In 2016 we went to Israel for the bar mitzvah of our oldest child. That trip impacted our family so profoundly that we returned in 2019 for the bar mitzvah of kid number two. This summer, it was time to run it back for the bat mitzvah of our oldest daughter, with a few days in Paris on the front end. It was another trip full of incredible moments and memories, and we can’t wait to see how it will impact our family as we move forward.
Day 1: Night Over Water
In the Brosgol house the summer of 2022 was a non-stop, exhausting gauntlet of never-ending activities. The boys lifeguarded five days a week, two of our girls did day camps for five-and-a-half weeks, we had a seemingly endless run of softball and baseball games right up until two days before we left, it was ridiculously hot for a while, and I took no time off from work. We definitely needed to get out of Dodge.
Departure day was a long, drawn-out stretch of final anticipation, but the ride into Logan was quick and easy. The same could not be said for our Delta check-in, but at 5:30 p.m. we found ourselves together with my wife’s aunt and uncle in Terminal E, eating overpriced airport food in advance of our flight to Paris. The flight itself was delayed for close to an hour because of a “missing screw” on the wing, but apparently that issue resolved itself and our overnight flight passed quickly as we raced towards the sunrise.
I watched parts of two movies, neither of which I liked, casually observed a woman passing out in the middle of the night in the aisle because she hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink, admired the wind farms in the English Channel off of Brighton at daybreak, and had a long look at Paris on the approach to Charles De Gaulle (CDG). We were ready.
Day 2: Doing The Cafe Thing
Arrival at CDG featured mini-trains, moving sidewalks, and slow passport lines, but our driver was waiting for us and on the stroke of 11 a.m., we dropped our bags at our Airbnb near the Bastille and headed out on foot towards Notre-Dame and Île de la Cité. A cool morning had given way to a 90-degree day, but we found the shade in the Parisian alleyways on the walk. We went to a bakery for croissants, took pictures at Notre-Dame, and then made our way over to Sainte-Chappelle, where we saw friends from our hometown walking by (!!) and then admired the outrageously beautiful stained glass windows, which probably would have been better if it wasn’t super hot and stuffy inside.
Kids and adults had hit the wall by now, so we ate at the first cafe we could find at the Pont Saint-Michel; the view and people-watching did not disappoint, but perhaps the food, cigarette smoke, and the service did. We walked home afterwards, took varying lengths of naps, and then my boys and I hit up the grocery store. I impressed myself with doing the self-checkout in French and my older son impressed me with his confidence in speaking French in public.
Dinner was made, and early bedtimes were had by all, including the youngest two kids who got to enjoy the loft in the apartment and the spiral staircase leading up to it.
Day 3: A City Of Love And Light
Instant coffee on a quiet morning, check. Metro passes, check. Eggs for everyone, check. We were out the door and on the (amazing) (sensational) (jealousy-inspiring) Paris Metro by 9:15, and walking up towards the Eiffel Tower in time for our ticketed time of 10:30. And even though I’d been to Paris twice as a child, I had never been up there, so this was a first for me. The initial line to ascend to the second floor was pretty quick, but the second line for the second elevator was an absolute train wreck, so when all was said and done it took a full hour to get to the top. But hey, it’s a bucket-list thing, so no harm, no foul. The views were expansive and lovely, my kids were happy, my wife looked radiant and joyful, but we did pass up the champagne for 20 euros per glass. We walked part of the way down and were back at street level, eating crepes for lunch that my wife capably ordered in French, by 12:30.
We zipped up to the Arc De Triomphe after, which if I have to be honest was way more delightful than the Eiffel Tower. We walked up the spiral staircase to the top, saw the beautiful Étoile and the wide boulevards radiating out from it, and admired the views. A leisurely stroll down the Champs-Élysées followed, where my oldest son and I decided to check out the Paris Saint-Germain store, which was a big disappointment. A puny selection, only three cashiers, and a wait to get in? No thanks—buy your swag online.
We then met some Italian guys on the Metro who were excited to hear we were from Boston because Danilo Gallinari just signed for the Celtics, bought some croissants again because why not, and also admired how Parisians wear pants even when it’s like 95 degrees. We also saw a lot of people wearing a lot less than that, and even a girl wearing what could best be described as a prom dress just riding around on the Metro, but ici c’est Paris. No big deal. I’m sure we looked just like Americans to them.
