Buying milk in a bag in Israel – and remembering when I first realized the beauty of travel

“Mom, in Israel, people drink chocolate milk out of a bag!”

That one statement, excitedly yelled by my younger son as he got off the camp bus just a few weeks ago, triggered a memory I had long forgotten. And, instantly, I was mentally transported back to when I was a student participating in a community service program in Israel during my winter break from college.

Israeli chocolate milk in a bag.

Israeli chocolate milk in a bag.

I can still clearly picture it. Me, kneeling down on the ground, digging through a large plastic bin of milk in plastic bags.

I had been sent by the heads of the program to a small, local grocery store in a quiet, residential part of Jerusalem to purchase our group’s food provisions for the day.

For many of us in the program, it was our first time living as students in a foreign country, having to decipher Hebrew letters, often without a dictionary in hand, and shopping for milk in a small, local grocery store.

I think it’s safe to say that it was our first time seeing milk sold in a bag. Not in a plastic jug or a paper carton like in the US. But, in a plastic bag.

I remember that one moment in that one small, local grocery store in Jerusalem showed me that life isn’t the same everywhere. Different languages are spoken. Different customs are followed. And, different foods are eaten.

But, it was more than that.

As I lifted a bag of milk from the plastic tub, it became clear that I couldn't make assumptions for how things were done in another country based on how they were done in the US.

No. Not at all.

And, that’s when I learned that travel – to places near and far – helps bridge the knowledge gap. It can help show you that everyone does different things. Things that we can appreciate, understand and even adopt as part of our own lives.

It can be as little as buying or drinking milk out of a bag versus a jug or carton, enjoying an afternoon siesta, or eating snails with a small fork. And, it can be as big as driving on the other side of the road or covering your head while in public.

But, I’d be remiss to say that travel just points out the differences between people, cultures and countries. That’s not the case at all.

Travel also shows us that we’re still people, still working hard to make the most for our families, to celebrate the good things in life with our friends, and to find our way in our world – no matter we where we are or where our path takes us.

Campers roasting pita bread at my sons' summer camp.

Campers roasting pita bread at my sons' summer camp.

I think that’s why I was glad that my son excitedly yelled that people in Israel drink chocolate milk out of a bag. He’s never been to Israel. Yet, by learning about the country through weekly “Israel Experience” sessions at camp, he learned about new and different things about the country, making a place more than 6,000 miles away seem a little closer and a little more familiar.

Each week at camp, my sons learned about the deserts of Israel, toasted pita bread over an open fire, wrote letters to soldiers, made chocolate milk in a bag – and so much more.

It got them thinking differently about a country that I’ve visited and where some of our family and friends live.

And, it helped teach me something, too.

From my time in Israel as a college student, I knew that milk was sold in bags there. But, I didn’t know that Israelis drink milk out of bags, too.

After a bit of online research, I saw photos of chocolate milk in bags, learned the popular brands, and even found out that Israelis refer to it as Shoko B'Sakit. As confirmed by my sons, I saw that the proper way to drink it is by piercing a corner of the bag and then putting the bag to your mouth. And, I found out that Israeli children love to have Shoko B'Sakit and a bread roll - similar to how American children love to enjoy milk and chocolate chip cookies.

While I hope to be able to travel to Israel with my sons one day, I’m glad they had the opportunity to learn about another country and culture this summer - without leaving Chicago.

I’m sure that one day they’ll buy milk in a bag in Israel and fondly remember when they first mixed up a bag of their own chocolate milk one summer back at home.

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