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Hanukkah: Giving the Gift of Light (and Travel)

Why documentary filmmaker Alexandra Moss believes traveling with her children is the best present she can give them.

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Hi, I'm Alexandra!

Alexandra Moss (she/her) is an Emmy-nominated documentary producer. She’s currently writing a memoir about her father, his family, and breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma. Some of her favorite travels have been to China, Denmark, Japan, Peru, and Spain. Find her @alimoss_writes or @alimoss or check out her newsletter, Like A Moss.

Each year on one of the eight nights of Hanukkah, my family gathers for homemade latkes and applesauce. We play dreidel with Hershey’s kisses instead of gelt. We light menorahs: the branching brass one I got for my bat mitzvah and the weighty bronze souvenir I brought back 20 years ago from the medina in Fez, Morocco, where I spotted it hiding behind the lanterns and teapots.

But Hanukkah falls right before our school’s winter break this year, which has created a conflict. While we cherish the traditions my family has passed down from generation to generation, there is something we value even more: traveling with our children. So, on the first night of Hanukkah, my husband and I will be crossing the Atlantic with our six- and nine-year-old on our way to Morocco.

I’m a committed traveler, having lived, studied, and worked all over the globe. As a college student and then as an underpaid young filmmaker, travel was a priority: rent, food, subway fare … and saving up for my next adventure. My husband and I fell in love on our journeys together and before we became parents, travel had crystallized into one of our core family values.

When we started bringing our kids along, it was hard not to view our choices through others’ eyes, not to think twice when friends looked at us like we were out of our minds for the trips we took with little ones in tow. They saw travel as a gift my husband and I gave to ourselves. The kids as excess baggage. And yet, we’ve found ourselves in far-flung places again and again. We’ve been privileged to take the kinds of trips I couldn’t even dream of when I was young.

A little girl goes for an explore.
Traveling is a core family value for Alexandra and her husband.Bildquelle: ITimBo / Shutterstock

When our oldest was one, we flew to Emilia-Romagna. We figured it wouldn’t be that much harder to roam the streets of Parma and Bologna with a stroller than as a couple. We were pretty much right. Other than the cobblestones, a fruitless search for infant cough syrup, and the need to stop every hour or so for warm milk since the baby wouldn’t drink it cold. She preferred her bottles at perfect cappuccino temperature.

The baby napped through multi-course meals. Slept in hotel room closets while we feasted in bed on culatello, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Lambrusco. Stuck her chubby fingers into our charcuterie and agnolotti and lasagna Bolognese. She doesn’t remember this trip, but I’m certain it shaped her budding tastes. The kid still craves cured meats and long-simmered sauces.

A baby in Italy.
Alexandra's oldest (not pictured) developed quite a taste for Italy.Bildquelle: Natalia Deriabina / Shutterstock

Two years later, we ventured to Madrid and San Sebastián with our toddler and not-quite-one-year-old. Exploring the playgrounds, amusement parks, funiculars, and beaches with them gave us a sense of what it’s like to raise little ones in Spain, where even the children don’t eat dinner until 8 or 9pm and everyone takes a nap in the middle of the day. It made for a nice change to sync up the schedules of our whole family, rather than being bound by early bedtimes. The break from routine didn’t come without its share of killer tantrums and daily ice-cream bribes. But it was worth it, and we brought some of the more relaxed Spanish approach to parenting back to New York with us.

Then came the pandemic, which kept us closer to home for three years. Hanukkah is the story of survival through difficult times, and these had been difficult times indeed. How better to celebrate than by venturing back into the world? Our kids are three years older now, capable of so much more.

A kid enjoys the beach.
Alexandra's oldest daughter (pictured) enjoying the beach in San Sebastián back in 2017.Bildquelle: Alexandra Moss

Travel nerds that we are, we pulled up our old planning spreadsheet and mapped out a road trip through Morocco, a mix of bustling cities like Marrakech and more secluded spots where we can explore the country’s history and natural wonders. We’ll stay at a riad built into the walls of the 17th-century kasbah at Aït Ben Haddou, a filming location for Game of Thrones. We’ll hike through the Todra Gorge, touted as “the Grand Canyon of Morocco,” carved into the High Atlas Mountains.

Our 9-year-old will try bastilla and couscous and tagine. Our 6-year-old will likely subsist on msemen (pancakes) and fresh-squeezed orange juice. (Though I’ll admit we’re holding out hope that this will be the inflection point that transforms her from discerning diner into adventurous eater.) Or maybe not. That’s the thing about traveling with kids. Much more so than on an adults-only adventure, you never know what’s going to happen. The whole thing could blow up in a dozen different ways. But we’re committed to it anyway.

Inside a gorge at dawn.
Alexandra and family will hike through the Todra Gorge.Bildquelle: Mitzo / Shutterstock

Through the lens of our values, even these risks turn into opportunities. To detour to places we wouldn’t otherwise have visited. To teach our kids resilience and flexibility as we try to keep our own cool. How well our children remember the details of these journeys, how much they can someday put into words the ways in which they’ve been forged by them—that’s not the point.

People—and especially kids—don’t need to look back on their experiences to be changed by them. Immersion in new places, cultures, languages, and foods shapes our brains and perspectives as we go. We want our children to grow into citizens of the world. To be open to new ideas and different ways of living. To see all people as fellow human beings. To make the most of the time, privilege, and ability they have to seize the day.

A kid travels through the airport.
Travel is the gift Alexandra gives to her children for Hanukkah.Bildquelle: Tomsickova Tatyana / Shutterstock

It's not the gift of memories we’ll be giving our children this Hanukkah—at least not only that. It’s the gift of exposure to a world wider than our New York suburb. To a culture beyond our own secular experience of Judaism.

And maybe, just maybe, while poking around in a medina, one of my kids will happen upon an old menorah, like the one I found in Fez. Either way, though, they will gain a new perspective on the world. That enlightenment is why we travel with our children in the first place. It’s the gift of light itself.

Explore Morocco, like Alexandra and family

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