It is the ultimate escape. A place where adults find the child within and children discover themselves.
It was hard to tell who was more excited on the morning of The Trip. My granddaughter, Miriam, six (and three-quarters, she reminds me), has for many years created little fantasy worlds of her own. So, the prospect of visiting the supreme Dreamland was beyond description.
And her little brother, Yehuda, three, had no idea what was in store in the province of Mickey and Minnie and Donald, but his intuitive juices told him something very special was awaiting him.
Even Baby Naomi looked more energized than usual.
My eldest son Naftali, father of the (adorable) trio, was busy packing the nosh and cameras and the Google map and his anticipation was palpable, as well.
Nothing in the world was going to rain on her Disney parade. Or so she thought.
But my vote for most excited went to my daughter-in-law, Layala. Even though I wasn't joining them, I reveled in imagining Layala immersing herself, from morning to night, in the make believe universe of ultimate charm and creativity. The Florida sun shone brightly that Monday morning and nothing in the world was going to rain on her Disney parade. Or so she thought.
The family of five floated through the magical turnstiles and began their adventure through time, space and imagination. The laughter, the wonder, and the marvel permeated every moment of that most extraordinary day.
But even at Disney, the sun does set, and twilight now descended on the tens of thousands of euphoric yet very weary visitors.
At this point, I will let Naftali describe, in his own words, the events that followed:
It was after 7 PM and the kids were as exhausted as they were elated. It had been quite a day…truly magical and unforgettable. We were headed for the exits, but most of our fellow guests were busily taking their places for the celebrated nightly fireworks extravaganza.
"Should we stay?" asked Layala, more suggesting than really asking.
The kids were beyond tired, and we had already made our obligatory final restroom and souvenir stops, but parting just seemed so difficult. As it turned out, it wasn't much of a discussion. I took one tiny step back inside the park and Layala and Miriam were already ahead of me, their eyes sparkling in anticipation. So, with one hand on Naomi's stroller I reached down with the other to clutch Yehuda and…and…and…he was GONE!
I looked left and right and left and right and ahead and behind and…and…he was really gone. Not just lagging behind or spaced out, Yehuda was truly NOWHERE to be found.
"DO YOU HAVE YEHUDA?" I screamed to Layala.
"NO!" was her reply. "DON'T YOU?!?"
I didn't have him. And the very first fear that hit me was that someone else did.
"YEHUDA," I screamed! "YEHUDAAAAAAAAH!"
I scanned the sea of faces that surrounded us and suddenly understood so clearly that the next 30 seconds or so might be the most important half minute of my life. My mind was instantly flooded with a deluge of thoughts of foreboding dread and chilling horror.
Not too far in the distance, my eyes caught sight of a large frightening sign, "EXIT HERE." Some deranged menace had surely snatched my innocent, helpless, precious bundle and had whisked him off to the tram, the parking lot, and… My mind wouldn't let me go further.
I charged to the exit and, like a crazed nutcase, asked everyone I passed, "Did you see an adorable little three-year-old boy," as if there weren't 20,000 adorable little three-year-olds in Disney. Even the over-friendly, uniformed, Disney service aide, who was guiding people out of the park, just gave me a puzzled shrug and a swift, "Not really."
I hustled back to Layala who provided the calm balance that was desperately needed at that moment. She was saying things like, "Let's not panic," and, "We should retrace our steps," but my mind was racing in every other direction.
"I've lost my child."
"It's my fault. I was supposed to be watching him."
"I'll never see Yehuda again."
I tried to compose myself, but I was immersed in a parent's worst nightmare. Layala and I tried to map out some type of strategic plan, but we knew that the seconds were ticking away. It may be a "small world after all," but it sure is an enormous amusement park, and he could be anywhere.
I decided to return to the nearby restroom which we had just visited, hoping that maybe Yehuda might have somehow lingered there.
"Yehuda," I called out, as I darted past every single, but empty stall.
Five or six minutes had gone by and night was descending. Our window of hope was closing fast. Finding him in the dark would be nearly impossible. The thought of the fright that our separated little boy must now be feeling was too much to bear.
And then, as if dropped out of the deep blue sky, he appeared. He was sauntering -- a bit bewildered, not really scared -- and trying to find his little way.
"YEHUDA!!" I shrieked.
I whisked my treasure into my arms and squeezed the daylights out of him. I felt all of my blood draining into an oasis of unparalleled relief.
I'm not even sure where he was. He said he was in the bathroom, but I had not seen him there. Who really cares? He was back and the entire ordeal and excruciating pain, though just six or seven minutes long, was now over.
Is there a pain on this world that is comparable to separation? I think not. Anyone who has ever experienced the agony that accompanies the detachment from a loved one knows that is not a place he ever wants to visit again.
Every day, God looks down upon his park and watches how more and more of his offspring become separated from him. Not one or two – but millions.
The Jewish people have a very special designation. We are called God's children. And He has created an extraordinary Magic Kingdom for us to amuse ourselves with for 70, 80 years or more. It is called the planet Earth. Admission is basically free, but it can get very crowded and each ride can be quite costly.
In the last century or so, the problem of "lost children" has reached epidemic proportion. Every day, God looks down upon his park and watches how more and more of his offspring become separated from him. Not one or two – but millions. He seeks them out, He waits at the exits, but they are nowhere to be found. They get distracted by temptation or success or power or nonsense. Soon they choose to sever their relationship with Him.
And somewhere up there God is crying.
"YEHUDA!! RACHEL!! MARK!! BRITNEY!!
But there is no response; just more assimilation, more apathy, more agony.
Two thousand years ago, when His children estranged themselves, God responded. He declared his discontent by destroying the Temple -- twice -- which was built for His honor. And it is during this three-week period that we are now in, when the ravages took place, that we pause and reflect and mourn those sorrowful tragedies.
Losing one child for even a few minutes is a terrifying ordeal; losing millions of children for our Father in Heaven is an indescribable catastrophe. And we are witnessing that saddening disaster every day.
We cannot wait for those who are lost to suddenly appear. If nothing else we need to use this pensive time to at least imagine God's pain, and to contemplate a strategy to bring His children home.
My kids were lucky. On that wondrous day, in a Magical Kingdom, they found their little boy.
Will God find His?