We went down to the Mosaique Hotel on the eastern shore of the Sinai Peninsula for three days, checking into two rooms (my sister and I shared a room) on an all-inclusive basis.
All-inclusive, as the hotel staff explained, included three big meals a day buffet-style—lots of eggs, cheeses, and beans for breakfast, lots of meat, chicken and fish for lunch and dinner, lots of Middle Eastern desserts all day—snacks and drinks mid-day (alcohol and ice cream were extra), access to the biggest pools I’ve ever seen (fresh water and seawater, including a heated pool), work-out and games stations, evening performances, daytime classes, and of course the beach with its coral and beautiful fish. Meals were sumptuous, service was quick, the coffee being the only major disappointment.
All-inclusive meant many things. As I wrote earlier, the Sinai is the bridge between Asia and Africa. The hotel is managed and staffed by Egyptians whose families are back in Cairo and Alexandria and who see their families every 4 months or so. The guests included not just Egyptians but also lots of Russians, some Poles, a few from Western Europe, and some Israelis. The hotel was expecting 150 Israeli families to fly in today, the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, and the Egyptian director of the restaurant walked around trying out his Hebrew, wishing us LeTe’avon, Bon Appetit.
Who remember the wars Israel and Egypt fought not too long ago?
My brother walked confidently among this crowd, the only man wearing a yarmulke, till we heard Sabbath singing on Friday evening and espied a group of young men, all in white shirts and black yarmulkes, at a corner table. I went over there and wished them a good Sabbath; they immediately asked me who I was, and did I have a man or more men with me because they needed a minyan, a quorum of 10 men, for Sabbath services.
I used to be self-conscious about being the only identifiable Jews in such a setting, but no longer. I enjoy the different clothing and languages, get a big kick out of religious displays of all kinds, including the numerous Christmas wreaths and the Santa in a big sleigh pulled by lit-up reindeer in the vast lobby. I had a brief massage and treatment at a Turkish hammam, lying stark naked on a marble slab and drenched first with hot, soapy water, and then scrubbed with white loofah particles before being washed down again.
I love all-inclusive.
Here and there I shared with people that we were two sisters and a brother, and they nodded appreciatively. I didn’t bother explaining how many twists and turns it had taken us, over three different, separate lives to get to the point where we not only enjoyed swimming, walking, and eating together, but also what I called our family consultations, sitting round the table overlooking the pools and sea and talking about our lives.
My brother is the only one of the three of us who continued the family’s orthodox Jewish life, and watching him over the decades, I appreciate so much how many strictures and stigmas he had to release in order to meet us as he has, equals in our practice of an enlightened life. He might call it a search for God. His recent Hebrew book on changing Judaism from a religion of survival to one of growth and even flourishing is an enormous change from how he was brought up in our family.
My sister’s training was more psychological, a search for being real rather than being mired in various forms of denial, including abstractions and, even worse, idealizations. I think of her facing both of us as we sat at the round table overlooking the water and asking pointed questions that often started with the words: I still don’t understand what you mean by—. The language we used had to be parsed for clarity and concreteness, causing us to choose the simplest words possible.
Finally there was me, the oldest, the one who lives far, who broke with her family long ago but who always wished to stay close in some way, who practices Zen Buddhism with full recognition of her Jewish roots, who wished for her siblings to come back to the US and who considered going to Israel, only to face the fact that all-inclusive doesn’t always mean being together day after day, or even being geographically close. It might mean living your life where it’s been planted, accepting distance but not alienation.
We talked about our family. We wondered what aspect of our parents we see in each other and what my brother and sister see of themselves in their children. We told each other what we see as our individual strengths and areas where we need to practice harder. We needed a lot of trust to have these talks.
For years there had been a history of not speaking to each other, or when speaking, not speaking truth. For years efforts at coming together were aborted by someone walking out, leaving the others angry and hurt. Our early family life had torn us asunder; it took time before we realized it would be our job to overcome those experiences and come together. And we did it. We are doing it
I appreciate that not all siblings feel the need to do this work. We faced many obstacles, and it was those very obstacles that made it important for us to do this work, not to fragment into infrequent checking-in and polite small talk, but to create authentic, deep bonds across religious traditions, interests, and even oceans.
At the end, we promised each other to do such a three-day weekend, just the three siblings, annually for as long as we can. Only next year we’ll have to do this without the World Cup. My brother figured out that the reason our flights were so cheap ($100 both ways from Tel-Aviv to Eilat) was because our return took place during the Cup final, but that didn’t prevent him and everyone else in the airport and train to Jerusalem from watching it on their phone. We had the sense we were part of the whole world watching one of the greatest soccer games ever.
“Everybody wanted Messi to win,” said my brother. “Maybe they didn’t all back Argentina, but they backed Messi.” All-inclusive meant so many things.
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