שלום על ישראל

It is very hard to believe but seven months from today Marsha, the kids, and I, and my in-laws will be landing in Israel. It is hard to believe that is actually going to happen (we have the airline tickets to prove it!). The origin of this trip goes back a while when Marsha and I had a dream of bringing the family to Israel for one of the kids’ B’nai Mitzvah. However as time moved on, we realized that the dream would be very hard to make happen. When Noam heard that we had thought of this idea, he sort of latched on to it. He began to talk about going, and we gave him the choice of having a party like his classmates, or going to Israel. Over the summer he flipped back and forth between them, until finally he told me one day, “Abba, I’m going to go to lots of Bar Mitzvah parties, I don’t need one more.” And that was it! My in-laws were committed to helping us make this trip a reality and soon after we purchased seven tickets on Uniteג Airlines from Newark to Tel Aviv!

Next I started to do some planning for the trip. We felt it was important to get a lot done now so that we can lock things in. First up was finding a place to stay. From the start we decided that we would rent an apartment or two rather than stay in hotels for two main reasons. First and foremost, hotels are expensive and renting an apartment will be less. For example, two rooms in a basic hotel that can accommodate all of us would run us close to $5000 for the 12 nights. Two apartments, one for us and a smaller one for my in-laws will run around $3000. On top of that, we have a full kitchen and will be able to cook our own dinners most nights which will also save a lot of money. The other reason for the apartment is that in our travels to Israel we have come to really like one specific Synagogue in Baka, Kehillat Yedidya. We have friend who go there and really enjoy the services. They are a modern Orthodox Synagogue with very progressive ideology.

I searched on Air bnb and a few vacation rental sites, and luckily I found two very nice apartments within a 5 minute walk of each other and of the Synagogue. Our apartment I found on a number of different sites, but no one ever returned my emails. Finally I found it on the website of a management company and they do manage the apartment for the owners. We made the arrangements and it was all set up. To make it better someone I know in the area had friends stay in this apartment and said that it is very nice. For my in-laws I found a nice place on Trip Advisor’s vacation rental page and I think they will also be very happy with the apartment.

So now we had two of the major pieces done. Next I looked for a tour guide. For those who do not know, tourism is the biggest industry in Israel. Everyone who lives in Israel has probably acted as a tour guide at one time or another, and to become a licensed tour guide, one has to pass some very challenging tests. Some have asked why we are getting a tour guide. After all, this will be Marsha’s tenth trip to Israel, my sixth, and my in-laws fifth. For my kids, however, this will be their first trip and we really wanted to make it special. Sure we could show them around, but a tour guide will really know how to show Israel to the kids.

I got a few referrals from some people but the first person was not available, and the second was way too expensive. Finally I got the idea to get in touch with the Director of USY Israel programs in Israel. When Marsha was on Nativ, he was the director of Nativ and we know him well. He gave me the name of JJ Jonah who is the CEO of a  company called Israel Maven. JJ has had a long relationship with USY and has provided tour guides for Israel Pilgrimage and he is also involved with Camp Ramah in California. I spoke with him on the phone for a few minutes and he immediately thought of a guide for us and within a few days we had a guide and a first draft of an itinerary. The itinerary is undergoing revision and hopefully within a month we will have them done as well. In a future post, perhaps I will talk about that.

JJ suggested that we reserve our rental car now as well. The rental car companies all have 9 passenger vehicles for rent. JJ said that they do not always have many available, so we should reserve now. I checked a few rental car companies on line and found the best rate with a company called Shlomo Sixt. I have reserved the car and they took my deposit so all should be in order. I have since read some not so great reviews of this company on the internet, but recently there have been more positive reviews, so hopefully all will be ok. I will confirm with them closer to the date.

Flights, check. Lodging, check. Tour guide, check. Rental car, check. Passports, ugh. We have to get passports for the kids and a renewal for me. So one day during winter break we all went to the East Brunswick library at opening time and applied for the passports. It is quite expensive to get one these days. For a kid, it is $80 plus a $25 fee for the facility. Plus we paid $10 for the photos! For an adult is it $110 for the passport and $25 for the facility. Yikes!

Today we got the passports in the mail so now, Passports, check! At this point a most of the trip is planned and arranged. We are still working out what we will be special there for Noam’s Bar Mitzvah, and in future posts, hopefully I will post on that as well.

For now, we are all very excited about the trip, and hope that the seven months go by quickly.

Oh as a treat, watch this wonderful video of Israeli soldiers singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

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