I thought that would be it for the day, as we got home, rested, and ate dinner, but how many times are we going to be in Paris? So we went to Rue Cler and met our Bedford friends for ice cream and then spent an hour and a half sitting on the Champ de Mars as darkness gathered and the Eiffel Tower’s lights came on, all the way through the 10 p.m. light show. Not bad at all.
Oh, but what was bad? How about Air France canceling our reservation on the CDG-TLV flight? That happened, somehow, even though it did not happen to my wife’s aunt and uncle, nor my father and his girlfriend, who were all on the same flight. Luckily I got a little paranoid when my wife’s uncle got a check-in email from Air France and I didn’t, so I gave them a call to confirm. And even though I had the PNR number and a receipt for the seats I paid for, Air France told me I was not on the flight. Well, I said a few things, and the guy on the phone re-issued the tickets, and I then selected and paid for seats again. One would think that would be the end of this? One would, right? Oh…wait a little bit longer.
The night ended with a Metro ride home on a hot train without AC (most of them had no AC for some reason), and me carrying my youngest daughter home from the Bastille to our home. What a day it was.
And not for nothing, once you’ve experienced first-rate, on-time, constantly-running public transit like the Paris Metro, you realize how utterly garbage the T is and how bad we have it here in the States. Sigh.
Day 4: Overstimulated
The Louvre sounded like an easy thing to do…in theory. Well, at least getting there was easy. The line to get in was not (even with our tickets). And the absolutely titanic size of the place- also not so much. Plus we were still jet-lagged. We powered through the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo and a few things in between, then we got lunch and I fell asleep on the table. A small expedition, not including me, set out to see the crown jewels, and I was content to watch thousands of people walk by as I had Starbucks and found a coin from Thailand lying on the floor.
We then did a two-hour cruise of the Canal Saint-Martin and the Seine, which was generally delightful and was made more so by the bottle of wine the four adults consumed as we went under the Bastille in the underground canal and then out and around on the River. Paris looked lovely, we saw Pont Neuf and many other Ponts from river level, admired the Parisian version of the Statue of Liberty, and took a few hundred pictures.
Evening found the kids squealing with glee while playing foosball, the sun never going down (it finally did at 9:30 or so, I think), and my sons unsuccessfully trying to find an open bakery. We also sadly could not watch the PSG game (nor could we attend it, which was a separate story), but they did win, so that’s nice. If you like that sort of thing.
Day 5: Are They Crazy, Or Are We Just Lazy?
After a later wakeup (9 a.m.!) we hopped on the Metro and went to Montmartre and the basilica of Sacré-Cœur. We all enjoyed the little funicular railway up to the top of the butte, but the sneaky amazing thing we all liked was going into Sacré-Cœur itself, made more beautiful by the Sunday service that was taking place while we were there. Catholic I am not, but I can still appreciate some beautiful singing and praying, and we definitely got some of that.
We ate crepes, rode a carousel, admired some cute little…rats…., saw the Moulin Rouge, and got back home for some rest. Some of us went back to the Notre Dame area for some shopping and to walk from there to the Hotel De Ville, I went for a run along the Seine, and then we made dinner as a ferocious round of thunderstorms rolled through. The rain on the roof at midnight was nice, but not super-nice as we had to be out the door by 6 a.m. the next morning.
Also, a further comment on how delightful Paris is, how the Metro is the lifeline that keeps the city running, how bike- and pedestrian-friendly it is, and how different that is from the U.S. The car culture back home is intense, but actually, wouldn’t it be great to be able to get anywhere in like 30 minutes without worrying about parking? Yes. The answer is yes. We’re just lazy and are obsessed with our cars.
But as my wife quipped, are they crazy, or are we just lazy? The answer: We are lazy.
Day 6: Why Does Air France Hate Us
We were out the door at 5:55 for our 9:20 flight. No problem. We got to the airport at 6:40 for that flight—no problem. We got to the check-in by 7—no problem. (Someone left a backpack on the van—small problem). I handed our passports to the agent.
“Your reservation has been canceled.” Problem.
I pull up my emails from Air France, I pull up the reissued tickets from the other night, I pull up the receipt for the seats I paid for a second time.
No, we do not have your reservation. Perhaps it’s Delta’s fault?
No. No. NO. This is your fault. I tell the unfortunate woman as much and 15 minutes later I told her a little more strongly. Somehow, by some act of something, we are reissued tickets again, are triple-confirmed that we were all set for out TLV-BOS return flight, and we are good to go.
