No Vacation


The Israeli woman in the hot tub was feeling terrible.

She saw me wearing a T-shirt with Hebrew writing, and I heard her speaking to her daughter inHebrew, so naturally, amid the hundreds of sunbathers crowding the pool area of the Squaw Valley Resort, we found each other.

“It feels good to find someone to talk to about it,” she said.

By “it” she meant the situation her parents and extended family, who live on a kibbutz in the middle of the country, are facing.

The snow-capped Sierras jutted into a deeply blue sky. The hot tub bubbled away.”Israelis don’t want to run away when there’s a war,” the woman explained. “We want to run home.”

The night before, a relative from a northern kibbutz had e-mailed her a slide show of the after-effects of a Hezbollah rocket attack, and she had stayed awake playing it over and over in her hotel room.

All around us kids splashed, adults sipped pastel-colored rum drinks, the sunlight bounced off distant glaciers — and the Israeli woman told me she couldn’t relax.

What a week to vacation.

My wife and kids and I drove up U.S. Highway 395, crossed the Monitor Pass through a remote and perfect alpine landscape. But I am a subscriber to Sirius satellite radio, so as we descended through Markleeville, population 52, we heard CNN’s report on Israel’s gathering momentum for a ground invasion of Lebanon.

There was no cell phone reception at our little rented cabin near the west shore of Lake Tahoe, no Internet hot spots. But DISH network saucers grew at the base of the tall pines like forest mushrooms. By day we joined vacationers in serious pursuit of escape — tubing down the Truckee River, leaping off the dock into the deep, cold lake. At night, we watched missiles rain down on northern Israel and air strikes in Beirut. I turned away from the TV after realizing I was spending more time with CNN correspondent John Roberts, “reporting from the Israel-Lebanon border” than I was with my kids.

But the news kept coming. After a day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, an idyllic spot where Isaiah W. Hellman built a fine mansion on a quiet stretch of beach, I logged on to my e-mail to find that a deranged man had shot his way into the Seattle Federation building, killing Pamela Waechter, 58, and wounding four others.

At the gym at Squaw Creek, two men argued over Israel’s new war.

“At least we’re out of this one,” said one.

“Are you kidding?” his friend countered.

On cue, images of demonstrators in the streets of Beirut filled the flat screen mounted to his Stairmaster. “We get blamed for everything Israel does.”It’s a truism that technology has shrunk the globe and brought the tribulations of distant lands to our doorstep, or to our vacations. As much as we try to pretend there’s a faraway “they” and a safe and sheltered “we,” there are precious few places left to hide for long.

That goes double, triple for Jews. History has shown that world events have a way of catching up to Jews to us quickly, sometimes brutally. Until they do, each one of us chooses our place on the sliding scale from they to we. We can luxuriate in selecting the extent of our identity, the depth of our involvement — until we can’t.

The we-ness of our world came home to me as we dropped our son off for a stay at Camp Tawonga, a venerable Jewish camp tucked into a Tuolumne River valley. I noticed the roster listed several campers from towns in northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona, Metulla.

Camp director Ann B. Gonski told me that, for several years now, Tawonga has hosted Israeli children and counselors from northern Israel — Kiryat Shemona is a sister city to San Francisco’s Jewish community. This year there are 34 Israelis at the camp, sponsored largely by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation.

For these kids, Gonski said, camp will be a special respite from the violence. In the past the rules were one phone call home per week per Israeli.”This year,” she said, “we’re open to a lot more communication”As for counselors, Gonski said the Americans have received special training to deal with their Israeli counterparts: “We’ve told them, remember that your colleagues are really stressed. Be there for them, they’re a long way from home.”

As for my wife, daughter and me, we drove home, straight into the brouhaha about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant. Now firmly ensconced behind my desk, I asked my friend Bryan, a television director, what accounted for the public silence from so many Hollywood Jews. Where was the sense of identity, of a communal fate that transcends business? Can’t they see a direct correction between those who hate Jews and those, like the Seattle shooter, who act on their hatred? Why don’t they choose to identify, like the people in Camp Tawonga, with a larger, communal need?

