Despite the fact that our government is teetering on its last leg, the security situation is worrisome, and rockets are being launched toward our southern communities, Israelis were out and about on Chol HaMoed traversing the length and breadth of our beautiful country. The comfortable weather along with the festive atmosphere beckoned over a million Israelis who flocked to nature reserves, forests, and attractions around the country during the chag.
While my family was hesitant to travel too far from home in an attempt to avoid sitting for hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic, we took advantage of the cool weather and made our way to Ein Gedi, located west of the Dead Sea, near Masada and the Qumran caves. We hiked to the waterfall of Nachal David, together with many other families enjoying the mountainous desert scenery before the scorching heat of summer sets in. We had not been there in years, and it has definitely changed since then.
During our first Chol HaMoed after we made aliyah, we went to Ein Gedi with an organized group from Beit Shemesh. The area near the waterfall was very wet and slippery. I was holding my one-year-old baby and watching my oldest son frolicking near the water when I slipped and fell. A bump the size of a golf ball appeared on my baby’s forehead within seconds. Visitors who witnessed the scene attempted to calm the hysterical mother (me) and suggested a long list of remedies, which included pushing on the bump with a coin. I had never heard of such a thing, but I was panicky and desperate and willing to do whatever it would take to make that bump disappear.
Luckily, one of the members of our group was a doctor who calmly examined my baby. He said that he seemed to be okay but that we should keep an eye on him. I can assure you that my eyes never left him for a fraction of a second. Baruch Hashem, my son recovered well from the fall, but it took me years to be able to hear the words “Ein Gedi” without breaking into a cold sweat and shaking like a leaf. I certainly was not interested in going anywhere near the vicinity for a very long time. But now it seems different. I don’t know if they changed the path to reach a different area of the falls or if they put down dirt on the ground leading up to the falls, but now the area near the waterfall is not slippery at all and there is even a park ranger stationed there to make sure that all is well. This positive development helped foster my corrective experience.
Our visit to the Ashdod Beach was particularly pleasant, as it was practically empty – due to the cool weather, I suppose. Former Prime Minister Netanyahu visited there the next day. There appeared to be more of a crowd at that time, judging by the videos of multitudes of people trying to take a selfie with him. We also walked around the beautiful outdoor mall in Ashdod, which was basically a “kitniyos-fest.” It wouldn’t shock me if we were actually the only Ashkenazim there. The cafes and shops were bustling with patrons enjoying Kasher L’Pesach rolls, pizza, and pasta that looked and smelled no different from any other day of the year. The biggest crowd at the mall, however, was at the snow mountain. As Ashdod is in what is considered to be the southern part of the country, it does not see snow. The kids were thrilled to play in the snow and pelt each other with snowballs.
On the spur of the moment, some members of my family decided to head out to a professional basketball game. I’m not much of a competitive sports fan but, armed with my knowledge of the difference between a basketball, a football, and a baseball, I decided to be open-minded and try something different. Much to my surprise, it was actually an enjoyable experience. The glittering LED display moving around the exterior of the building wished everyone a Chag Kasher V’Samei’ach. Many of the spectators were frum families, and the environment was wholesome. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be rooting for. Honestly, I didn’t even know who was playing. But who cared?
I liked the guys in the big animal costumes who were terrific at making people smile and who shot baskets during half-time. It was touching when they brought children undergoing treatment for cancer or children who had survived cancer onto the court to give them a standing ovation. The perimeter LED display advertised Schapiro Beer. Hmmm. I never heard of that company before. We were never able to establish a connection between our family and Schapiro’s wine but maybe some research will yield a connection between my family and this beer company. I will have to put this on top of my post-Pesach To-Do List! It was fun to get caught up in the excitement of the game. The only downside was that we were seated right next to the fans who were beating a very loud drum during the entire duration of the game. This is something I could have done without.
There was also something that puzzled me. The atmosphere was very relaxed and comfortable. The players wore their tank tops and shorts. Many fans wore casual clothes of the color of their team. There were characters walking around in costume. The ambiance was informal. Why were the coaches dressed in suits? They seemed out of place. Who knows?
Of course, the highlight of our chag was getting together with family. Between chilling at a long-overdue outing with our chamulah (extended family) in a centrally located playground, and a small and intimate Erev Yom Tov brunch, we were able to connect with family members in a way that had fallen by the wayside due to the pandemic.
Overall, family bonding time enhanced by engaging in pleasurable activities made for a very enjoyable and memorable chag.