Drone view of a city

Well, how was your Purim?

Uplifting? Joyful? Stressful? Spiritual?

My Purim was actually quite nice, in a very non-standard way. This year, I decided to dress up as the ‘Doctor of the Soul’. I had a blue medical hat stuck on my headscarf, plus a plastic stethoscope and a big sign that I pinned to my top that said ‘Doctor of the Soul’, to make it clear.

In shul, an older American lady leaned over to me and told me: ‘I like your outfit, it’s cute’.

Aha! I thought I’d managed to identify another Breslev anglo in my area! Things were looking up!

Then she ruined it by leaning back over and stage-whispering:

‘What is that, anyway? A psychiatrist?’

On to the megilla reading.

They banned loud stamping and exaggerated musical instruments and groggers at the mention of Haman, so it went pretty fast – except for the fact that the older Moroccan woman directly in front of me decided she was going to read the megilla loudly herself – and completely out of sync – with the official version. It was like some weird simultaneous translation, or something.

I came home, I made challah (!) for the first time in months, I tried to wake up at midnight to pray, and mumbled something for about two minutes before conking out again – which was good, because at 5am I was woken up by some loud puking noises.

Hmm. We hadn’t even got to the stage of drinking the alcohol yet, or crazily stuffing in all the junk from the mishloach manot, so what was going on?! Turned out one of my children had stomach flu.

I have one bathroom and guests coming for seuda, and most of the morning she was running in there about every half an hour to throw up.

Hmmm. I decided to leave that up to God to sort out before the guests came, because in the meantime I had to hear megilla and then deliver my mishloach manot.

I got to shul 10 minutes before the megilla reading was meant to start – to discover they’d managed to lose the key to the aron hakodesh. We were waiting around 25 minutes before someone remembered which bookcase they’d shoved it behind, and they could unlock the Torah scrolls and get on with reading the megilla.

I ran home for the next stage of Purim: deliver the baskets of goodies.

This year, I decided to give 4 mishloach manot: 2 for people who lived close who I really like; and 2 for people who lived close who I really don’t like – thus, keeping all opinions satisfied.

I also decided to do ‘worthwhile’ baskets, with good wine and nice pastries, instead of the usual chocolate bar and waffley things – and one of my ‘don’t really like you’ recipients was clearly shocked when I handed it over, in a good way.

They reappeared at my door a few minutes later with a reciprocal bag of goodies, and heaped blessings on my head, including that we should merit to buy our own apartment soon. I took that as a really good sign, as that was most of my Purim ‘ask’ this year, but clearly they didn’t know that.

The puking kid went to sleep the whole time the guests were here, so that got resolved. The seuda was very relaxed and pleasant. And I was ready for Shabbat two hours early, for a huge change.

That night, I walked down to the Kotel for Friday night prayers, and a woman dressed as a huge silver bird came over to me and wished me ‘shabbat shalom’.

Hmmm.

I got to the Wall, and there was a flock of swallows spinning and turning all over the place right next to the wall, which is a pretty unusual sight – I don’t remember seeing that before. So given the bird woman, and then the unusual flock of birds, I decided to look up the ‘song’ of the swallows in Perek Shira when I got home.

Here’s what it said:

The swallow is saying, ‘So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, God my Lord, I shall give thanks to You forever.’

I liked that very much.

There’s a Breslov idea that Purim in many ways marks the beginning of the year. Just before the Purim seuda last year, my husband finally made it out of the depressed state that had engulfed him for months after our business went bust and we ran out of money, and went back to work the week after Purim.

I don’t know what amazing turnarounds and miracles await me this week, Bezrat Hashem, but I know they’re coming.

Is it just me, or does the world feel pretty darned tense at the moment?

On the surface, not a lot is apparently going on (at least, according to the main news sites – and what do they know anyway?!)

But everyone I’m talking to right now seems to be having their own flavor of mega-stress going on. I felt like I got hit by some sort of tsunami last week, that had me off-balance and feeling half-panicked the whole time. This week, it’s already much better again, but that’s probably not least because I did a big 6 hour session of personal prayer again over the weekend, and that always works wonders (and is probably the single biggest reason why I’m not an inpatient at some loonie bin, somewhere.)

But I can see that the pressure is mounting, so I want to tell you about a few things that I think will help:

  • There is a huge prayer rally being called for Tuesday night, the Fast of Esther, in Mearat HaMachpela, in Hevron. They are literally bussing people in from all over the country for this event, which has come down the tube from Rav Berland.

