and their memorable words: John F. Kennedy’s “The torch has been passed to a new generation,” and Martin Luther King’s “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we’re free at last.”
My kids know where to tour in this country far better than I, they speak Hebrew and can argue with surly vendors far better than I, and they can ask the overworked waitress at Hummus Eliyahu for a lemonade refill with much more authority than I could ever muster.
In short, I can sit back and enjoy these vacations because now my kids can sweat the never-ending small stuff. The only thing they can’t yet do better than I is pay the bill.
But as surely as the Jordan River will forever flow gently into the Kinneret, I’m certain that day too shall come.