Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 9 August 2008 / 8 Av 5768

Vacation Validation

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Mathew in NY

Dear Rabbi,

I am planning a family vacation after Tisha b’Av and I would like some advice and guidance on how to make it worthwhile Jewishly speaking. On the one hand, the kids have a lot of Jewish education throughout the year and I don’t want to overburden them with that type of thing on their vacation. On the other hand, I don’t want it to be void of Judaism either. Can you offer some pointers?

Dear Mathew,

Everyone needs some kind of break, and you are fortunate to be able to take time off with your family in the summer to relax, enjoy yourselves and renew your relationships with your spouse and children, relationships that often become somewhat neglected or one-dimensional during the regular routine of life.

Getting away also enables you and your family to appreciate the lifestyle you’ve chosen by providing an opportunity to step back and consider from a distance what you are, what you do and what you stand for. This is part of a necessary rejuvenation process whereby you’ll recharge your interest and commitment to Judaism both in terms of learning and practice.

Still, it is very important to take the necessary steps to ensure that your family’s vacation time will be true to Judaism in content and in spirit, even if you are in places and doing things that you don’t normally do. Of course, the alef-bet of Jewish vacationing is to be sure that you’ll have access to kosher food and be able to keep Shabbat, and that your activities will not involve any prohibitions. But in addition to these basic guidelines, it is important to proactively introduce Judaism into your vacation time.

The best way to do this is with Torah study and prayer, and the only way to do it is by fixing a schedule.

Regarding Torah study, if you will be in a place where there is a shul and books, set up a realistic learning schedule with your boys at shul. Logistically speaking, it makes sense to do this around davening time. Either learn with all of them for an hour, or individually for at least 20-30 minutes each. Regarding daughters, vacation time is a wonderful opportunity to learn with them as well. Schedule times either after meals, when others are cleaning up, or before going to bed.

Even if you will be near a shul with books, and certainly if you won’t be, there’s a great advantage to bringing your own books. You have a connection to them, you can take them with you wherever you go, you’re guaranteed to have them when you want them and you don’t have to worry about other people using them when you want them or having to waste time looking for what others haven’t returned. Also, the fact that you schlepped them adds extra incentive to use them.

Don’t be concerned about the extra weight and bulk; it’s very educational for kids to see that Torah books are as important to pack as novels etc., sports equipment etc., hair blowers etc., electronics etc., etc. And just as the Ark of the Covenant carried its bearers through the journey, Torah books and the effort we expend to bring them stir Divine favor that ultimately eases the burden and lightens the trip.

Prayer is also an absolute must to schedule in regularly. Again, if you will be near a minyan you will naturally schedule in davening according to the times at shul. But even if you are not near a shul you must set fixed times for davening to be attended by as many people in the family as possible. This can be a very rewarding and binding family experience. In addition to expressing the importance and centrality of prayer, it is an opportunity to make your own “minyan.” Even though not all parts of prayer may be recited, such a “mock” minyan adds import and enthusiasm to what might otherwise be solitary, abridged or distracted davening.

Finally, two additional considerations are a must to validate a Jewish vacation and they go hand in hand: “bring” G-d along wherever you go, and be aware of making a kiddush Hashem.

Before setting out on trips, recite the traveler’s prayer with intention and joy, recall the hand of G-d in all the wonderful and beautiful things you see and do, and thank G-d for guiding you, protecting you and providing for you. This should also be a family “activity”.

And remember, you are probably recognizably Jewish to the people around you, and if you’re leaving a Jewish area, these are probably not the type of people you normally come in contact with, nor may they usually come in contact with observant Jews. Emphasize to your children the importance of respecting and being polite to others including setting a personal example. Also, be aware of local customs and attitudes. In some places, people actually smile, say hi, drive slow, let you go before them in line, etc. This is an opportunity to teach your family how to relate to people different than yourselves, honor their sensibilities and sensitivities while simultaneously acting as ambassadors for Torah-true Judaism.

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