(I know some people still feel a little uneasy when I mention Rav Berland, so this is the time to tell them that the chief of police who manufactured the charges against him recently went to Rav Arush, and publicly confessed what he did, because his life has been going from bad to worse as a result of the false claims he manufactured against Rav Berland, and he wanted to know how he could fix it.

Rav Arush told him that he has to come clean and tell everyone what he was involved with. The man is scared of reprisals from his superiors, but my guess is that the reprisals from his real ‘Superior’ will get so difficult, sooner or later even the Jerusalem Post will be reporting the story.)

Rav Berland predicted the current Intifada we’re going through many months before it began.

Part of why he’s wondering around the world in exile is because he took it upon himself to sweeten the very harsh judgments hanging over Am Israel. He, and many other of the real rabbis, have done so much to minimize them – but we still have our part to play, and that’s what the prayer rally is all about.

You can join one of the buses heading to Hevron Tuesday night HERE.

  • Still with Rav Berland, he recently made an announcement that the health and safety of anyone who is willing to pay a pidyon nefesh of 98 shekels a month for their family to Shuvu Banim doesn’t have to worry about getting caught up in any terrorist attacks.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the deal of the century to me. A few months’ back, I sent in a different pidyon to the Rav about a health issue that had been troubling me for literally years – and BH, from the day I sent the request in to him (never mind, actually pay the money) the situation has been improving all the time.

Rav Berland is a huge tzaddik, and the real deal, so if he says ‘I guarantee your safety if you pay this pidyon’, then you can believe him.

  • The last thing to share with you comes from Rav Shalom Arush, who on Shabbat mentioned that Purim is the most auspicious time to pray of the whole year. Rav Arush explained that usually, he just tells people to say ‘thank you’ and to not request things, as that can stir up some big spiritual judgments and make things even more difficult for them.

But on Purim, there are no judgments! So he told everyone to pray as much as they can, and to ask Hashem for whatever they need. Usually, midnight (chatzot) is the best time of all to do this, but whatever time you manage to squeeze some personal prayer in, Purim is the day to do it.

Things are turning around, somehow. But I still have no idea if the hurricane is ending, or just beginning.

A little while ago, I had the privilege of attending one of those ‘women’s entertainment things’ in Jerusalem.

I stopped doing that stuff when I was going through my fanatical frum stage, but the last few months they’ve come back on my radar, and broadly speaking, I usually quite enjoy them.

A friend of mine happened to treat me to this production, and when I showed up at the theatre I found I was seated next to a whole bunch of people who I used to know from the first place I lived in Israel – the place we had to sell up our massive house and leave, because both mine and my husband’s businesses went bust.

Whoah Bessy.

For years, I couldn’t even go back to that place for a visit, as it would inevitably spark off so many feelings of self-loathing and despair

– ie, I would start reliving my last few, incredibly difficult, months there. Now I know that’s a common thing that happens when you went through a very traumatic experience, but for years I was blaming the place itself, the people, everything, really.

But that’s not all: there were also a bunch of people there that I hadn’t seen for years from the second place we lived in, that we had to sell up our massive house and leave because I was having enormous panic attacks and living in fear that terrorists were going to break into my house and murder me, God forbid.

It got so bad, that I still can’t spend more than five minutes in that yishuv, and I’ve never really been back to visit anyone. Bad associations, again.

And then, there were a handful of people there from the last place we had to sell up our massive house and leave, because we ran out of money and were basically going bonkers there.

Whoah Bessy, again.

That’s quite a lot of traumatic situations, difficult memories and overwhelming emotional triggers to deal with in one night. But you know what? God helped me, and I mostly even enjoyed myself.

Until this morning.

I woke up this morning feeling the beginnings of that ‘down’ feeling that if you don’t acknowledge it ASAP and go and find out what’s sparking it off and what you need to do to counter it, can quickly spiral down into the blackest depression.

Luckily, I’ve worked out enough things to quickly recognize the following:

  • Someone or something at the event had made me feel worthless in some way
  • I just had to figure out what was going on, and take it back to God, to side-step the impending depression
  • These things always show up THE DAY AFTER

So after a bit of reflecting on who’d I’d spoken to and what they’d said, I came up with the following:

  • I was still feeling a little guilty about moving my kids around so much, albeit they’ve actually come through it all amazingly, and are far more resilient, confident and mature than most kids their age, as a result. They also find it much easier to just be ‘them’, and to make friends with people who are different, which is a huge gift.

