We got back Wednesday night from our trip up north. In the winter, we flood the south and enjoy the heat and the lovely desert areas - it's a tradition of national proportions. But in the summer, seeking refuge from the seemingly endless heat of August, it almost feels as if the country leans to the north, as tens of thousands of Israelis fill the cooler northern areas, and enjoy the simple luxury of a river or waterfall.
So like many others, and as we have done so many times in the past, we went north. This time, we didn't take the family dog (she's just gotten too old and gets too upset at the disruption). We didn't go camping and most important, we didn't take Elie. We did take our married daughter and our son-in-law, now married for the last year and a half (ask them and they can give you a daily count). We filled two cars with all manner of suitcases, bags, toys that can be stuffed in little crevices of the car, bottles of water (a must in our climate), and, of course, an empty place in the deepest parts of our hearts.
For those of you who love water, I can recommend several "new" places we have added to the list of those we love up north.
Visit Nahal Kibbutzim! It's a great place to wade in the water, float, relax. Next to a picnic area and easy parking. We had lunch there, and my oldest daughter mentioned that she missed Elie.
Visit the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee - that's where we spent two days. One day, we waded and swam through Nahal Zaki, amid the trees and a winding tributary to the sea. We had a picnic, floated, splashed. It was a wonderful day! And somewhere in the middle of the day, feeling a bit bad, I called Elie to see where he was. He was still at the base in Jerusalem, expecting to go back to the checkpoint a few days later.
Visit the shores of the Sea of Galilee - just a few months ago, Elie joined us for a family barbeque. This time, he wasn't there to taste the meat fresh off the grill, or jump into the waves that came in as the sun began to set. The Sea of Galilee is vast - at least by Israeli standards and as the evening rolled in, the calm sea brought forth gentle waves that allowed us to jump and float and feel refreshed.
We went kayaking. Last time, I went with Elie and his youngest sister and my oldest daughter teamed up with my middle son. This time, Elie's middle brother took his spot, but not his place, as we made our way through 5.5 kilometers, crashing into the sides of the river banks, freeing ourselves, twirling (not intentionally) down the Jordan River. Each experience going down the river was precious for me - both the time I went with Elie and this time that I went with Shmulik. We laughed, we took pictures, and again watched as the sun began to set on the drive back up the mountain to the rented apartment. It was, by all accounts, a wonderful day and I accepted it for the gift that it was.
And finally, on the last day of our vacation, as we knew the summer was drawing to a close, we walked the streets of Safed, a mystical, enchanted city perched high in the mountains and visited the famous candle shop where we saw the most amazing candle sculptures - a whole chess set, Biblical scenes, houses, Noah's ark, and so much more. We ate pizza, looked in many of the art galleries and simply shared in the last moments of summer when you know that school and life is about to take another swing. This year, I will have only two children in school (and one in university). I will have one in the army and a second in Hesder, a special program that combines religious studies with army service. And so it begins for my second son...but not quite yet.
Through the vacation, what I accepted was the basic truth that you can have perfect family moments even when all your family is not with you; you can relish and enjoy those times you spend with your children, even when one is not with you. Your heart can sing...and hold just a bit of saddness at the same time.
Last night, we went to yet another wedding of the daughter of dear friends of ours. The groom broke the glass and later the band played the moving tune and sang, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy."
The symbolism of the breaking of the glass is a reminder that even at the most joyous of times, there are hints and memories of sadness; something or someone is missing. At the wedding, it was the fact that we as a nation have not reclaimed our former glory and many remain in exile. Once Jerusalem was united and our Holy Temple standing majestically on the Temple Mount; today we cannot even go to this holy site freely and say a simple prayer. And therein lies the sadness, the missing piece of who we are as a people. There is great joy in living here, in celebrating the weddings of our children and going on vacation and there is the sadness that something is missing. At a wedding, you rejoice in all who attend, even as you may think of loved ones who could not be there. This was so similar to our vacation - the joy is no less for missing someone.
We dream of a reunited Jerusalem, rebuilt, whole and at peace and we dream of a time when our sons will not have to serve in combat units and learn of weapons and guns and cannons. Elie is doing something important, a very important service that comes first.
I spoke to Elie a short while ago and he asked about the vacation. I didn't know if I should start telling him first or wait for him to ask. As much as I missed him, how much did he miss having this time with us? Once he asked, I was able to tell him about the kayaking and the places we visited.
"Would you like me to set a time when we can go back up north when you have a few days off from the army?" I asked him. "We could go up on a Wednesday and come back on Sunday and then we'd have a few days to do things."
"Maybe," he answered.
Next week, his unit is going to go back to artillery practice for a few days. "We'll be shooting at Givati," Elie told me - mentioning another unit.
"Don't miss this time," I joked. Of course, they won't be shooting AT the other unit and of course, God willing, they most definitely WILL miss the unit. Things are going well for Elie and we are gliding through his service together as a family, and yes, at times alone and individually as we each relate to these other things happening in Elie's life.
This time, we took a vacation without him and he can't have a part in it - ever. Another time, we'll go to Nahal Zaki or Nahal Kibbutzim or swim in the Sea of Galilee and walk the streets of Safed with him.
May God watch over my son and keep him safe and bless us with many vacations together in the future...and may Jerusalem be rebuilt speedily in our days and be blessed with peace. Shabbat shalom.