“Everybody has their head in the Garden of Finzi Contini and wants this all to go away,” Bryan said, citing the movie about Italian Jews oblivious to the impending Holocaust. “It’s actually the Garden of Malibu Contini — everybody’s playing tennis and golf and refusing to accept that hatred of this magnitude exists at the exclusive sushi table next to them.”

That is, until the vacation is over.

Snow Job


Maybe I’m crazy, but each winter I plan a family vacation that is fraught with danger. To reach our destination, we must drive up a perilous mountain road studded with hairpin turns. Oddly, during our ascent, this NASCAR-approved artery is usually choked with fog or hail.

But this is only the hors d’oeuvre: The entrée is when everyone except for me straps themselves to bulky planks of wood before hurtling at 50 mph down icy slopes with names like “Surrender Isle.” I drop everyone off at the ski resort and then hightail it back to the cabin, where Ken waits for me, wagging his tail.

Like me, Ken is risk-averse and agrees that skiing is sheer madness and folly. We cuddle on the couch, I pop in a DVD and wrap my cold hands around a cup of hot cocoa.

This is not laziness. It is a necessary mental health exercise to banish images of my next of kin putting themselves in harm’s way on triple-black diamond slopes. Oh sure, I tried skiing — once. It was a disaster.

My husband had summoned every ounce of perseverance and patience in his DNA to try to teach me this skill, but we were not on speaking terms by the end of the lesson. Falling down repeatedly like a rag doll and getting tangled in skis is not my idea of fun, and I concluded that only fools or suicidal thrill seekers could embrace skiing as a sport.

By my reckoning, a Boggle tournament with serious players ought to be enough excitement for anyone. It is a tacit understanding between my husband and me that he is never to attempt to teach me any other athletic skill ever again.

Our mountain jaunts usually last for three days, but for the life of me, I can’t manage to prepare for them in under a week. I need at least a day to dig up mismatched gloves, hats and mufflers, which otherwise have no purpose in Southern California; two days to shop and cook; and at least three days to closely study the available accommodations advertised on the Internet.

Cabins in our price range are kindly referred to as “rustic.” Last year, we agreed that Casa de Pine Cone, equipped with a miniature pool table and dusty dining room lamp etched with the Budweiser logo, was a touch too rustic for our taste.

This year, I carefully avoided any cabin with the word “Kozy” in the name, because anyone who thinks it’s cute to further degrade our language won’t get a dime out of me. Besides, “cozy” (no matter how you spell it) is code for “so tiny even short people will have to bend over when taking a shower.” I also learned to be wary of cabins with French names, since a “chateau” where we once stayed should really have been called “La Hovel.”

But this year, I succumbed to temptation and booked Bear’s Détente, hoping that the kids might fight less around a dining table where the grizzlies and the black bears finally signed a truce. Bear’s Détente didn’t really do much to engender greater sibling love, but it was definitely a classier joint than Casa de Pine Cone. It had a thick stack of Family Circle magazines dating from 1999 and, in keeping with the European theme, a table lamp etched with the Heinekin logo.

Unfortunately, these trips are working vacations for me. As shlepper-in-chief, I am forced to tramp around in the snow half the day delivering snacks at 10:30 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m. and hand lotion and dry socks at 3 p.m.

For some reason, our designated meeting place is always on the top level of the slope’s multitiered eating areas. Believe me, trudging up all those stairs at an altitude of 6,500 feet should be more exercise than anyone seemingly on vacation should have to endure.

At the end of the day, I collect the entire freezing crew and shuttle them back to our cabin, while the kids clamor for dinner immediately. Despite the multiple snack deliveries, everyone is starving.

All this personal valet service I provide cuts pretty deeply into my DVD watching and hot chocolate sipping time, but I am the mother, and this is my job. In fact, my life on vacation is pretty much just like my life at home, only with pine trees.

