The Friedman family from Ashdod managed to do the impossible, and flew to New York and back with 13 children. They embarked on this journey to the United States to reunite with their 14th child, who is studying there.
"We decided to fly to New York this year because, in the Hebrew calendar, it's the year of 'Hakhel,' the assembly year when during the time of the Holy Temple, all of Israel would ascend to Jerusalem on foot, reaffirming the covenant we made with God, and the messages conveyed were about unity, fear of God, and connection to Him. We decided that the best place for us and the children to receive these messages is in the courtyard of the Rebbe in New York," Rebbetzin Chani Friedman, Chabad emissary in Ashdod, in told Ynet.
In Brooklyn, they visited the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway – the place that was home to the study hall of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
"Our mindset was that the children are at the forefront, the focus. The trip was arranged according to their abilities; it wasn't a rushed journey from site to site," Chani Friedman emphasized. "Our thinking was that the children come first. We prepared T-shirts for all the children, even for baby Yehoshua, with all their names printed on them."
How many suitcases did you have? "To our amazement, we packed very lightly. We took into account that we were going to a modern country with laundry machines everywhere, so we packed very minimally and precisely. We allowed each person to pack about five sets of clothes for regular days and one set of clothes for Shabbat, and we did laundry so that we wouldn't need to drag around a lot of suitcases. We had eight large suitcases in total."
"We took a few more things and accessories, made a list, and went over what we needed. Besides, we said that we were flying to New York, and if we were missing something, we could always buy it, but in the end, we didn't need to. Our packing was really minimal, and that's my first recommendation to parents traveling with children: pack as few items as possible. Try to see what you can manage without, it's amazing how many things you can manage without."
Did you think about what would happen if you arrived at the airport, counted the passports, and discovered that one was missing? "It was important to make sure I had all the passports, to count that I have them all. I put a sticker with the name on each passport so that I wouldn't need to open it and see whose it is every time. Another thing we did, so that no one got lost, is to divide into pairs of younger and older kids. We did this especially when we traveled to more crowded places, both at the airport and on the New York subway, where you can get lost in seconds."
However, she clarified: "My daughters, who are here with me, will testify that in our house the big kids don't raise the younger ones. They help, they are partners, but they are not raising them. Raising the children is mine and my husband's responsibility, together. We are the ones raising all of them, my girls and the other children are not responsible for their food and laundry."
The super-mom had another tip for parents traveling abroad with children: "We brought a lot of food from home that our kids like, like specific cereals or certain spreads," Friedman said. "When you go to a new place, it's already quite challenging with the atmosphere, language and all the changes, so it's better not to start discussions over food as well. 'Here, you have the cereal you like, here's the spread you like.' This is not the time to start culinary experiences on the little children."
Another piece of advice is, of course, planning. "We made a list of destinations we wanted to reach and ranked them – what's most important to us and what would be nice to visit if we can. So of course, what was most important was the Rebbe's 'Ohel' (the place of his burial), the Rebbe's house and his synagogue, the Rebbe's room, and the entire neighborhood there – but along the way we also visited the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero in Manhattan, and other destinations. We did it slowly, giving the kids time to take it in, it wasn't a race. It was at their pace, at their leisure. We used a lot of lists, we have lists we made in the 'Keep' app and shared with everyone who needed them. There were lists for errands, shopping, what to pack, etc. And you know what? We had a great time, and we would do it again with great pleasure."
Mother Friedman concluded with an anecdote: "On the return flight, I told the American Airlines flight attendant that he can document that he flew with a family of 13 children. He said to me, 'I've already flown with larger families.' I said, 'What, you had bigger families on the plane?' So he replied, 'What, are all 13 of you sitting here?' I said, 'Yes, we're all wearing identical shirts.' After everything, he stood at the exit of the plane, and I noticed him counting."