Security, passport, and x-ray take over an hour to move 200 yards or so. Secondary screenings for x-rays hand luggage take us all the way to 8:50 and the gate closes at 9:10. We housed some croissants, said a quick hello to my father and his girlfriend, who now joined us for part two of the trip, and get on our flight to Tel Aviv.
The best thing I can say about this flight is that we survived. The other things I can say include how we did not get seats like the ones I twice selected and they also gave us ham and cheese sandwiches and not Kosher meals. At least we landed on time.
Israel, great to see you. You have made massive improvements on border control, and we were through in mere minutes. What a win! The flip side, as usual, was the 90 minutes it took to pick up the rental cars even though we were the first people in line. Some things never change, including the traffic from Sha’ar HaGai up past Shoresh, but we were in Mevasseret Tzion by 6 p.m. and eating an amazing dinner 2200 feet up in the Jerusalem hills at Cafe Landwer by 7, as the sky turned purple and the breeze rolled up through the pine trees. Just lovely. I went to the store to buy groceries and crashed into bed at a reasonably early hour, all things considered.
For the first time in a long time, I slept soundly, at home in Israel.
Day 7: Avocados and Pomegranates
We were not in a huge hurry to get out of the house this morning, so I sat out on the terrace enjoying coffee and a cool and pleasant morning and a Facebook news feed that was somehow overtaken by things like engagements and babies of former students and friends—a nice surprise.
People slowly got up, some laundry was done, many snacks were consumed, and we didn’t leave the house until 12. An easy drive to Tel Aviv was followed up with a very exciting hunt for parking in the Carmel Market municipal lot, after which we we spent a few hours in Shuk HaCarmel and Nachalat Binyamin. It was hot, but shady, and we got a nice grab bag of fruits and veggies and some lovely artistic items to boot. We also purchased an avocado bucket hat, some pomegranate jewelry, and some actual avocados and pomegranates as well.
We then went to Old Jaffa, which always looks lovely in the light of late afternoon, made wishes on the Wishing Bridge, took artsy pictures in the alleyways, and closed out the day where else but at The Old Man And The Sea, which is probably the greatest restaurant in the world for the Brosgol family. And while my father and his girlfriend had been there before, it was the first time there for my wife’s aunt and uncle, and they loved it. I mean, how could you not? One could spend all day, every day, eating the salad plates. Tonight, sadly, we only did it for an hour-and-a-half, but we did watch the sun go down over the Mediterranean as a post-meal treat.
Night fell as we returned to Mevasseret, and I went on a lazy and incredibly slow run through the quiet neighborhoods overlooking Jerusalem. It’s not a bad life.
Day 8: Almost Perfect
There are days, there are good days, and there are great days. Then there are days that exist on another plane entirely—that was today.
Overnight bags packed and cars full, we set out at 8 a.m. for the Negev. Down to Latrun, across to Route 6, south to Be’er Sheva, and east to Dimona, we arrived at Mamshit at 9:40 in time for our 10 a.m. camel trek on the old Nabatean spice route. This was not our first, or second, camel rodeo down here, but it was still spectacular. Our Bat Mitzvah girl had the lead camel, I rode with daughter number two on a camel named Samira, and my wife and girl number three clambered around on Sabrina at the rear. Everyone else was farther up the caravan so I didn’t get the names but I think one was Petra, one was Sinai, and that’s the best I can do. The desert vistas were expansive, the sun was warm but not terrible, and we loved every second.
The kids had camel ice cream in the reception tent as we lounged around for 45 minutes post-ride, and then we hopped back to Dimona for lunch at, where else, a Cafe Cafe just five minutes up the road. I impressed myself and others by ordering for all 11 of us in Hebrew because the waitress did not speak English, and was more pleased when everything came out perfectly…especially the crushed iced mint lemonades.
At 1 p.m. we left, cut through the Negev highlands past Yerucham, picked up Route 40 near Sde Boker, and at 2 p.m. pulled into Mitzpe Ramon, which for my money is one of the most beautiful places on earth, an eroded crater 26 miles long and 6 miles wide which is really hard to describe other than other-wordly. What’s an eroded crater, you ask? Hard to explain quickly, but they only exist in Israel and the Sinai Peninsula around the Syrian-African Rift Valley and were formed over millions of years. Google it.
We took a quick peek at the crater and then had the unfortunate luck to exit the parking lot at the same time that two full busloads of haredim pulled in…and after five minutes of trying to back out of my spot I rolled down my window, yelled at them to move, and then one of them swore at me. Good times. We would see, and avoid them, later on two different occasions.
