Check out this cool collection of photos of families on tour...
My first time in Israel was when I was 13 years old on a dual family trip to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah (and that of my twin sister and my best friend) in Israel. Whether I realized it or not at the time, the experience I had would go on to change the course of my life. As such I have made great efforts (as has Israel, as we will see) to create experiences here for families with kids of all ages that will be memorable, educational, meaningful and most importantly, enjoyable, for the entire family. Guiding kids is a different ball game from guiding adults and as such there needs to be whenever and wherever possible learning experiences that are interactive and experiential, with the understanding that the end goal is to have your kids come home loving Israel and with a true desire to learn more about their heritage and background. That being said there are always opportunities to give more in-depth explanations to adults about the sites we visit and the various topics that they are passionate about (and those they did not realize they would be passionate about). Traveling with children can be a challenge – but fortunately there are lots of ways to make it a pleasurable experience.
Celebrating a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, birthday, anniversary or renewing vows in Israel can be an incredible event. Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies are incredibly special to hold in Israel. There are a number of meaningful sites though the most requested ones are at Masada, in an almost 2000 year old synagogue, and at the Western Wall (whether at the traditional spot or at the southern part of the Wall which is accessible for egalitarian Jewish movements). Doing it in Jerusalem can also include a procession to/from the ceremony including a traveling chupah, drums, shofars and other musicians – with a lot of singing, dancing and fanfare. You also have the ability to celebrate immediately afterwards at a nearby restaurant. Other options include an overlook of Jerusalem, ancient synagogues from the Mishna/Talmud (Roman/Byzantine) times in the north of the country as well as modern synagogues. Birthdays and anniversaries can include special meals and activities whether you want to attend a chocolate making seminar, be pampered in a spa, go to a classical music concert, etc., there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate together as a family (and a babysitting service if you want to leave the kids at the hotel for the night). Renewing vows can also be arranged – a favorite among Christians is to hold a ceremony at the Wedding Church in Cana where it’s believed Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding. And of course, whatever your simcha (happy event), I can arrange photographers and videographers to record it for posterity.
When guiding families with kids I try to make the experience as interactive as possible. Whether it is doing scavenger hunts, I Spy competitions, dressing up in costumes, doing skits, or our own athletic games at ancient amphitheatres and hippodromes, along with learning Israeli slang and an introduction to Israeli music (and snacks) during car rides, I want the kids to feel the history/culture, not just learn about it. Fortunately, Israel has also come on board with this idea and there are a series of fabulous interactive museums, especially in Caesarea, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which make the history come alive for the kids.
There is nothing like getting one’s hands dirty to really make a connection with the land of Israel. Whether participating in an archaeological dig (geared towards kids), picking fruits and vegetables (which can be donated to the poor), tree planting, herding sheep, making cheese and/or chocolate, pressing olives or grapes, there are plenty of experiential learning possibilities which can be included in the itinerary. You can even get a glimpse of life as an Israeli commando or Air Force pilot (not for the littlest ones) or checkout Israel’s hi-tech scene with our Innovation Center.
Today everyone is talking about how to get the kids off of their computers and away from TVs and running around outside instead. Lucky for us we have an entire country to explore full of opportunities for hiking, swimming (with and without dolphins), rafting, rappelling, riding (whether camels, horses, donkeys, bikes or segways), climbing, rope courses and team building exercises and much more.
One of the pluses of going with a tour guide as opposed to a tour company is that you are not required to pay for the entire package up front. While some sites require reservations, many do not. Let's say, for example, that everyone needs to sleep in because the jet lag hit abnormally hard or the kids just need a break. I can make a half-day lounging at the hotel pool or beach happen without having you feel as if you have to do what is written on the itinerary because you have already paid for it. Plus we can always make sure to include a day before and/or after the guiding to get over jet lag and/or to wind down from the trip so that you don’t feel you need a vacation from the vacation when you get home.
Sometimes it makes sense to split the group. For example: the adults may feel that going to Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum) is a must site but kids under 10 are not allowed in; there is always the Biblical Zoo nearby for young kids. If you have a 3-generation family and the younger folks want to go hiking but the older folks cannot keep up – a tour day/half-day can be designed to allow those who are less mobile to enjoy themselves in other activities not far from the hike – or alternatively, for the kids to have some down time while adults do some touring. There are even sites where adults can get a chance to do adult things like wine tasting – and I can take the kids on a fruit/berry picking excursion.
I learned early on that learning needs to be engaging – a fact that is true for people of all ages. If it was not engaging – I was out of there… literally (I once escaped class by jumping out of a second story window during Hebrew School)! Who knew that years later I would be helping kids dive into the subject matter instead of checking out?