Still, when someone commented that my kids were like ‘army brats’, that still stung enough to make me feel pretty down about my worth as a mother, the morning after.

  • I’m still struggling on some level to accept that us not being in any position to buy a house here – despite having lived here for more than a decade, despite trying to do what God wants – is for my good.

I see Mrs X – and I remember the 5 bedroom house with basement I had next to hers, that she’s still living in, and I’m not. I see Mrs Y – and I remember the garden of my house that I worked on for two years, down the road from the house that she is still living in. I see Mrs W, and I wonder why it is God has let these people stay in the same place for years, while I’m still pinging all over the place like some crazy jukebox game at the age of 42.

And then, that causes me some difficulties with God.

I start to feel like maybe, He doesn’t really care about me; that I’m invisible to Him; that He’s punishing me, for something.

These are not new thoughts. They are the thoughts that I’ve had to work so hard to counter the last few years, and I guess God was just showing me that on some level, there’s still work to do.

What snapped me out of all the impending misery and gloom that was gathering around me was two things (apparently, there’s going to be lots of numbered lists in this post):

  • Saying thank you, even though sometimes it’s a struggle to say thank you. I don’t KNOW why all this stuff is good, but I want to BELIEVE that it is, and that’s enough to turn things around internally.
  • Realising that I’m still suffering from some PTSD from all the traumatic experiences we’ve gone through the last 10 years, and that seeing these people are triggering off old stuff.

Sure, the ‘army brats’ comment was insensitive, but really I reacted so strongly this morning because I started to feel that I was back there again, in those places of complete despair and shame that I had to pass through on the way out my gashmius bubble.

Once I’m done typing, I’m going to do some EFT, or a TAT, or maybe even some EMDR, to start clearing up that residual ikky stuff, and start liking myself again. Because mostly, my life is so good. And I want to be able to remember that even when I’m spending time around a bunch of blasts from the past.

Today, I was meant to be driving up North, to see a friend there and have a day out.

On my way out of Jerusalem, I saw I was running low on gas so I stopped at the ‘Yellow’ just by the city entrance to fill up before heading out.

As luck (i.e. God) would have it, I got stuck behind an older woman who was having all sorts of trouble with her car. She couldn’t open the cap for the petrol; she couldn’t get her credit card to work; she couldn’t fit the nozzle into the petrol tank; she couldn’t get a receipt printed out.

By the end of the whole palaver, I was starting to get pretty antsy.

My fingers started drumming on the steering wheel. My leg started involuntarily tapping. Then, when she got back in her car and started faffing around with her lights, her hair, her seat – I don’t know what – I got impatient and beeped her. Not loud and aggressively, but just to remind her that five other people were waiting for her to drive off, already, so they could also get on with their day.

She ignored my beep.

She got out of her car, went to browse in the Yellow’s snacks section, and only then returned and finally put her key in the ignition. It took her another two minutes to figure out the gears and steering wheel, and as soon as I could, I overtook her on the way out of the petrol station, desperate to not get stuck behind her for another five minutes as she tried to figure out how to actually leave the petrol forecourt.

Less than a minute later, I nearly crashed.

I was in the fast lane behind a high truck who was driving fast, but not abnormally so. Suddenly, they skidded off into the slow lane without indicating – and I nearly ran straight into the back of a long line of parked cars, that I hadn’t seen coming because I was behind a high vehicle and it was behind a bend.

There was that horrible screech of tyres, and that heart-stopping moment where I waited to see if the brakes were going to work fast enough to avoid a horrible accident. Thank God, I skidded to a stop barely a foot away from the car in front of me.

It was a very near miss.

So near, that I realized when I started driving off again that at least one of my front tyres had exploded under the pressure of my forced braking at high speed. I pulled off the nearest exit, and parked by the Mevasseret Zion mall to take a look at the tyre. It was completely busted.

Hmm.

I had no idea how to change a tyre, and only around $20 in my wallet, which was enough to pay for a day out, but not enough to buy a new tyre.

Hmm.

Just then, I spotted a gang of four apparently secular teenage boys walking past, and I ran over to them and asked for help changing my flat.

Dear reader, they didn’t hesitate. Despite the fact that only one of them had ever done it before, and that it took a good 40 minutes for them to work out how to work the jack, how to get the bolts off the wheel, how to stick the other wheel on (all with the help of their trust i-Phones…) – they worked with such good grace and patience.

Not for the first time, I said a small prayer of thanks that I live where I live, with the people who live around me.

