The final count-down

On Monday, primary-school-year starts in Israel. Two of my kids have graduated from the school- system, one is going in to the last year of high-school and the baby is starting sixth grade. (If you can figure out how many children I have, you must have done well in your school). We’ve had kids in my youngest daughters’ school for 16 years, consecutive. At this point, we’re more like part of the furniture than parents. It’s a little sentimental, knowing that we just picked up the packages of school-books for the last time, but I think that in general, we’re ready to graduate.

Israeli summer vacation is almost two months long. A standard summer for a grade-schooler consists of three weeks in day-camp, two weeks vacation with the family, one week of hanging around work with a parent, one week of tanning in front of the TV/computer, and one week scrambling around over-prized summer attractions with a grandparent. Day-camp can be generic, such as those run by neighbourhood community centers, where kids do a bit of everything, pool, outings to the zoo, arts and crafts, sports, or specialized; as in, theater, judo, cooking and the like. There are big differences in quality and price, but with age we learn, and now, by child number four (oops, I gave it away) we’ve become pretty good at choosing, resulting in very happy campers.

For the family vacation part, we swapped houses with a family in the Galilee. It’s a good and inexpensive way to vacation. I never liked camping, and other alternatives are rather costly, for a not so small family. In addition, it’s really interesting to see how other people live. We got lucky and swapped with a family who believe in CLEAN.

Because of the house swap, we could afford to be a little more extravagant. Here is an (almost) random list of some of the things we did this summer:

Horse-back riding. Well the kids went riding, we had coffee and some time to talk. Kids happy, parents’ knees happy, and now we know that there is a french bakery in Meona, a sleepy village of a few hundred people and a fair number of horses.

Lychee picking. Lychees grow conveniently at hip level, and the sweet and mushy little fruits don’t give you a stomach-ache even if you eat way too many. They remind me a little bit of mouse-brains, but not enough to stop me from eating them. At the farm we visited there were also figs and carobs, neither of which is suitable for plain stuffing your face.

Ice-skating in Maalot. It was really hot in northern Israel the week we were on vacation. At some point the car-thermometer showed 44°C. So that’s a good excuse to go ice-skating. The big immigration-wave from the former USSR has changed Israel in many ways. One of which is that there are now several ice-skating rinks and even an attempt at starting an ice-hockey league. And best of all, I know how to ice-skate. It’s the only sport where I’m better than average (as long as the other skaters are Israeli).

Safed. A tour through the art-galleries of old Safed. For the most part, very commercial, but here and there you find the unexpected. Safed sits spectacularly on top of one of the higher mountains in the central Galilee. The old city has charm and history, but most of the city is very run down. Whenever we visit we wait to see if someone has finally caught on and started developing this hidden gem into a not-so-hidden gem. But so far, nada.

Acre. Then on the other hand, there is Acre. Please, Safed tourist authority, take a trip down to the coast. Watch and learn. But more about Acre next time.

Carmiel Dance Festival. The biggest folk-dancing event in Israel. A three day extra-vaganza in the northern town of Carmiel with free folk-dancing and excellent dance performances. Dancers, choreographers, folk-singers all congregate once a year and do what they like to do most. Many folk-dancing afficionados are middle-aged or over. The streets are filled with straight-backed, casually dressed visitors, and the swinging pony-tails much outnumber the elegantly coiffed. We were late, because we tried to pack too much into one day. We came just in time to see the last folk-dancing round, devoted to dancing couples where one partner is wheel-chair bound. The dancers use special wheel-chairs for this purpose. The link is from last year’s festival in Carmiel.

Since we missed all the circle dancing, we accidentally ended up buying tickets (dirt-cheap) to a late performance called The Kozachs Are Coming. We had not expectations whatsoever. But it turned out to be a huge and famous folklore troupe. Amazing dancing and singing.

Shakespear in the Park, the Jerusalem version. Free amateur theatre in one of Jerusalem’s parks. This year, a full production of Much Ado About Nothing. Funny, immortal, contemporary and very beautiful as we move around from lawn to lawn between scenes.

There probably is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I know some parents who say that they are very sorry summer break is over because they love the long lazy days with the kids. So do I, or to be more precise, I love one long lazy day with the kids. We’re not so good at taking it easy. We need to know that we have a very full program, and then to rush around till we are exhausted. By now, I’m tired. And ready for the end of summer-vacation. Maybe people who mourn the end of vacation are sincere. Or maybe they’re just trying to make me feel bad. Like skinny people who say they can eat anything they want, it’s just how their metabolism works.

Personally, I’m happy that school is imminent. And so, apparently are my kids. Maybe there is only so much parenting they can take. I don’t blame them. Happy back to school.