By Mordechai Schmutter
Chol ha’moed trips are an ancient tradition dating back thousands of years to Biblical times. Our forefathers had a long Sukkos—40 years actually—but they couldn’t just sit in their sukkahs the whole time, complaining, so they went on trips. Mostly nature hikes. It was hard to come up with anything else to do, because they were in the desert. There were no bumper boats.
Also, there were really no rainy days.
Nowadays, fortunately, we have tons of options, which is why, when it comes to chol ha’moed, we can come up with absolutely nothing. Every night of chol ha’moed is spent researching the same places you researched the previous night, because you don’t want to do that in the morning, because once you’re finished with the extended Shacharis and father–son learning, it’s almost time to get back for Minchah.
So, ideally, you want to go somewhere with a million Jews, so you don’t have to come home for Minchah. You can just daven in the food court while goyim pass by and you all pretend to be doing something else, facing the same direction.
You (casually): “We’re watching the sunset.”
Gentile: “The sun is behind you.”
Paddle-Boating. Paddle-boating, as the name implies, is boating without a paddle. It consists of boats with pedals that are rented out on small lakes that are one-foot deep but that you still don’t want to fall into because there’s something large and slimy at the bottom.
But it’s great for a day trip if your idea of a relaxing time on the water is pedaling furiously while arguing with the person next to you about who’s doing more of the work. Because paddle boats sound like a lot of fun—it’s like biking on the water!—until you realize that there’s a lot of pedaling and not a lot of coasting. It’s not like there are hills.
I’ve actually made several attempts to go paddle-boating on chol ha’moed with my in-laws, because it’s something everyone can do. You’re either pedaling, or you’re sitting on the back of the boat making it heavier. No offense. And attempting to switch seats is a lot of fun too, because you have to figure out how to phase through each other without tipping the boat over and having everyone touch the muck, chas v’shalom.
But it’s never actually worked out. The first time we tried going, we ended up at a park where paddle-boating was closed for the season, despite all signs stating to the contrary. So we ended up at the nearby playground. The second time we went, we specifically tried a different place, but then my GPS totally misunderstood which town we were talking about and led us an hour in the opposite direction and told us we were at our destination in the middle of a deserted, windy, dead-end road. So we ended up at a nearby swing-set store, where the employees pointed us to a nature preserve, probably to get our kids to stop trying to climb on their swing-sets. To date, we have never successfully gone paddle-boating. In fact, in our family, “going paddle-boating” has come to mean attempting to go somewhere, getting lost, and then doing something else that is not as good and that we could have done without all the driving. We don’t attempt to go paddle-boating anymore. But that doesn’t mean you can’t.
Bring a good pair of boots.
Aquariums. An aquarium is like a zoo for fish, except the only thing that separates you from all these denizens of the deep, not to mention slime, is a thin layer of glass that you’re not allowed to touch, just in case.
Thankfully, the other difference is that if an animal escapes from the zoo, you need to run. If an animal escapes from the aquarium, you just have to say, “Oh, there’s the shark!” And step over it. It’s not like the fish are coming up through the toilets.
One highlight of aquariums is that there’s a touch tank, which is kind of like the barnyard section at a petting zoo. But unlike petting zoos, where you get to touch sheep and goats, in a touch tank, you get to touch starfish, which you’re not entirely sure are a kind of fish. That might be a lie dreamed up by the aquarium industry. They keep saying that if you cut one leg off a starfish it’ll grow back, though they never let you try it. But even if it’s true, it kind of sounds like a starfish is a plant.
They also let you touch shells that may or may not have crabs inside them, which is terrifying. I don’t know what it is about a hermit crab that made them say, “Let’s put these in a touch tank.” Was it the fact that it’s called a hermit?
But they don’t let you touch the big fish. Those are usually kept outside, though they do post what time they’re going to feed them. That way the fish can go, “I’m starving. What time is lunch? Oh, 2:30. Is everyone going to stand around and watch me eat again? Or is the trainer going to bring enough fish for everybody?”
“What are we eating?”
“Are these the same fish that we just saw inside?”
“No, these are the slow learners.”
In fact, this is why they keep the big fish outside. If the big fish came inside and saw how many little fish there were, they would bust out of their pens and go for it. We’d have sea lions jumping around everywhere. Or seals. I don’t know. I don’t actually believe those are two different things. I think that’s another lie the aquariums keep telling us.
Something smells very fishy over there.
Alpine Slide. Alpine-sliding is something you can do at a ski resort that doesn’t involve spending hundreds of dollars on ski equipment you don’t know how to use just so you can be more aerodynamic when you plow face-first into the side of the gift shop.
The thing about ski resorts is they noticed at some point that business tends to go downhill during the summer. (Oy.) So they looked into it and realized that it might be because there’s no snow.
So they set up a concrete slide that goes down the mountain, but it doesn’t go straight down the mountain, or you’ll be hurtling down at speeds of about 70 billion miles per hour. So they throw in curves, which slow you down by throwing you off the track as soon as you reach, say, 20 billion. They also, baruch Hashem, give you a little cart to sit on, along with a tiny handbrake that is just as terrified as you are. The entire brake is a skinny pole between your legs that feels like it’s going to snap off at any moment.
In fact, in the safety speech that they give you, they say, “Don’t overuse the handbrake, or you’ll wear it out.” Like there’s only a certain amount of uses of the handbrake until it totally stops functioning—statistically, in middle of the mountain. And you’re thinking, “The person who uses this cart after me is going to die if I overuse my handbrake. So should I die instead?” You could totally overuse it and have no idea. Especially if you are clueless and go down really slowly with everyone else tailgating you.
So if you go to these places, you should really check the newspaper the next day.
Factory Tours. In a factory tour, they show you how something is made, which usually involves some kind of machine that they don’t sell in regular stores, and you’re like, “Well, sure. If I had that machine, I could make it too. No big deal.”
Everyone goes and pretends to be interested in the whole manufacturing process, but everyone knows you’re all there for the free samples. That’s why they don’t give them out until the end.
Sure, you think they think you’re interested. You’re asking questions, taking notes. (“So you’re saying the first machine dumps it onto the second machine? Wow!”) But they know that you did not go on vacation so you can learn stuff. They talk to hundreds of people a day, and not one of them actually wants to know, say, how glue is made and why it doesn’t stick to the inside of the bottle. They just want their free sample.
When I was growing up, my parents actually took us to the Kedem factory one year. We spent a while paddle-boating around and looking for the factory, which, as it turns out, did not give tours. They just had a tasting room. For wine. And my parents showed up with eight or nine underage children. So they gave us 4-oz. cups of grape juice, which we couldn’t drink, because it was Sukkos. But then another family made a sukkah out of some branches and a flat refrigerator box that I’m pretty sure they found in the dumpster, and we got to squeeze in one at a time and drink our four ounces of grape juice, at least until the sukkah fell over.
So it turns out our ancestors are right. If you’re going on chol ha’moed trips, bring a sukkah. Unless you’re just eating fish.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.