Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Mayim details what a divorced-family vacation is like

In her latest video (and accompanying travel diary!), our founder walks us through her latest trip to Israel
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 07/26/2018 at 3:21 PM EDT

I just went on a really intense trip to Israel. Intense because my FirstBorn is becoming a bar mitzvah this fall and this trip was to celebrate that significant rite of passage. Intense because I got to watch him at the Western Wall, the holiest site for our people. Intense because he chose a tallis (prayer shawl) and t’fillin (ritual objects used for daily prayer), which will be his for the rest of his life. Intense because this is the trip he will remember that we took in honor of his covenant and commitment to his people as a Jew.

But mostly it was intense because my ex-husband and I were both on this trip. We decided as a divorced couple (it’s been six years) to do this trip together. As a family. And also, just to ratchet the intensity up a bit, we brought our moms. Yes, you heard me: WE BROUGHT OUR MOMS. (Shouting in case you didn’t hear me.)

So. Me and the ex. Our 12- and 9-year-old sons. My mom. His mom. No one else. Yup. In. Tense.

Yes, it’s unusual. Yes it was hard. It was also unbelievably amazing. Here are the highlights day by glorious intense day.

Day 1: Traveling from LAX to Tel Aviv on a 14-hour flight with your ex-husband is very hard. We are not used to traveling together. He has his ways of doing things, obviously. We always had different travel styles. We still do. He is more detail-oriented; I am more spontaneous. He gets anxious when we leave home; I get anxious when we start to head home. He is more affected by heat; up until the start of hot flashes, I used to be pretty unaffected by heat.

I forgot to book a greeter, which is a fancy service that helps you make it through the airport quicker and with fewer people coming up to you to ask for photos and such. I thought it might be helpful and less hectic with five of us traveling together (his mom met us in Israel), so I was supposed to arrange that. But I plum forgot. So we had no greeter. And here we were with me frantically trying to get one last minute. And the ex is patient but obviously kind of stressing out. Because I’m stressing out and on the phone and I already feel like I LET EVERYONE DOWN. And this is only day one. And we haven’t even left the city we live in.

Day 2: We land after a pretty successful flight. Our boys are super excited. I am mostly sweaty and possibly having another hot flash (see here for how my first one hit me hard on the set of TBBT). I drive us from the airport to my aunt and uncle’s house while the ex navigates. He is a really good navigator but, oh, guess what: Waze is only available in Hebrew in Israel. So the ex who does not read Hebrew is stressed—I would be too—but I am also driving in a foreign country and trying to read signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English while managing not to hit bikes, camels, and all other manner of things on the roads of Israel. We settle into the upper rooms of my aunt and uncle’s house. One child with each of us and my mom in her own room. The ex’s mom will meet up with us when her synagogue tour allows us to.

Day 3: We leave my mom with our family and head into a complicated region of the West Bank. We see Hebron from a distance and FirstBorn asks many important questions about Palestinians and the towns we drive through where they live. I am grateful my ex and I have so much in common regarding politics. Both bleeding heart liberals who assess a lot of Israel’s policies and practices with regard to the Palestinians with a critical eye, we are also both proud of the state of Israel and hope to instill in our sons the knowledge and understanding of the importance of Israel and her needs for security and autonomy.

Day 4: We embark on a tour of the City of David, which is an archaeological exploration of the original city of King David. It is situated below the Old City of Jerusalem, and it is one of the most impressive archaeological digs of the past 10 years or so. We walk in mostly ankle-deep but sometimes thigh-deep water in the canals of the City of David and Little Man is not particularly thrilled about this part of our trip. My ex handles it differently than I would (my inclination would be to tell him to buck up and get into the water) but everyone ends up having a blast. We meet up with my mother-in-law and get a fantastic divorced family photo in front of the Western Wall. This is the moment the ex and I basically came for and besides me being sweaty, not having time to check my hair and hating my body, the picture is amazing.

Day 5: We leave my mom with her sister and my cousins and the four of us head to the Ramon Crater, the largest erosion crater in the world. We do some touring on the way of the sites in Israel that are mentioned in my son’s bar mitzvah Torah portion. We see the Jordan River, views from Gush Etziyon, and even the site where David and Goliath might have battled. Our tour guide is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. (His name is Yomi Groner for anyone who needs a great tour guide of that region!) The ex manages to capture our tour guide on video saying something the four of us find absolutely hysterical when we replay it at the crater. We literally laugh until the tears come. My ex has a fantastic laugh when he really gets going and it’s contagious.