Where else would I have felt happy asking a gang of strange teenage boys for help? Where else would they have said ‘yes’, and so happily obliged me? Where else would they actually have figured it all out in a way that I was happy to drive my car after they were done?

Who is like your people, Hashem!

On the short drive back to Jerusalem, I pondered why it’d all happened. I mean, nothing happens for no reason, and clearly God was hiding some sort of big message in my near miss. It struck me just as I turned into my own street that I had a couple of people I needed to apologise to.

A couple of years’ ago, I got caught up in a completely skewed mindset that made it a mitzvah to point people’s ‘bad’ out to them, and I’d said a few things to a couple of people that I really shouldn’t have.  I realized God was prompting me to make amends, to change direction, and to return and fix things that needed fixing, instead of driving off to the next big adventure.

I heeded the message, and I wrote a couple of emails as soon as I got back.

Nothing happens for nothing in life.

If I nearly crashed, got a flat, and got helped in such an unlikely way, it was clearly designed to teach me something.

At least patience – to happily sit behind the faffing old granny, so that I didn’t get caught up in a near miss. And gratitude – that I didn’t have a bad accident; that those kids helped me to change my wheel so graciously. And humility – to know I’m not in charge of my life, and to remember that broken things need to be fixed, even if they weren’t broken on purpose.

One of my elderly relatives has reached that stage in their life and health that they have been moved to an old age home here in Israel.

As nearly all of their closest relatives live abroad, it’s falling to me to make the occasional visit to see how they’re doing.

My relative suffers from dementia; we don’t have a language in common; and I’m not close to them in any way. But a mitzvah is a mitzvah, so last week I collared my husband (to do the double mitzvah of keeping me company) and we went to visit.

The place itself was actually relatively cheerful: most of the nurses were Jewish, and we got there just in time for the parsha of the week, that was being given over by a super-jolly frum lady. Which was lucky, because the rest of the experience was actually quite wrenching.

Our relative sat stoically in a chair, and I pretended to talk to her in English, and she pretended to answer me in French.

So far so good. But then one of the elderly men seated next to us started cursing everyone around them for being heartless, because they wouldn’t bring him a doctor to treat his terrible stomachache.

Now, the nurses were not cruel or heartless. I watched them dealing with the other patients, many of whom are seriously ill and plugged into all sorts of strange things on the wall of the dining room, and they are also caring for my relative very nicely, thank God.

The man’s problem is that he still thought that doctors could solve or cure all of his problems, but clearly, they couldn’t. One nurse after another explained that they’d checked him, and that there was nothing wrong with his stomach, and no medicine that would help him. But the man wasn’t buying any of that, and he carried on cursing and shouting until despair overcame him, and he sank his head down on the table in front of him and started weeping.

At that point, my husband got that funny fixed smile on his face that usually tells me he’s not feeling too happy.

But I’d made a deal with myself that we were going to visit for an hour or so, and I had to stick to it, however uncomfortable.

I looked around the room at most of the lonely, sick old people who were having troubles breathing, and troubles eating, and troubles even just ‘being’, in the most basic sense of the word, and I sighed a big sigh as I started to ponder the prospect of it being me sitting there like that, in another 40 years.

Would I also be suffering so much as so many of the people around me? Would I also be sitting there, waiting for the misery to end in some way?

But then I decided: no, I wouldn’t. First of all, I already know that doctors can’t cure all that ails me, or medicate my pain away. Second of all, I talk to God every single day, and when you’re in the habit of doing that, the spectre of loneliness doesn’t scare you in anywhere near the same way. Lastly, I really hoped that in contrast to my relative, my own children would still live in the country, and that I would have a close relationship to them, and to my grandchildren.

We’d speak a common language. I’d know who they were. Hopefully, they’d want to come and visit, at least for a short while, and I would still be able to love them in some way, even if my body was old and broken.

At least, that’s what I hope and pray for.

We left, and in the car park my husband burst into muffled sobs. It took him a while to calm down (he’s not a big fan of hospitals or nursing homes) and it turned out he’d been very affected by what he’d seen, and the seeming futility of life.

Is that how it ends? Broken bodies and demented minds? Lonely, bitter, crazy people? Why come into the world, only to leave it like that?

We talked, and I reminded him of what carries me through these difficult situations and thoughts: this world is just a corridor, it’s not the main event. Often, people spend their whole lives trying to run away from God and their spiritual selves. When they’re old and sick, God has one last chance to bring them back to Him, to get them fixed, spiritually, and to teach them the true meaning of life.

