By Shmuel Katz
On Shabbat HaGadol we had a bit of excitement here. A few minutes before the derashah, Mordechai and Moshe were entering our front door when Mordechai looked down and saw a snake!
He grabbed Moshe and they ran to get me. For the next couple of hours, I ended up watching over the snake, making sure no kids came near as it coiled under our front door, since we were not sure if it was a dangerous snake.
When our neighbor Eli Berkovits eventually showed up, he took one look and said, “Oh, that’s a Palestinian viper—extremely poisonous!”
The kids were all freaking out. Eli was able to dispose of the snake, but we were in total shock. We had been warned that this type of snake was coming out of hibernation and likely to be seen in the neighborhood (a neighbor had killed one a couple of weeks earlier), but to have one at the front door? With the kids right there?
Thankfully, everything was OK and no one was hurt. And we moved forward to enjoy Pesach.
We definitely look forward to yom tov, especially the Seder, which we enjoy with my parents and my brother’s family (and this year with my students Ezra Pinsky and Ari Roth from the Five Towns, whom my kids really love). A yom tov here is very special and a tremendous experience, no matter how many years we are here.
This year, the Seder was a little rougher than usual. My brother was not feeling well (it turned out to be strep), which was a bit of a downer. And with Israel having switched to daylight-saving time before Pesach, we started more than an hour later (considering the leap year) than we had in prior years, which made the little kids a bit more tired than usual.
Yet we still made it to the wee hours of the night and had a great time. Having a couple new faces livened things up too, since they had never seen any of my shtick with the little kids before (and my own kids are soooo tired of it by now), and they also added a different perspective than we normally experience. So we definitely had a good Seder and great yom tov together.
As far as the rest and recreation part of the week, chol ha’moed is the major part of our chag experience. Chol ha’moed has always been a terrific week for family togetherness and last week was no different. With a workweek that often runs six days, school that runs six days as well, and so many different schedules that I am amazed Goldie can keep track of us all, chagim, as national holidays, are an opportunity for us to reset and recharge.
With the busy lives they all have, it is hard to get the kids together on a non-Shabbat/yom tov day. Even chol ha’moed is challenging, considering the wide range in their ages. But we insist on a minimum of one day in which everyone participates, and this year that is exactly what we got.
The first day was an education day. We took the younger kids and met my brother and my parents for a day at Bet Hatfutsot in Tel-Aviv. For those who have never been there, Bet Hatfutsot is a museum chronicling the history of the Jewish communities of the Diaspora and was offering free admission through Pesach as part of a Bank Hapoalim promo.
We only had the younger three with us that day. The museum, in addition to printed displays, has an audio player that provides a self-guided tour as you move through the main exhibit. The player has multiple language options, which was a tremendous benefit to our family. With the younger kids understanding Hebrew better, while we prefer English, we were able to tour together, with each person listening on the private player to the language of their preference.
When we got home that afternoon, we took advantage of the terrific weather (no, no snow here) to grab a few kites for a couple of hours of kite-flying in a local park. This is not a big pastime in Israel, and it is unusual enough that quite a few of the kids in the park came to watch us.
The next day we got a very early jump and made a three-hour drive up north to the Golan to get together with Goldie’s brother David and his family. Adjacent to Kibbutz Kfar Blum is a kayak vendor providing raft rentals to raft down the Jordan. Some of you may remember that we have rafted before, although not with this particular company.
Even though this was not a good year for rainfall, the river was flowing and cool and we had a really terrific time. Although we were probably the only ones doing so, a highlight for us was the ongoing water fight between rafts (which, of course, my raft won).
We spent Friday preparing for a restful Shabbat and then went to the Yerushalayim biblical zoo on Sunday, erev shevii shel Pesach. We always enjoy a day at the zoo.
Although only the museum was new for us, we had a terrific time over chol ha’moed. It was a chance for us to be together on a mini-vacation (along with most of the rest of the country, as many people are off from work that week) and enjoy some of the available pleasures of the land.
You should come try it. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at email@example.com.