In December my twelve-year-old granddaughter and I traveled to Israel. We were part of a program called G2. Its goal was to bond the two G’s – grandparents and grandchildren – with each other. The Jewish Agency for Israel worked with partner agencies in the United States (in Cincinnati, the Jewish Federation) to create the experience. G2 couples from New Jersey, Miami, and Cincinnati formed the first cohort of this amazing pilot program. With staff members and so forth about three dozen of us traveled together.
Since Israel’s history is rich, you can be sure we saw a lot. Here are some highlights:
- The port city of Akko has a history dating back 2500 years including a perfectly preserved Crusader city existing beneath the modern-day city. I loved seeing the underground tunnel that connects the port to the fortress.
- The Latrun Armored Museum is a memorial for soldiers in the Israeli Armored Corps who fell in combat. One can be moved or merry here. Along with a wall full of names as riveting as the Vietnam Memorial in DC, kids can climb on tanks as if in a playground. I loved the tank that was cut in half vertically so I could look inside.
- A jeep ride through the desert was fun – and emotional – as it led us to the burial site of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.
- Masada was somber too as we remembered the Jews who chose suicide there as opposed to enslavement in the year 73 CE.
- And after all of this, we finally arrived in Jerusalem just in time for the Jewish Sabbath, which we ushered in in song and dance at the Western Wall. “Moving” is not a grand enough word to explain the experience.
While I could list a dozen more bullet points, my most favorite sights had little to do with Israel and everything to do with Tillie. “Proud” is not a grand enough word to explain how I feel.
- This trip was for 11 and 12-year-old kids. In attendance from Cincinnati were three 11-year-old boys and 12-year-old Tillie. With the vast difference in maturity level for boys and girls this age and with no gal-pal to interact, I was impressed that Tillie chose to participate in the program.
- Additionally, all the other Cincinnati kids needed their moms to travel with us to Israel while Tillie braved it with just a grandma.
- We had home hospitality in Netanya staying at an Israeli home where we definitely had a language barrier with our new grandma/granddaughter friends. With hand signs – and ingeniously with Google translate – Tillie communicated with ten-year-old Shiri more ably than I did with her grandma, Ilana.
- After being promised a swim in the Dead Sea, our tight schedule gave us only 25 minutes there! Likewise, weather cancelled a bike ride on the beach in Netanya and the King David Sound and Light show in Jerusalem. Tillie expressed her disappointment but dealt with it. No moodiness. No attitude. Instead, she was a portrait of mature resilience.
- Preteens and cameras don’t always mix yet scads of photos were taken. This was a pilot program for the Jewish Agency in Israel so a photographer traveled with us to document it all. Tillie’s response? If someone said smile, she did, the embodiment of a good sport.
- But her crowning achievement was handling car sickness our first day of sightseeing. That night, worried that she had felt embarrassment, I asked if she needed to cry or if she needed her mom. But she didn’t. She was fine. She was a portrait of courage. Indeed, whenever I need to muster courage in years to come, Tillie’s example is what I will remember.
I have to confess that before the Israel trip I was trying to bolster my courage as I worried about various things that might be thrown my way. (Read my blog here.) One thing I did not anticipate, however, were the strong emotions I would feel in this Jewish homeland. Nor did I have a game plan for handling them so as not to embarrass Tillie. In suck-it-up-buttercup mode, I held in my feelings as much as possible when:
- My Netanya hostess, Ilana, told me (through an interpreter) of her childhood in Russia. It included secret religious services in the cellar of her home with threat of lengthy imprisonment if they were found out. My inner voice screamed, This happened in my lifetime!
- Touring Beit Hatfusot, the Museum of the Jewish People, I saw a replica of the Great Synagogue of Tlomackie Street in Warsaw, which was destroyed by the Nazis. There was also an original menorah on display from this congregation. My inner voice screamed, This synagogue was home to Dad’s family, all of whom perished in the war!
- We walked from the City of David to the Western Wall accompanied by two Klezmer musicians in garb right out of Fiddler on the Roof. This made me feel like a character from that story. I was a Jew evicted from Anatevka by the czar, searching for a safe place to live. My inner voice screamed.
These strong emotions surprised me. I had been in Israel once before, in 2007, and did not feel this way. But of course, that was before Charlottesville and Pittsburgh. That was before I was forced to consider how rampant anti-Semitism is in the United States. While I have always felt that Israel is the ace up my sleeve in case Hitler II ever rises to power, and while I have always felt that Israel is a homeland for Jews, it was some generic Jew I was thinking about in the past. Now it’s more personal.
When I embarked on this G2 adventure, I hoped I would form a greater bond with Tillie and I did! What a great bonus it is to also bond with my broader family, the people of Israel! What an amazing trip!