It’s not about amassing money, wealth, success of status.

It’s not about doing what we want, or having things turn out the way we planned.

It’s about building a relationship with God, serving Him to the best of our ability, and regretting all the opportunities we missed to love others (and ourselves…) more, and to build the world in some way.

And even if you’re incapacitated, and hooked up to a million tubes, and you barely know your own name, there’s still a part of you that can connect to your Creator, acknowledge His Omnipresence, and yearn to love more.

And if you manage to do that by the end of your life, then regardless of how bad it looks on the outside, you still achieved everything.

Trying to see the good is sometimes so hard for me. So I decided to devote a good chunk of time to at least trying to switch into seeing more of the good in my life, and having more gratitude.

This is what I did as part of my most recent six hour ‘only say thank-you-athon’:

I first warmed up with a whole bunch of genuine thanks for many of the blessings in my life. I thanked God for my husband, my kids, my health, my home, my ability to type, my ability to think, my ability to write, hot water in the shower, food in the fridge, clean socks living right near to the Kotel etc etc.

I first did that for two hours, because I knew the next part was going to be much tougher: saying thank you for the things that have caused me a lot of pain and heartache over the last few years.

I decided to do a mind-map of all the hard stuff I wanted to say thank you for, so that I could go through each item one by one, thank for it, and then try to see what good had actually come out of it.

I’m not going to share the whole list with you (because let me tell you, I used the biggest bit of paper I had and I still had to write small), but I wanted to share some of the highlights, because it was an amazing exercise to do and I hope maybe it will inspire you to do your own version.

So on my massive bit of paper, some of the ‘lacks’ I wrote down were as follows:

  1. Professional success and accomplishments
  2. My own home
  3. Old friends and new friends
  4. Family support and financial help
  5. A bath
  6. A community

First, I said thanks for all these ‘lacks’.

Then, I started to break them up into all the different elements of ‘lack’ I felt they represented.

  • When I left my career, I went from earning loads of money to earning barely anything; I also lost a lot of social status, and I struggled for years to find a sense of purpose. (thanks, God!)
  • Ironically, I’ve moved so, so many times in my life, but I hate moving, and always have daydreams of settling down in my own cosy home. When we burned through all our house money, that meant we no longer had a deposit to be able to afford to buy a house again. So even though my husband is now back at work, it seems as though I’m going to be stuck renting forever. (thanks, God!)
  • It’s pretty lonely where I live. No-one ever pops in to say hello, and I have no friends within a 20 minute walk of my home. (thanks, God!)
  • Someone was telling me about someone they know whose parents helped them buy a flat outright in Jerusalem, so they can continue learning without having to worry about paying rent – and I got so jealous. (thanks, God!)
  • I have to get to my mikva 40 minutes ahead of shkia to make sure I get dibs on the only bath, and then I have to clean it like a crazy person because I have germ issues…(thanks, God!)
  • I don’t feel I ‘fit’ anywhere. I’m not part of any community. I don’t have that sense of belonging anywhere. No-one invites me for Shabbat, and I have very few people locally that I can invite, too. I have nowhere to daven. (thanks, God!)

Ready for the magic to begin?

After I’d spent some time sincerely saying thanks for these (and a few hundred other) things, God started to show my something amazing: why it was actually the best outcome it could be for me.

Here’s a taste of what I started to get:

  • Once I got out the secular rat-race, it freed me up to really start learning and living about life differently. As a result, I’ve already written 5 books, I have 3 blogs, and I’m on a mission to share what I’ve learnt with others. I’m SO much happier writing about emuna and God-based holistic health than I was writing speeches for ministers about why everyone needs a pension.
  • If we’d have bought that flat 2 years’ ago, we’d be so miserable right now. I’m not sure I’m in the right place, and until I know where I really will be happy, and who I really am (which is getting closer all the time…) it’s much better for me to have the freedom to rent. When I know where it’s really good to settle down, THEN God will give me the money for a house.
  • Do you know how much I get done on an average day? It’s mindboggling…and there’s no way I could write so much, so fast, if I had more people to talk to in the day. People actually go away for 6 month retreats to write, and here, God gave me that peace and quiet in my own home.
  • When you don’t have others to rely on, you have to turn to God for your needs. You have to trust Him much more. You have to really live your emuna that God’s looking after you. It is really, really nice to have parents support you if they can afford to do that, but if they can’t (or won’t), it’s because God wants you to deal direct.
  • You know, I am going to appreciate having a bath again SO MUCH when it happens. Also, it’s taken my OCD tendencies down a notch, because there’s only so much cleaning you can do before someone starts banging on the door and asking when you’re coming out.
  • I was a wannabe charedi person when I moved to Jerusalem. Now, I learned I’m not. If I’d found a community of lovely people back then, I’d be stuck trying to fit in when it wasn’t really the right mode for me. God saved me a lot of hassle by not making me have to choose between being true to myself and having friends. The community will come when I know what it is I really need and want.