We dropped our things at our apartments, took a walk up to the crater rim promenade and found a poem etched onto the rocks that I originally had written down on the back of a Steve’s Packs business card (IYKYK) in 1995 on my first trip to Israel and visit to Mitzpe, and at 5 p.m. we were all ready for the piece-de-resistance, a jeep tour of the crater.
Two jeeps, 11 people, one crater, four hours…it all sounded good on paper but I was nervous. After five minutes, though, I knew it was the right call. We drove down into the crater, learned about geology, saw the rock layers on the eroded walls, drove in and out of quarries, talked about the Yafruk plant and its oils and how the Bedouin use the Rotem bush to court each other, and went on a semi-serious quest to find some asiatic wild asses that were smuggled in from Iran before the Islamic Revolution (and found some of their hoof prints).
We also climbed to the highest point in the crater as we marveled at the layers of limestone, magma, sandstone, quartzite, flint, clay, and assorted other rocks as the moonscape went from yellow to brown to purple and red and faded into black as the sun set over the crater rim. We set up a camp and ate a ridiculously good meal as the temperature dropped into the 70s, put on sweatshirts as the wind picked up, and marveled as the stars slowly came out. Our night ended with the jeep lights off, thousands of stars glittering above, and the Milky Way clearly visible across the night sky. You could draw up better evenings, but you may never find one. We all came home and went to bed kind of in awe of the whole thing.
Day 9: Gathering A Double Portion
A quick run to SuperSol, a breakfast of croissants and coffee, and a final look at the crater in the morning sun, and then we were off. We retraced our route back through Dimona and then continued east, diving down into the Rift Valley and up through Neve Zohar to Ein Bokek at the Dead Sea. We arrived at the stroke of noon on a balmy 104-degree day, and enjoyed some quality time staying off the scorching-hot sand, floating in the water, enjoying the outdoor showers, and sweating just standing still.
We raced up the Dead Sea to the bottom of Route 1, sped up to Jerusalem through Maale Adumim, got stuck in some typical mid-afternoon traffic, and were back in Mevasseret by 4 p.m. Rest, dinner, run, crash.
Just before the crash, though, I went to the store again to pick up enough food for 11 people for Friday and Saturday, which ended up being a massive amount of bread, pita, hummus, assorted fruits and melons, and more. I was absolutely channeling my inner desert wandering by gathering a double portion before Shabbat set in.
Day 10: Bat Mitzvah
Given the fact that this was a bat mitzvah trip, today was the real centerpiece of the whole thing. We were up and dressed by 7:30 a.m., out the door by 7:45, and somehow got to Mamilla in less than 20 minutes. We walked up to Jaffa Gate and down to the Kotel, arriving by 8:40 at the egalitarian section.
We put on our daughter’s tallit, hand-made with love by an old friend whose children I both taught and took to Israel when they were younger, and proceeded to have a lovely and meaningful Shacharit service. The Torah came out and my oldest son, who read from Ekev at his bar mitzvah at the Kotel six years ago, re-read his first aliyah. My second son read an aliyah, I read one, our bat mitzvah girl read two, and we were all starting to get a little emotional.
Our daughter’s dvar Torah came from the heart, and at the very end she hearkened back to her brother’s bar mitzvah on Masada, when a visiting bird kept chirping whenever we said the word “Tzitzit” during the third paragraph of the Sh’maand we considered the fact that it was my late mother who was dropping by to participate. Well, the last line of the speech was “Oh. And I’m still waiting for Tzitzit to come by. I love you, Grandma.” Not two seconds later, a bird flew by for the first time all morning and called out to us. No, I didn’t make that up. No, I don’t usually buy into these things. Yes, it was…something special.
All bets were off after that. My wife spoke beautifully and we were all crying by the end. I tried to pick up with the service but couldn’t get it together for a minute. We finished the service with reading and singing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” and tears were flowing again. I’m not sure what else to say except that for those 90 minutes all that mattered in the universe was our family being together and celebrating this milestone. I’ll never forget it.
We walked out of the Old CIty via the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which was quite a contrast to Sacré-Cœur), had a fabulous buffet brunch at Piccolino with live music from Yehudah Ashash, and had a classic Friday-afternoon-before-Shabbat walk through Mahane Yehudah along with about 5 million other Jerusalemites who had the same idea. We came, we got challot, and we left. And somehow, surprisingly, my daughter’s Yeti water bottle that she left on a bench in Zion Square was still there 90 minutes later. Maybe that was the second miracle of the day.