One night by popular demand, my husband kindled a fire. This seemed like the perfect cozy finish to a tiring day.

“I’ll just make sure the flue is open,” he said, fiddling around in the fire pit.

“Why is it so smoky in here?” coughed one of the kids, as a haze quickly billowed through the room and the smoke detector beeped in alarm. They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire but not at Bear’s Détente.

By the time my husband found the flue opening, we had smoked out every last bear left in those mountains, while also failing to stoke any meaningful flames. On a happier note, I discovered that one can avoid deadly smoke inhalation by flinging open the front and back cabin doors and allowing the bracing, 20 degree air to clear the place out. I promise you that after an hour and a half, the smoke will be gone and so will the kids, who will be huddled in the car with the heater on.

Still, I consider the trip a success. Even though one son went missing one day, no one ended up in the resort’s mini-hospital, either from skiing accidents or too much family togetherness. Two trips to the local supermarket assured that we had enough to eat, the dog only got sick once and I finally got to finish my movie after only six sittings.

We left in the evening, and I drove us down that harrowing road, trying to think of safer destinations for next year. But I think I am too late. All the kids consider themselves ski bums. But with this designation, they can rent their own locker for snacks and dry socks during the day. There’s only so many times a woman can be asked to interrupt her movie marathon and hot chocolate sipping.

Isn’t that what vacations are all about?

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.

 

For the Kids


Valuable Vacation

Summer’s almost over. I hope you’re having a great time. Did you go to camp? Were you in summer school? Did your parents take you on a fun trip?

In this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, Moses asks the Israelites to remember that, while they are about to enter a rich and fertile land, “flowing with milk and honey,” they must always remember those who need help: the orphan, the widow, the stranger and the poor.

So, while you continue to enjoy your summer, maybe you can also think a little about someone who needs your help. Why not pay a visit to a sick friend? Or bring some food to a homeless shelter? You can brighten up someone else’s summer, too.

Helping Hands

Unscramble the words to discover what you can do to help others. At the SOVA Food Pantry, (818) 789-7633, you can OTRS ODOF, TKOSC EVSLHSE and CPKA RCEIGORSE.

You can help the Family Violence Project, (818) 505-0900. Ask your parents for all AMOPSOH, DINCNEROTOI and OPSA that they collected from hotels on vacation. Then pack them up with some gently used YSOT.

Joke Time

by Nathalie Interiano.

Rabbi Levi was taking a walk down the street when he came upon little Jacob, who was standing on tiptoe, trying to reach the doorbell.

The rabbi said, “Shalom. Here, let me help you.”

The boy waited until the rabbi pushed the doorbell and then said, “Thanks rabbi. Now run as fast as you can!”

European Vacation


When friends heard that my husband and I planned to take our two children to Europe, they shook their heads gravely and predicted we’d live to regret it. It wasn’t that Hilary and Jeffrey were too young to cope with foreign travel. At ages 21 and 18, they were hardly likely to demand constant potty stops or Happy Meals from McDonald’s. Each had spent a summer on the L.A. Ulpan trip to Israel and come back enthralled with the adventure of being far from home. Naysayers pointed out that three weeks of enforced close contact between young adults and their parents can strain even the best relationships. But we were in the mood to celebrate: Jeffrey had just graduated from high school and Hilary from college. With Hilary putting down professional roots in the Bay Area, we foresaw that in the future it would be increasingly difficult to get everyone in the same place at the same time. Yes, the trip through France and England definitely seemed worth a try.

We’re back now, and all still speaking to one another. We all agree that our trip was wonderful, but Hilary is overjoyed that she’s no longer sharing a room with her brother. It worked partly because we knew in advance that our kids shared our views about travel. Lounging at pool-side is not our idea of vacation fun. For us, the goal is to go everywhere and see everything, with museums and historic sites our top priorities. Did our off-spring want to peel away from the group to search out discotheques or other entertainment geared to their own age group? Both kids briefly hooked up with friends during the trip, but the vast majority of our time was spent as a family foursome.

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