How’s that for amazing?

Thanks God!

At the end of the process, I stopped carrying that grudge around with me that’s been weighing me down for years, already. I know I have to carry on working my gratitude, but it really was a huge weight off to know that God doesn’t secretly have it in for me; that Rav Arush was right about everything (including doing six hours, moving to Jerusalem, and saying thank you); and that life is coming good, even if the ‘good’ isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

“I said thanks, and I saw miracles!”

Last week, I read something that completely changed my take on how difficult my life seems to have been the last decade:

Don’t collect things, collect experiences.

By the ‘stuff’ measure, the last few years’ have been almost a complete bust. I have less net worth at 42 than I had at 23 – and that’s sometimes a pretty painful realization. (Hopefully at least one of my books will take off big-time in the next 20 years or so, so I can afford to retire at some point.)

Buying stuff has been very far down my ‘to do’ list for years now, partially because I just couldn’t afford much, and partially because the shine went off all the gashmius and I realized that keeping the clutter, gadgets and outfits to a minimum actually makes me feel much happier.

But that London part of me still occasionally registers its displeasure with the way things have turned out. I mean, I can’t afford my own house! I don’t have a bath! I don’t have a garden! I can’t entertain more than two (thin) people at a time in my compact flat! Etc etc etc

London Rivka tells me: ‘You know, I hate to share this, but I think we might officially be a loser…’

And until I read that line about collecting experiences instead of stuff, I didn’t really have much to argue about.

But now? Now it’s all different!

Because while my bank account has been pretty empty the last decade, my experience bank has been full to busting. I’ve been to Uman 8 times; I lived in so many different places in Israel (and elsewhere); I’ve met so many interesting people; I’ve lived 50 lifetimes in the past 10 years, and packed so much into every day.

Now, I go to the Kotel pretty much every Friday night – and it’s an amazing experience that money really would be no substitute for. I’ve seen my kids blossom and grow into the most amazing young people, with far more insight, maturity and wisdom than I ever had at their age. Me and my husband could write 50 books about the challenges we’ve had to weather in our 19 years of marriage, from multiple moves, to multiple bankruptcies, to health issues, family issues, infertility issues, crazy friend issues, crazy rabbi issues – you name it, we’ve had a dose of it.

And until last week, I’d filed all that stuff away in the ‘debit’ column, but no more!

Now I’m starting to see that every single experience I had gave me something priceless. I learned so much. I grew so much. I hope I improved so much and worked on a bunch of bad middot that otherwise I wouldn’t have got near in a million years, if I was still pulling things off on the ‘more stuff’ front.

As time goes on, I’m truly feeling like the stuff comes along as the cherry, once you’ve experienced whatever it is you’re meant to, and squeezed every last drop of knowledge out of it.

So if you’re currently struggling to have much to show for yourself materially-speaking (and even if you’re not…) I invite you to join me in changing the focus completely around, and looking at life as more a collection of experiences, than a collection of things.

It’s a small mental switch, but it’s put me in the best mood I’ve been in for ages.

Over the last decade, I’ve been to a ton of kevarim, or graves of holy people, all over the place.

I’ve visited the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hevron; the tomb of King David in the Old City, the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, up in Meron; the Ari and Rabbi Yosef Karo in Tsfat; the grave of Rachel Imenu, near Bethlehem – and all the Ukraine lot besides, including Rebbe Nachman, the Berditchever and the Baal Shem Tov.

But there’s one grave that’s stood out as a ‘must visit’ – and because it’s in the middle of a heavily populated Palestinian town with pronounced terrorist tendencies, getting to it has been pretty tricky, the last 10 years.

Yosef’s tomb is in Shechem, and you can only get to it if you go as part of a midnight convoy on armoured buses, with the whole trip coordinated with the Israeli army.

Long story short, until last Sunday, I’d never been able to organize everything to go. But a couple of days’ earlier, someone told me about a trip that was leaving on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and even sent me an email with all the details.

