The Annual Hike
January 29, 2008
The tiyul shnati is an important feature of Israel's education system. All students from the 1st through the 12th grades go on an annual hike. The main purpose of this hike, from the perspective of the Ministry of Education, is to show students the wonders (natural, archaeological, historical) of the land of Israel. From the perspective of the kids, especially those in grade school, the main purpose of the tiyul shnati is to buy as much junk food as possible and eat it on the bus. There have been many times when my children threatened not to even bother going on the trip if they could not buy the required kilograms of candy, chips, chocolate milk, etc. Needless to say, on a tiyul shnati, it's a good idea to gage the motion tolerance of your neighbor.
For each of the first few years after we made aliyah, I would go out with one or two of my children on their respective annual trips. My kids were cool with this as long as I didn't publicly acknowledge the fact that we were related. I was trying to make up for the gap in my education. Officially, I was just a volunteer adult rather than an armed chaperone (schools are required to hire these for every trip; parents who are legally allowed to bear arms can thus save their school some money). A few (unarmed) mothers would also tag along on these trips, and so I didn't feel totally out of place—just a little wimpy for not carrying a gun.
I enjoyed going on tiyul shanti's both for the pleasure of exploring Israel and for the satisfaction of witnessing my children participating in a fundamental Zionist experience. It's important to emphasize that the tiyul shnati is not to be confused with any sort of year-end graduation trip. Tiyul shnati's may take place at the beginning of the school year, in the middle, or at the end.
The length of the tiyul shnati increases from year to year. In the first grade, a short bus trip to a nearby park for an hour or two can suffice. By the 5th grade, the tiyul shnati is an all-day affair, and overnight trips begin in the 6th grade. The day-trippers in primary school can avoid serious hiking by horsing around, walking slowly, acting up, etc. It never ceased to amaze me how a group of 10-year-olds coming upon a little pool of water, say, in Ein Gedi, would prefer to splash each other like toddlers for an hour or two rather than hike to the peak of the mountain for a magnificent panoramic view of the Dead Sea. I would look beseechingly to the teachers and to the other parents for support in trying to get the kids out of the water so that we could continue our hike, but their attitude was: relax let them have their fun.
Junior high and high school students know that they are going to really have to hike on their tiyul shnati's. On my (then) 11th-grader Ruthie's trip last year, students had the option of hiking with the group of "hikers," or they could hike with the group of "dilettantes." But the distance covered by even the latter group was quite impressive to me, as was the students' sleeping outside in tents and sleeping bags (Ruthie, on the other hand, felt that the fact that the tents were located a short distance from the field school's perfectly usable dorm rooms represented cruel and unusual punishment). Twelfth graders (also known as "eighters" following the British form-system, which begins in the 5th grade) often have a tradition of going to Eilat for their tiyul shnati.
The tiyul shnati fosters a culture of hiking in Israel. On school vacations, it's quite common to see groups of teenagers camping out and hiking on their own throughout many of the country's trails and nature areas. My own teenagers are game for any hike in any weather for any length of time that is organized by one of their peers. Any suggestion by yours truly concerning a proposed family outing is met with the following words: "Dad, you know we don’t' hike."
Copyright 2008, Teddy Weinberger