When people talk about the quality of life in Israel, they are not talking about the variety of things you can buy or the overabundance of choice in all things. Quality in Israel is intangible. I often mention rhythms of life – for example, businesses are closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays are part of the national calendar, which means people can be home with their families, out in nature, or just take a day for themselves.
“Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28)
God may have given the command, but he didn’t consider childcare in the twenty-first century and how all people, no matter their job, should be able to spend time with their children.
And so we come to August in Israel. Daycares shut down in August. All of them. This allows daycare providers to have a vacation to spend time with their own children. However, since we live in a modern society that doesn’t just shut down in August, parents have to look for alternate solutions.
Israel has a booming day camp business in August. Every kind of day camp you can think of can be found catering to most age groups. If you can’t afford camp (and many people can’t) the other option is to take your vacation days in August. Parks are filled with families; I’ve seen mostly ultra-religious families with their half-dozen or more children. I remember when I was a kid in the US, you could take yourself to the local pool and cool off in the summer. Jerusalem doesn’t have outdoor public swimming pools and the indoor pools require expensive memberships, so you see many kids playing in public fountains. Independence Park has a water feature that looks like a stream and there are dozens of children playing in it every day with families nearby picnicking on the grass.
Downtown Jerusalem is crowded and I hear mostly Hebrew in the streets (unlike other times when I hear a lot of English and French). Families take advantage of cool Jerusalem evenings and stroll late into the night with their children. “Bedtime” must be when the kids collapse because it is certainly not 8pm.
Those not taking vacation days in August or sending their kids to camp look for other solutions. Some people can rely on their parents to take care of the kids (often they joke that this is “Grandma Camp”), but others have to juggle other options. August is “take your child to work” month. I’m working in an office these days and since it’s August, I’m getting to meet everyone’s kids. This is completely normal and accepted; both mothers and fathers bring kids to the office (usually only one and not every day so as not to totally disrupt the office environment).
On the surface, August seems unnecessarily complicated. People have to work. That’s how a modern, capitalist society functions, right? So, if you want people to work and have children, then daycare should be available. Let’s say instead that the value is not just having children, but actually spending time with your family. Then August starts to make sense because it imposes a work/life balance. Quality of life doesn’t mean an easy life. Often it is the things you work the hardest for that give you the most value.
I had the chance this week to see Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the park – with lots of kids, who enjoyed it for the most part. No sets, minimal costume, no mics, and the audience moves around to different locations in the park with the scene changes. Over the years, I’ve seen Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth. It’s not Broadway or the West End, but it’s Shakespeare and it’s fun!