It’s a special thing to laugh like this together. We have been through a lot. Many tears, loss and pain. We still find things funny together and we laugh the way only a family can do.

Day 6: Shabbat is a day of rest. My phone is off, and I am present all day in the way you can only be if you turn your phone off. We wake up at 5 a.m. to watch the sun rise over the crater. Then I nap. We eat breakfast, I nap. We swim in the infinity pool, and I try not to cry as I see women with bodies far closer to what I wish mine looked like. I also notice women with bodies far heavier than mine walking about in bikinis confidently. My ex walks about confidently. I nap again. We watch native ibexes roam about the grounds of our hotel. I nap again. I debate throwing my phone—still off—into the crater. I nap again. Shabbat ends, my credit card number has been compromised and I have to cancel it. Stress returns in an instant. We take a night stargazing tour with a man I kind of want to move in with (if his wife would allow it) named Moshe Kagan. I see the four moons of Jupiter and Saturn with her rings. We see craters on the moon and constellations I never see much of because other side of the world and all. It is magical.

This is a once in a lifetime trip for our sons. I miss Manfriend, but I also am having an incredible time experiencing all of this right here and right now with my ex and our kids. Both can exist at once.

Day 7: We do a three-hour hike of the crater with Magical Moshe (as I now call him), and we drive a long drive back to civilization. We pick up my mom and head to the kibbutz where the rest of my family lives. I drive, the ex navigates.

Israel is a very small country (the size of New Hampshire), but you can drive for hours and hours and still feel you have barely scratched the surface of her. Thank goodness for the ex’s navigating and thank goodness for enough therapy that I don’t take it personally if he says I’m too close to the car in front of me.

Day 8: We spend the day in Tel Aviv. We buy some souvenirs. We eat amazing vegan food at Meshek Barzilay and Little Man just has a rough day. It’s incredibly hot, it’s a lot of walking and then a lot of car time to visit my uncle who just had bypass surgery. It’s a lot, and he and his brother start bickering, and I cannot stop correcting my mom. She mispronounces things, and I can’t just shut up about it. She makes a joke I think is a tad off-color, and I lean into her about it. It’s tense. It’s very hot. Or is it a hot flash? Both maybe.

When everyone is hot and hungry and tired of being in the car, it doesn’t matter how much therapy you’ve had. It’s hard to not snap at everyone. Making amends (which I did when we got back to the kibbutz) is not disempowering; it is empowering.

Day 9: We take a tour of Leket Israel, an organization which “rescues” unused food and produce from all over Israel and redistributes it to the poor. Our boys package and inspect beets, oranges and turnips for hours and we help FirstBorn put the “mitzvah” in bar mitzvah (a mitzvah being a good deed commanded by the Divine obligation to repair the world). Read about our full day at Leket Israel here.

We swim at the kibbutz, and we pack up. Everyone seems to be winding down emotionally just in time for Little Man to crank up the travel-related anxiety.

Travel is an up-and-down experience. Us being divorced isn’t why some moments are harder than others. If we did not have the commitment to our kids that we seek to have, it might be a heck of a lot harder. As it is, it’s hard. But that’s okay. This is life.

Day 10: Again, the service I have to help us get checked in and situated fails and we end up kind of waiting around with me calling people on two phones to try and figure out where to go and what to do. I see how quickly I react to my ex’s emotions, and I remind myself to keep my focus on me and what I need to do rather than try to fix him. We finally get settled in and checked in and on the flight. Everyone sleeps.

Take home message: I am no more able to control my ex now than I could when we were married. I know now to let him be him and to let him have his feelings without managing or controlling him. We parent differently. Our kids gravitate toward him especially now that they are becoming young men. I do my best, and we always want their health and happiness. My mom and the ex’s mom got to stand in front of the Western Wall with us in a photograph we all can agree is nothing short of a miracle: a family divided by divorce in a city divided by religion and politics in a country divided by borders in a world so often divided by hate but ultimately sustained by love.

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