One of the hallmarks of Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the holiday--between the first and last day) in Israel is the "tiyul." Loosely translated this means the hike/trek/journey. What it refers to is packing in to a car or bus with many of one's worldly possessions that have to do with food prep and/or hiking paraphernalia and heading out to various locales around the country. The roads are JAMMED with people traveling to and fro in search of "just the right spot" to make a BBQ, or to hike some cliff that beckons, to walk a winding trail or just to sit along a beach and soak up the Vitamin-D.
In the past, for me, Chol HaMoed meant a pretty much regular day, a day trip to Gurnee Mills (shopping mall outside Chicago) and many hours spent thinking about what we should do during this quieter time. However, here, we were determined to be Israeli and join the (literally) thousands of people for one or more Chol HaMoed outings.
On the first day of Chol HaMoed, we made our way to Tel Aviv where we met up with my in-laws spending Chag there in a hotel. After a nice lunch together, the girls went one way and Andy and I spent a wonderfully relaxing time walking on the boardwalk next to the Mediterranean. It was AMAZING to see the range of people there! Sefardim, Ashkenazim, secular...all out doing various forms of relaxation and vacationing...we saw kite flying (with payos-clad chasidim on the other end of the string); fishing, BBQ'ing, skateboarding, singing with musical instruments and many other activities. We were just content to sit there and enjoy the gorgeous weather.
The next day, we all headed to the area of Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea. When I say "all" I actually mean ALL of Israel...at least it seemed that way! According to the paper, apparently, 6800 other people did the same thing we did! I guess that is why I noticed a 6-10 KM back-up on the road heading South as we returned heading North! We sat a distance from the Dead Sea and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings, as we did by the other body of water! The heat was NOT too intense and the time we spent there was just right...not too short and not too long.
This was followed by a magnificent Shabbat with guests at our table and a special Motz"ash (Motza'ei Shabbat): We went into Yerushalayim to see some of my cousins that were in celebrating the Chag. As an added bonus, we were invited to go to the Old City on a particular roof-top for a small "concert" by Chaim Dovid (see here for who he is if you are not familiar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8CNTZ_Wb2s&feature=youtube_gdata)
The location was a few hundred meters from Har HaBayit, the night breeze was cool and intoxicating, the music was gorgeous and the ambiance was just perfect.
What a wonderful Chol HaMoed this has been! Hard to believe that tonight is the last night of Pesach already! There is something in our Shul tonight that (to me) is quite unusual and unique. I imagine it is done in many places, but I just never did this: There is a public reading of Shirat HaYam (Az Yashir) in honor of the 7th day of Pesach followed by Divrei Torah on the subject...just hope I can stay awake for it!