The last two weeks represented the longest break I have taken from MoB since I began blogging here almost 4 years ago. The decision to go on hiatus was a good one. As many of you know, I spent our winter vacation in Israel with my family and in-laws on a non-stop, amazing adventure that left little room for writing. Had I actually posted from Israel, it may have looked something like this:
Mrphm mmmmm munchy mrphm… as I ate my way through the country.
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$… as I bought soemthing else that I can ONLY find in Israel. Like a scarf.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… as I fell out on our bus in between sites.
So you didn’t miss much in terms of hearing from me while I was there.
But now that I have been home for a few days and the smell of falafel jet lag is wearing off, I’ve been able to reflect on the trip in more thoughtful ways than when I was in the thick of it. The opportunity to respond when friends ask “how was your trip?” has allowed me to focus on what impacted me the most. I have gotten into various levels of detail with different people – and will likely share much more here in subsequent posts — but I inevitably tell folks the following:
We had a fantastic itinerary. We learned a ton about Israel. We had an amazing guide.
The first two points are subsequently reinforced by pictures and videos of our smiling faces across the Israeli countryside and the brothers’ recitations of facts that we absorbed about the sites that we saw. The last point, however, is left to stand on its own because words and pictures can’t begin describe how important our guide, Shidos Brum, became to our family.
The need for a full time guide (and driver) was not lost on my in-laws when they were planning this trip of a lifetime. We’re Jews. We have opinions and aren’t afraid to use them. Left to our own devices, we surely would have spent half of our trip arguing pondering aloud about what to do next and in which direction to go. It took Moses 40 years in the desert to find Jerusalem for a reason. We had 11 days and couldn’t risk our human nature getting the better of us.
Israel is chock full of tour guides. To become one, you must take a two year course and pass a written and oral exam. We are not talking about volunteers reading from cliff notes. These guides are true historians that can rattle off dates and facts from the time before King Herod through to present day. And Shidos, who was recommended by our Rabbi, did not disappoint. He knew everything. As far as we were concerned, he knew why the sky was blue and the meaning of life, but just didn’t have time to get to it during our trip. It wasn’t so much the breadth of his knowledge, but his delivery. With his story telling skills and ability to zero in on just the right amount of information for a group comprised of teenagers and few adults who have, um, some control issues, lets just say, he had us at “Shalom.”
I am quite certain that most of the highly capable tour guides in Israel would not have sung in their best Frank Sinatra voice “Hallelujah” over the bus microphone for us the way to the Dead Sea (and faked it when they didn’t know the words), acted out with great skill the purpose of a group of large stones set side by side in Caesaria (it was a span of ancient Roman toilets), put their hand in a tank of flesh eating fish to delight my kids, or made honey and mint tea for my father-in-law after an unfortunate St. Peter’s fish incident that shall never be spoken of again (actually we will l speak of it A LOT because that’s how the Mendells roll – and why I love them so much.)
I could chalk up our love affair with Shidos as some sort of benevolent Stockholm syndrome (in which hostages begin to feel empathy and positive feelings towards their captors) because we were truly at his mercy. On the few nights that he left us on our own, we put on brave faces, but we were rather lost without him. At one point, my brother-in-law was having trouble opening a wet-nap package and everyone’s first instinct was to call for Shidos. Somehow we managed to get it open but not before a moment of panic, an international summit conference on HOW to open it, and several failed attempts. But we didn’t just rely on him, we really truly liked him.
Shidos was our guide but he also quickly became our shared touchstone and trusted friend. He became family and when he wasn’t with us, it felt like a soul was missing. We had a hard time leaving him. I think my mother-in-law would have taken him home with her, given the chance. I joke, but the idea crossed my mind as well.
If only we had an all-knowing, completely benevolent, objective guide at our side on a daily basis… someone we could trust to tell us what path to take when we entered unknown territory … someone who had our best interests at heart … wouldn’t that be terrific?
The reality was that Shidos couldn’t come home with us… but reality also suggests that there are other guides among us, some to whom we need to give the benefit of the doubt to take the lead once in a while. Spouses, parents, children, the Universe all have our best interest at heart and often know more than we ever will about what is right for us. I was blessed to end 2011 meeting a wonderful guide and making a new friend. In homage to that, I intend to find more Shidos in my life in 2012 – knowing full well that many have been right in front of me all along.Thank you to my in-laws Mike and Fran Mendell for giving us the opportunity to meet the original Shidos and see an amazing country with those I love so dearly.