We were home by 4, settled in for a relaxing afternoon and Shabbat dinner at the house, and enjoyed the arrival of a much-needed day of rest.
Day 11: We Don’t Talk About Leaving
I forbade all discussion of departing Israel. I mean, I really didn’t want to hear about it.
What I did want was to slow down for a day, as we’d been going non-stop since Boston, so Shabbat dawned lazily and kept right on going. Late wake-up (for everyone else), coffee on the veranda, a sunny morning in the hills, all was peaceful and good. I drove my father and his girlfriend over to the Israel Museum, went for a sunny and warm run through Givat Ram and Beit Hakerem, lay under a cypress tree listening to soccer podcasts, and came back with plenty of hours still to come.
We ate a nice dinner, took a pleasant walk as dusk set in and the hills and roads woke up from Shabbat, and played cards and ate more or less all the way until 1 in the morning, when my dad and his girlfriend left in a cab for the airport for one of those famous 4:45 departures home through Europe. We, however, still had more than 24 hours to go.
Day 12: Miami Beach
Despite being up until 2 a.m. I was up early anyway, of course. I went to the store…again…found diesel gas for our massive van at the third gas station I checked at after coming up empty at the first two, and we then scooted out for Ashdod and the beach because it was closer than going to Tel Aviv or Bat Yam.
And actually, it was an easy drive. We cruised past dozens of heavy trucks carrying cargo to and from the port, set up shop at “Miami Beach” in the northernmost part of the shore, and spent a few hours getting battered by what ended up being pretty fun and bumpy waves that kept crashing in.
We got back, started packing a little, and hit up Cafe Landwer again for another incredible meal of assorted vegetarian dishes and (you guessed it) crushed iced mint lemonade as darkness set in. A final walk at dusk settled our account with the trip and we went to bed, ready to roll home the next day. And unlike the past few times, when leaving felt like a gut punch, I think we were all ready to get home after such an intense experience.
Day 13: Nothing Is Easy
Well, that sounded like an easy task to accomplish, right up until we actually got to the airport at 8:15 for our 11:50 flight home. (3 hours and 35 minutes before departure, for those of you keeping track at home).
True to form, though, nothing is easy when you are traveling these days. It took more than a half hour to return two cars at SixT even though there was no line. We finally rolled into the terminal after 9 and spent two hours and 30 minutes getting to our gate. First we had to clear the initial security screening and then check our bags (#DeltaFAIL for only have two desks open for economy, luckily we had Comfort+ so we skipped most of the insanely long line). Not to be outdone, for some reason we had to check our small duffle bags in at the “oversized luggage” elevator which entailed waiting 15 minutes for the one worker over there to take no fewer than eight bags of pita out of the bag of the person in front of us, and then finally dropping our bags on the elevator. But wait, let’s also tack on another 30 minutes for the security line at the x-ray machine. I’ve left Israel 29 times and this was by far the most arduous departure yet.
Then we hastily grabbed some overpriced croissants and changed shekels into dollars, making the gate at final call. Oh, but not before we had to get rid of liquids even though security said it was OK.
At least the 11-hour flight left relatively on time and landed when it was supposed to—because the food was not great, the flight attendants openly argued with each other during service multiple times, they didn’t pack enough water for the full flight, and the entertainment kicked out for like two hours. On the plus side, I did watch “Shang-Yi,” “Now You See Me” (which I somehow always end up watching on planes), and “Superbad” (had never seen it, don’t judge me, and it’s so NSWSWYK—not suitable when sitting with your kids).
The landing at Logan was foggy and smooth, we got through customs in minutes, grabbed our bags, picked up Chipotle, Starbucks, and the dog in that order, and were all asleep by 10, at the end of a long road, a long day, and a wicked long trip.
Recency bias aside, this was a trip for all-time—two countries, one bat mitzvah, and a million moments in between. We hadn’t traveled anywhere since before Covid, so we had heaped a whole lot of expectation onto this experience, and despite the inconveniences and first-world problems presented by traveling with a massive crew across three continents, it was a smashing success. I don’t think we’ll fully appreciate it until we get a little farther away from it, but for my money having the day in the desert and the bat mitzvah in such close proximity was just spectacular.
The day after we got home my oldest son went back to college, I went to work, and our home lives more or less picked up right where they left off. With that being said, our minds immediately raced forward to 2024 or 2025 when we might be crazy enough to do this whole bat mitzvah thing over again for the fourth time for our next kid.
In the meantime, we’ll just remember this one forever.
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