August in Israel is vacation time. Essentially, the whole country just about shuts down. Many leave the country, but others flood Israel’s northern and southern areas looking for some respite from the heat.
These are the hottest weeks in Israel; the ones that come towards the end of summer when it’s been hot for months and we have little patience for the unrelenting sun. The forecaster easily explained Israel’s weather here this morning on the radio as, “hot. Tomorrow the same.”
Here in Israel, we have a rainy season (approximately October/November until early March). Certainly from April to October there is no rain – often not even a single drop. Every day is sunny and temperatures range in the 80s, 90s and even 100s (Fahrenheit; Celsius – high low 30s up to low 40s most days). At most, one day here or there, a few sprinkles will fall on parts of the land, but nothing more than that. By August, the weather is…always the same as yesterday and tomorrow – just plain hot.
There is no break for our soldiers, especially those like Elie, who are manning checkpoints and guarding borders. Training continues in the south and in the north, despite the heat. Twenty-four hours a day, they guard and watch. Elie tells me he prefers the night patrols because it is cooler and then he can sleep some of the day away. I can’t get the image of him standing on some dark road somewhere with his soldiers stopping to check cars, looking for the terrorist who is seeking entrance…and what if he finds him?
I washed Elie’s bullet-proof vest recently. As it turns out, this is not the one he is using at the checkpoint where he is now stationed. The one I washed was made to protect the body against knife attacks or being banged around inside an armored personnel vehicle. It was never meant to protect the body against bullets, as I now understand. The one Elie now wears contains the ceramic inserts to protect him. Soldiers are positioned strategically to avoid the exact scenario I fear happening most. They have been trained; they know what to do. But the image of a car hurdling towards my son or some gunman bent on suicidal martyrdom taking aim lingers.
As always, I push that fear back into the deepest parts of my heart and brain and turn now to focus on the holiday my children are so anticipating. It comes down, finally, to a few stolen days here or there. Some of our greatest vacations as a family have been in August. We’ve gone kayaking in the north and we plan to do that again this summer. We’ve gone hiking and camping too. We’ve cooked outdoors, even once during a katyusha attack from Lebanon.
So, as the final days of August are within sight, I asked my older daughter to help me find a place for us to go this summer. She came through quickly and with great success. We’ll spend almost a week in Safed, the beautiful, mystical city that sits perched on the mountains of the Galilee. Cool nights, open views. Clean air and no email or computers to think about.
From Safed, we can easily travel to most of the places in the north. We can find the waterfalls and the kayaking and shop in the art colony and walk the beautiful alleyways of the ancient city.
The kids are looking forward to the kayaking most of all, I believe. We went once before, taking three boats. My husband and youngest son easily coordinated and gracefully glided along the river, stopping at will to wait for the rest of us. My oldest daughter and middle son stole the show as they never quite figured out how to steer the kayak. The currents eventually delivered them to the final stop, but not before they had twirled the kayak perhaps a hundred times, gotten stuck perhaps a dozen. The only thing that beat the number of times they sent the kayaking in meaningless circles, was the amount of laughter this all generated.
Last time we went kayaking, Elie was in the boat with me and my youngest daughter. Elie should have sat in the back of the kayak, where he could have easily propelled us through the water. The person in the front is responsible for steering and the strength to guide you through the water comes from the person in the back. Perhaps it is more of a combination, but there is no doubt in my mind, from the safety of years and the shore, that Elie should have sat in the back.
But I had a mother’s fear that my daughter would fall into the water and despite the fact that the water wasn’t really deep at all, that she was wearing a life jacket and that even then, Elie was stronger than me, I couldn’t stand to put her where I couldn’t see her and so I took the back and didn’t really do much better than my son-daughter team twirling in circles and laughing hysterically somewhere behind me in the river.
What made us get somewhere, anywhere, and avoid the rocks and shallow areas, was Elie’s reasoning and directions. Perhaps Elie’s best suggestion, delivered with some laughing of his own, was that I keep my oars out of the water. The main point was to have fun, and with that we all succeeded wonderfully. Were I to go today, I would have sat in the front and trusted Elie more, but we all remember that trip with great fondness and laughter.
This time, we go with my daughter’s husband, a wonderful addition to our family. Another may come along as well. My younger son is already demanding to go with his middle brother, thinking that he’ll have the fun of twirling and circling. He justifies this by suggesting that his sister should properly go with her husband, but really, I know that he wants the fun of getting stuck and struggling against the currents with his brother.
We are likely to visit other locations in the north, relax and unwind. There is so much to see, so much to enjoy. Some of Israel’s most beautiful areas are located in the northern Galilee and Golan Heights and the pace of life in general is more relaxed. It’s the ideal location to go during those last days of August when the promise of autumn is there on the calendar but the days are unrelentingly hot.
And through all the planning, there’s this hole inside of me because, as some part of me is always aware, Elie won’t be there. It’s enough to cripple me if I think about it, enough to make me regret having to tell him. You are doing something important; we are going to leave you behind and have fun. How unfair of us, how unkind. The army took his group kayaking and hiking a few short weeks ago, but that does nothing to alleviate my feeling torn in half.
So, in a few weeks, just as August promises to surrender to September, half of my heart and soul will go enjoy Israel and my family. We’ll laugh and eat and sleep and walk and hike and swim and kayak and have fun. And half of me will cry just a little, as it always does, as it worries with the same mixture of pride and concern for a son of Israel, my son.