Our Family’s Intergenerational Trip to Israel
by Melissa Stoller
I started planting the seeds of an intergenerational visit to Israel several years before my oldest daughter, Zoe, became a bat mitzvah. By the time I finished, my husband and I and our three girls, Zoe (13), Jessie (10), and Madeleine (4), together with my mother and in-laws, all were on board for our first trip to Israel, a special post-bat mitzvah journey to make connections in our family and to connect us, both spiritually and physically, to the land that we had read about and studied for years.
Many people told me I would experience a certain indescribable feeling when I arrived in Israel. I didn’t understand what they meant until I was there, when the emotional reality of the voyage struck me suddenly. I was so lucky to share these unique and meaningful moments with my family.
There are so many highlights of the trip: swimming in the Mediterranean and relaxing on the beach in Tel Aviv; visiting Tel Aviv’s Hall of Independence and learning about the emotional story of independence; visiting the secret bullet factory beneath a kibbutz at The Ayalon Institute outside Tel Aviv; walking through the ruins of King Herod’s palace in Caesarea; walking in the footsteps of the Crusaders in Akko; planting trees in a JNF forest; driving to the Golan Heights and witnessing the history of that area at the bunkers on Mount Bental; praying and leaving notes at the Western Wall; touring the Southern Wall excavations and the Davidson Center; participating in an archaeological dig at Beit Guvrin outside Jerusalem; viewing the Chagall Windows in the Hadassah Hospital; seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum; participating in Shabbat dinners at the hotels; eating hummus, pita bread, and falafel several times a day; and drinking excellent Israeli wine.
We tried to be creative about facilitating meaningful connections with our family during this special trip. During many dinners, we asked the grandparents to share stories from their lives to bond in different ways with the children. Some of the conversation starters we used included:
- Tell us about your childhood and your Jewish education.
- How did you keep your Jewish home and raise Jewish children?
- What are the most important elements of Judaism to you?
- What Jewish experiences influenced you the most?
- Did you experience any challenges due to being Jewish?
- What Jewish values do you hope to impart to your grandchildren?
One night, my father-in-law talked about his bar mitzvah, and the grandmothers noted that when they were young, Jewish girls didn’t have the opportunity to have b’nai mitzvah, and how lucky their granddaughters were to be able to study in religious school. This led my father-in-law to talk about how fortunate his family had been to escape religious persecution during the pogroms in Russia. Our talks often evolved into discussions about the peace process and how everyone hoped that our girls would become active participants in their Jewish lives and in the Jewish community. Although you can’t always know where a discussion will lead, having a good question or prompt often opens the door to meaningful communication.
We also kept journals of our experiences. Even the youngest travelers can color or write simple words on journal pages, and everyone else can use them to write quick impressions, attach souvenirs, or write detailed entries. Each night, we talked about our entries and what was special to us during that day. It was fascinating to note the different perspectives each person brought to the experience, depending on the lens of their background and interests.
Our intergenerational Israel trip was a truly meaningful experience and a special gift in our lives. We felt that we learned about ourselves and each other, and the girls and their grandparents forged bonds through shared experiences. The trip also helped to solidify the girls’ Jewish identities: Zoe is now continuing with her confirmation studies and is active in our temple’s youth group; Jessie is busy preparing for her bat mitzvah later this year; Maddie is starting her formal Jewish education. We believe that our trip helped to create strong connections between our girls and Israel, which is crucial to shaping a commitment to Jewish identity. Zoe said of the trip, “I always enjoy our family trips, but I have a special happiness knowing we all made our first trip to Israel in celebration of my bat mitzvah.”
We are already planning our second trip to Israel for this June to celebrate Jessie’s bat mitzvah.
I hope the connections we made within our family, with Israel, and with the Jewish community will continue to flourish. We felt an intense connection to the land when we were there, especially in Jerusalem, and that connection has stayed with us all. I hope that my girls will participate in youth group trips and will explore the Birthright program. And I certainly would be thrilled if, one day in the future, Larry and I travel to Israel with our children and their children when they celebrate their b’nai mitzvah.