I called them up Sunday morning – still only half interested, if I’m honest, as I like my sleep and Shechem is a 2 hour shlep by bus from Jerusalem – and there was a place free. So I decided to go.

I get to the bus stop in Jerusalem, and the first person I see there is a former room-mate from Uman, who starts telling me the most amazing, miraculously-hair-raising true stories of sons who recovered from terminal illnesses after doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland; and people who dropped dead the day after they finished translating a particular Breslev book into English; and miraculous moving-apartments-with-no-money stories.

I took a breath of cold air, and I could smell Rabbenu all around me – it was that same heady mix of uncertainty, kedusha and surrealism that so often comes with me to Uman, when I’m going to visit Rebbe Nachman.

You start feeling like ‘anything can happen’, and it can be quite unnerving, if still exhilarating at times.

The bus showed up – and it was an old bullet-proof clunker with double windows so thick and scratched, you couldn’t see out of them at all. It was like being blind-folded and led off down an alley. I tried to fall asleep, and I mostly managed.

I woke up a few minutes before the convoy drove into Shechem (at least, that’s what I guessed, because I couldn’t see a thing through the window) and then the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and we got the order to move out. I stepped out of the bus, and into Arab Nablus at 2am.

It was a cold, clear night, and you could see Yosef’s tomb 50 metres ahead – surrounded by a whole bunch of army APVs and soldiers in all sorts of combat gear, many of whom were holding really big guns.

How cool! I thought. Then: How weird, to be visiting a kever at 2am with half a platoon of the IDF and a whole, very mixed, crowd of people from across Israel.

There were families with small kids, teens, chareidim, hill-top youth with huge payot, sem girls, Chassidic matrons from Monsey, yeshiva students from London, wives, grannies and everything in between, besides.

I tried to grab two minutes by the kever, before it turned into a tin of sardines, and then I spent the rest of my short time there standing outside the building, trying to take it all in. You could see dark Nablus towering up the slopes all around the tomb, and I thought this must look pretty impressive in the day time. (Maybe one day I’ll find out…)

I tried to do some personal prayer, but the truth is that between the trip, the tiredness and the surreal situation, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and speechless.

So I watched, and this is what I saw: secular soldiers and chareidi men laughingly posing for pictures together; hundreds of people playing musical instruments and loudly celebrating Rosh Chodesh; ‘hill top yoof’ digging up the ground near the tomb and putting up a big blue tent (I still have no idea what all that was about, but it looked distinctly naughty; two teenage girls sat on the floor wrapped in the same blanket, reciting tehillim.

And the last thing I saw, just before I left, was a couple of teenage boys lugging a six pack of coke bottles around with them. At least, that’s how it looked from a distance, until I noticed a whole bunch of tubes were sticking out of the coke box, and were attached to one of the boys. The boy looked really ill – he had that ethereal, angelic quality that a person can get when they’re physically very frail. His friend had ‘disguised’ his respirator, or whatever it was, in a coke box, so his friend wouldn’t feel embarrassed while visiting the tomb.

That sight brought tears to my ears, and I said to God: Who is like your people, Av haRachamam?

There’s me complaining about making this grueling trip in the middle of the night, but look at all the old people, and small kids, and sick teens that have showed up here today, just to celebrate with Yosef HaTzadik. Unbelievable.

A little while later, we were back on the bus, and heading back to Jerusalem. As kever trips go, it was pretty uneventful in some ways – I had no big flashes of inspiration, no massive insights, no answers to big questions. What I did have, though, was a renewed appreciation for my fellow Jews.

Who is like your people, Am Yisrael?

Will I go back? Maybe. Not soon. It took me a day to recover and I’m still a little ‘out of it’ now. But one thing I can tell you for sure: Yosef’s tomb reminded me a lot of Rebbe Nachman’s. It was the same energy, the same intensity, the same holy madness. So something tells me that sooner or later, I will be going back.

Before I threw all my secular CDs away, Queen was one of my favorite bands by a long chalk. The beats, the melodies, the guitar riffs, the clever lyrics. I loved Queen to bits. One of my all time favourite songs was ‘Under Pressure’.

Dum dum dum diddy dum dum. Dum dum dum diddy dum dum (oo-wa-oop).

Just now, my husband told me that since Chanuka, he’s been feeling like he’s been under non-stop pressure, without any let-up.

Thank God, we can pay our bills and nothing particularly ‘major’ is happening to explain this big build-up of tension and stress, but there’s no doubt about it: we’re under pressure.

And we aren’t the only ones.

