My baby, Alana, is 25 years old. When she was almost 5, our family visited Israel. This was the children’s first visit. Friends advised us to leave our three young children at home. "They will be bored," "They won’t have anything to eat, "You are wasting your money," they implored. We ignored their entreaties.
My husband was bringing a choir to Jerusalem to participate in the International Zimriyah/Choral Festival. My job was to entertain Alana and her two slightly older brothers, Avrum and Howard. Each morning, we took a public bus to a new place. I selected destinations where we did not have to change buses, since my Hebrew was very basic. In the afternoon, we returned to our hotel for swimming and relaxation.
One morning we traveled to the famous mifletzet, or monster slide. We walked through a small park to find an enormous monster with three bright red tongues coming out of its mouth. Israeli children were laughing and sliding down the monster’s tongues. My children climbed the staircase in the rear and gleefully came down the “tongue-slides.” I sat on a bench with an Israeli mother and kept a watchful eye on them. Suddenly, I heard a familiar-sounding “ting-a-ling.” Turning to the woman next to me, I asked one word, “Gleeda”? She said “Ken” and shook her head up and down to make sure I understood that the answer was "yes." Before long, every child in the park, including my own, stood in an orderly line in front of the ice cream truck! The Israeli children recommended their favorites to the American visitors. Fortunately, the truck had pictures of their selections posted on its side to help everyone understand. We all enjoyed our ice cream and soon returned to the slide.
Another morning, we headed to downtown Jerusalem. Alana wanted to purchase a frog puppet just like the one her preschool teacher had. The puppet was named tzefardeah, the Hebrew word for frog. We walked into every toy store on Ben Yehudah Street and Jaffa Road asking for a frog puppet. The children would run to the puppet selection, while I tried to explain our quest to the sales staff. We saw many stuffed animals in the shape of a frog, but not puppets. Finally, one store had a tsefardeah puppet. I made our purchase and gave the puppet to Alana. She immediately named it Tzefardeah. It can still be found in her room.
Alana is now an independent young woman. She speaks Hebrew fluently, has a master’s degree in Jewish education, and is a certified Israel educator. I know that her early visit to Israel influenced her involvement and identification with its land and people. Even very young children benefit from visiting Israel!
Ellen Tilman is the Director of Library Services and Editor of the Bulletin at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA.