The Missing Commandment: Thou Shalt Take Vacation

It is two weeks since we returned from our latest family vacation. We spent 12 days in the quieter Costa Tropical and inland Granada province of Spain with our three kids aged 10, 7, and 4.  (Traveling with kids is a given for most Israelis) This is the first vacation that we had no real guide book, just some recommendations and some web surfing. It is the longest vacation that we have taken – twelve days.  And it is the first vacation that my husband didn’t have some kind of “emergency” back at the office that kept him on the phone and computer for long stretches of the day.

My husband and I work hard.  We like working, feel fulfilled in our jobs, and hope that we are also making the world a better place in them.  We are very hands-on parents and I do think we spend a good amount of time with our kids on a regular basis.  But we’re also busy – they are too with school/camp and friends and activities.  I will admit – I can get screen obsessed, and the ongoing ping of whatsapp messages sets off this knee-jerk reaction in me that I must check it.

I believe that it is critical to take a vacation at least once a year.  A true vacation.  If possible, leave your house.  With your family, with your spouse, or alone – whatever will make the experience a true vacation.  I find it crucial for us as a family, though my husband and I make sure that each gets some time alone. (For the record: A vacation in Europe, including the airfare, costs the same or even a little less as a vacation in Israel in August for comparable lodging and activities in Israel, and half of what would only be the cost of plane tickets to the US)

I returned with three general guidelines for vacation that I hope that I will continue to observe on future vacations:

  1. Disconnect and relax

Disconnect –  As little telephone, email, and news as possible.  This is easier when I go abroad.  I don’t get a phone plan.  I can check in when the wireless kicks in back at our lodging in the evening.  I can sit at a meal and be fully present.  I can just sit and be – look out the window, think about different things.  I can read books.

Relax – When I’m relaxed, I realize that I’m a nicer person to my family and to strangers.  I’m more open to people and things. I make decisions better.

2. Get to know better – myself, my spouse, and my children. This includes the conversations, the activities, the silly moments, and also the silences of just being together. The first things are understood, but why is silence important? In our world of constant stimulation, we forget that being quiet is also active listening. In a world of words, we forget that non-verbal communication is also a critical part of connection. It is a muscle that needs to be worked in order to be strong.  Silence demonstrates a comfortable relationship – a good relationship is one of being, not just doing.

Myself – I read books.  I discover the things that I love to do.  I can explore different facets of my persona.  I have time and the physical and emotional availability to think about my life and who I am.

My spouse – We talk about random things and about ideas and not just the daily routine things. We have fun together.  We enjoy the fruits of our hard work.  We give each other space.

My kids – This amount of time with my kids allows me to really see how they think, play, communicate, deal with frustration. I listened to the conversations my kids had with each other and how they entertained each other. We played mindless games, had silly moments, and deep philosophical conversations (at least the oldest)  This time with them helps me to be a better parent the rest of the year.

3. Widen my horizons

The majority of my daily life takes place within a few square kilometers surrounding my house and in my place of work.  For me, it is critical to have the opportunity to leave my bubble, even for a brief time.  Spain is similar to Israel in its Mediterranean climate, but is different in so many ways from any of the cultures that I have lived in.  People start and end their day late.  They take a siesta from four to eight – stores and restaurants are closed.  Kids are going strong at midnight (not ours – to my surprise!).  Beer and wine and juice and water all cost the same at restaurants.  I was the only person on the beach or at the pool (the only person!) wearing a protective shirt in the tropical sun.

At the beach, in the middle of the day, music started to blast and people jumped on a stage to lead zumba on the beach.  The Spanish – men, women, and children – flocked to the area, danced their hearts out, shouted funny things, sprayed each other with water, and just had a great time!

We toured the Alhambra, the palace of the Moors (Arabs) who ruled in the Middle Ages.  Every little town has ruins of the Moor castle on the top of a hill.  We visited the church and tomb of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.  The date 1492 is traumatic for the Jewish people in Spain.  To see history from the official Spanish perspective was fascinating, even if it was uncomfortable.  On a very surface level, to see how a country suppresses the difficulties of the past and does not talk about them (I also read that this is true regarding the Spanish civil war and dictatorship of Franco).  And though we were far from Barcelona and Cambril, it was unsettling to be in Spain and witness the terrorist attacks and ponder the connection btween  history and the present.

In any case, it is an important reminder: In different places in the world people live differently than me and they live just as well.  There is no one right way to live in the world.

 Finally, after all, it is good to return home and back to the routine that perhaps is now upgraded with renewed energy, perspective, and the expectation to continue on this great adventure of daily life.

*Note: Is there a Jewish source for vacation?  One could say that Shabbat is the ultimate vacation – one day a week for complete rest.  But the Rabbinic tradition also views Shabbat as a day of work – devoted in great part to extended worship of G-d according to proscribed formulas and ceremonies.  Perhaps one could see an element of the idea of the modern vacation in G-d’s command to Abraham “קום והתהלך בארץ – Get up and walk around the land.”  And also sending him to other lands in the South and down to Egypt.  Here, there is the imperative to explore new places, make contact with people from different cultures, be respectful of their customs, and be enriched by them.

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One Response to “The Missing Commandment: Thou Shalt Take Vacation”

  1. hjgoldsmith Says:

    Wonderful. Thank you, Stacey. You put into beautiful words so much of what I love about traveling with my family. Welcome home and שנה טובה!

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