As ‘the matzav’ in Israel continues to wind its way towards whatever Heavenly goal it’s being designed to achieve, I’ve noticed more and more short tempered outburst going on around me. People are honking more; they’re walking faster (or staying home…); they have less patience for people, they’re more out of it.

In short, they’re under pressure.

All of us are feeling the stress at every level of our being. That much is clear. What’s less obvious (at least to me) is what all this pressure is meant to be achieving. Because for sure, God is doing it for a good reason.

Is He trying to provoke a collective national melt-down, that will lead to a mass teshuva movement?

Is He trying to show us all that we simply can’t get by without Him any more, and He’s going to keep upping the ante until any semblance of arrogance and independence is crushed out of us?

Is He secretly working for Big Pharma, and has bought a bunch of shares in Prozac et al?

I don’t know – which is actually quite strange for me, as I like to think I at least have a small inkling of what God might be planning with all this stuff. But I don’t. Despite all my hours of praying, and all my efforts to talk to God, and all my attempts to read the runes and decode the hints He’s sending me, and everyone else, I feel that I’m currently sailing in unchartered waters.

To put it another way, I haven’t had a clue what’s been going on in my life, or around me, since Succot, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. I know the pressure is building – we can all feel it, and you’d have to be crazy to not recognize that ‘something’ is bubbling under the surface.

What the something is, or how it’s going to manifest in the world, is anyone’s guess. I hope its Moshiach. I hope its redemption. I hope it’s chanukat habayit (both personally and nationally).

But right now, all I really know is that I’m under pressure, and some days, it really feels like I just can’t take it anymore.

Today, half an hour before I meant to go out to do a bit of shopping, there was another flurry of sirens and gunshots nearby.

I don’t know if it’s a good sign (because you do actually have to carry on, and try to live while all this madness is going on around you), or it’s a bad sign (because maybe, it’s pointing to a level of spiritual exhaustion and apathy which is quite troubling) – but I’ve almost got blasé about all the craziness.

If all my family members are home, I don’t blink an eye now. If they aren’t, then it’s a little more concerning, but not the instant panic attack of a couple of months’ back. Thank God. So today, everyone was home and I wasn’t even going to check the ‘what’ of it all, except one of my kids has a kind of ‘need to know’ when she hears sirens going off.

I told her it was too early – that she should wait another 10 minutes, and then we’d probably get the first reports of what we’d just been hearing going on around us. 10 minutes later, Arutz 7 told us that a 15 year old girl had just been lightly stabbed (may she make a full recovery) up the road from us, about 10 seconds from where Rav Arush lives, and about 30 seconds from the Chut Shel Chesed yeshiva.

Like I said, I don’t know if I’ve just gone numb to it all or what, but curiosity satisfied, we put on our coats and headed into town.

Which is when I saw that Holy Bagel was gone, the latest economic ‘victim’ of the wave of terror.

Now this is the strange part: Holy Bagel closing down really upset me.

And it’s not like I was there every day, or even every week, or even every month. On the odd occasions when I wanted a bagel, that’s where I usually went, and over time, I half got to know the owners, but only in a very superficial way.

Before my own shop went spectacularly bust in the Old City last year, wiping us out financially, I never really appreciated the impact of a shop opening or closing. I never understood how much money people invested in these businesses, or how devastating it could be when one day they just disappeared.

As the perennial shopper, it was mildly interesting, a little annoying (if it was a shop I really liked) or mostly, completely not even on my radar. As the post-bankruptcy small business owner, Holy Bagel sinking hit me like a hammer blow. I really felt sorry for the owners, and found myself worrying about how they were going to make ends meet now.

I know it’s not going to hit the headlines any time soon, but businesses like Holy Bagel going bust is another, more hidden, pain caused by the latest Arab violence. Whenever I go into town now, I see more empty shops with ‘to rent’ signs stuck up on them, like ugly gaps in a row of healthy teeth.

It can’t carry on, I think to myself.

But at the same time, it is carrying on, and doesn’t seem to show any signs of letting up anytime soon.

It’s such a strange time, isn’t it? And I have no idea what’s going on, or what is going to be. A few months’ ago, you could smell Moshiach in the air. Now? You can’t. Or at least, I can’t. Where did he go? Is he coming back soon? Are we still heading for geula, or is all this Arab terror a diversion and a red herring?

I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that the Arabs aren’t just trying to kill people, they’re also trying to kill the Israeli economy. And if Jaffa St is anything to go by, the patient is approaching a critical state.