by Allison Schlanger
Alison and I both went on trips this past year without our kids and without our husbands. We both went pretty far away (Israel and Nepal) and we both learned things that will stay with us forever. But it wasn’t easy. As they say…getting there was the hardest part.
Last June I was given the opportunity to go on a “moms’ trip” to Israel.
What does that mean?
It means you have to be a mom. Check.
It means you have to have kids under the age of 18 living at home with you. Triple check.
It means you have to have someone in your life that can care for your kids while you are away. Check again.
After an application process and interview I got accepted as one of 14 moms from NYC to join 180 other moms from around the world on a free (you only pay for your flight) 9 day trip to Israel.
From the moment I got accepted I had major butterflies.
How was I going to do this?
The trip was nine days! I love to travel. Love. To. Travel. Before kids, Craig and I traveled often and far. But I had never been away from my kids for that long. When Craig and I have gone away in the past without the kids we have always limited it to 3 nights. Alison, Bobby, Craig and I went to the UAE (14 hour flight) to visit apple seeds Dubai and we did it in 4 nights. Nine was way too much.
To be honest – Sam and Ari (my 9 year old twins) totally got it. They have always known how much I love Israel. They felt like I won the lottery. They were my biggest cheering squad.
But what about Dov? He was 3. If I went to the bathroom he thought I fell off the face of the earth. How was I going to explain this to him? How would he ever understand?
As the time got closer it became clear that I had 3 real reasons not to go.
Number 1 – Dov was too young.
Number 2 – We were opening our third NYC apple seeds the day I got back. Literally hours after my plane landed.
Number 3 – My dad passed away unexpectedly exactly 3 weeks before the trip started.
My brother said to me, “Most people would use one of those reasons not to go.”
Every day I thought about cancelling and every day my husband Craig said to me, “Just get on that plane. If you need to come home for any of those reasons I will make it happen.”
So after many tears (and glasses of liquid courage) I got on the plane -- and it was the best thing I could have done.
There is a popular belief that if you affect a mom, you affect the whole family and you affect change. The trip I took to Israel was built on that premise.
The first morning we were each given an orange bracelet that had the words “don’t blame, don’t complain” printed on it. Each time we heard ourselves blaming someone for something in our lives or complaining about anything we were told to switch our bracelet from one wrist to the other. You would not believe how impactful the simple act of switching a bracelet from right to left and back again could be in making you aware of your thoughts and speech. This set the stage for staying positive and open for all we were about to experience in the coming week.
We had an hour long class each morning. Topics ranged from parenting, to relationships (with your spouse/significant other), to gossiping, to ethical business practices, to charitable giving, to Facebook (yes, Facebook). We had an incredible seminar with a law group that fights terrorism and an even more impactful one with an Israeli soldier.
After class each day we headed out on tours and excursions.
We kayaked down the Jordan River, took a tour under the Western Wall, went to Yad Vashem – Israel’s Holocaust Museum, visited Kfar Yeladim – a home for orphans and abused and neglected children, had a concert with a deadhead rabbi, explored the old city, ran off to Tel Aviv for a night, swam in the Dead Sea, road camels, ascended Masada and visited an army base.
Here is what we did not do…
We did not drop the kids off at camp, or take them to music class, we did not cook any meals or bathe anyone or put anyone to bed. We did not put them to bed again after they got out of bed…
Which meant we were able to fit more in in nine days (7 on the ground) than you can imagine. It meant that all of us moms could allow our brains the time and space to go to places they have not gone to in a while or at least not for more than 5 minutes. It meant we could read panels in museums without being interrupted, ask adult questions, forgo meals to go on one more excursion and spend time at a historical or spiritual site just thinking…
This trip gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing women. Over the course of a week we became fast friends and we are still in touch on a regular basis. A group of us get together to meet with our incredible city leaders (tour guides) each month to continue the learning that started on our trip. This trip also allowed me to experience, once again, all the things I love about Israel – the geography, the history, the culture, the climate and the people. I love the drive from Jerusalem through the Negev towards Masada and the Dead Sea. ‘Negev’ comes from the Hebrew word ‘dry’ – which it is. For half a year this area gets (on average) 0 inches of rainfall. The first time I traveled through the desert I understood the definition of breathtaking -- from the dehydrated, cracked, flat land to the red, beige and white layers of mountain rock, to the pure white salt crystals that line the Dead Sea. I love the limestone – known as ‘Jerusalem stone’ -- that is used to construct every building in the Old City of Jerusalem. To me the color and texture of the brick is perfection. I love that in Israel every stone has a story -- and I love that almost any Israeli (young and old) can tell you it.
I realized that my three reasons for not going were the three reasons I needed to go on this trip when I did.
By leaving my kids and traveling on a trip conceived for moms, I gained so much knowledge and insight – from the parenting classes, from other moms, from taking time away to process all I was hearing and learning and think about how it made sense for my family. To this day (almost a year later) I still go back to things I learned and try to practice them regularly with my kids.
Taking time away from work always brings perspective. Even if you don’t discover anything earthshattering from the distance – the break is very healthy. I read my emails from a very healthy distance when and if there was idle time on the bus. My plane landed just in time for me to make it to (sans shower) the opening of apple seeds in Peter Cooper Village Stuyvesant Town.
Finally, this trip was the perfect way to mourn the loss of my father. Being in such a spiritual place at such a vulnerable time really pushed me to do, say and think about things that I would not have found the appropriate time or place for at home. I would have been running from school to work to after school activities to obligations. Life would have pulled me away and kept me too busy to take the time I needed. In the week I was in Israel I was given incredible advice…to do something charitable every day to honor my dad. What does that mean? Something different for everyone. I found what it meant for me and a year later I still do it every day.
There were a couple of practical things that got me through as well. One is modern technology…
I spoke to Craig and the kids every day without fail. We facetimed the first two days but soon realized that it was too hard on Dov so we stuck to the good old fashioned phone. This meant that I could hear about camp every day and Ari could relay the entire premise of Despicable Me 2 to me while I climbed up the hills of Jerusalem. And Craig. He got me through. He supported me during the application/interview phase, he put me on that plane, he made the kids look forward to all the inappropriate superhero movies he was going to take them to and all the pizza he was going to feed them while I was gone. I left small gifts and notes for Sam, Ari and Dov to open each day I was away. Craig showed them such a good time, complete with a three day fishing trip to his dad’s, that he forgot to give them the gifts until right before I got home. There was no need.
I am so thankful to JWRP for my trip to Israel. It is my favorite place on earth for a lot of different reasons. Each time I go I grow as a person. I have to admit that one of my agenda’s for going on this trip was to see Israel through my eyes as a parent. I have been telling Craig that I want to bring the kids sooner rather than later. We have always wondered if they are too young. This trip convinced me that they are not.
So now when my kids say, “Next time I want to go to Israel with you.” I am able to respond, “You are!”
We have planned a family trip to Israel for this December.
My dream – the land I love with my four loves…
If you are interested in applying for the JWRP trip this summer go to JWRP.org and choose Jinspire Manhattan…or email Alisa Adler at firstname.lastname@example.org.