What does it really mean to be Jewish?

When I first met my husband, he wasn’t an observant Jew. He was raised ‘traditional’, and the synagogue his family didn’t go to was always orthodox. He came back home for Rosh Hashana, and ate matzah on Pesach, and fasted for Yom Kippur – but he didn’t really know why he was doing any of that Jewish stuff.

My husband had been sent to Jewish day schools all his life, before he got to university. All his friends were Jewish throughout high school, and that predominantly continued into university, too.

But my husband, and his Jewish friends, really had no idea why living as a Jew, or marrying a Jew, or having Jewish kids was important. All the parents definitely wanted their children to marry a Jew – but really, that was as far as it went. And that desire was based on something deeply felt, rather than deeply thought or understood, so it was impossible for them to really explain to their children why be a Jew.

And in the meantime, being a Jew just seemed to consist of a long list of mitzvoth and commandments that were designed to make life inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Being a Jew meant you couldn’t just eat what you wanted, and where you wanted to. It meant you had all the hassle of not working past sundown on a Friday.

It meant a whole day where you couldn’t just watch TV, turn lights on and off and go shopping. It meant an obligation to go to shul three times a day, where you’d have to mumble words you didn’t really understand or relate to.

It meant you couldn’t date who you wanted, or marry who you wanted.

In short, one big list of burdensome requirements that didn’t seem to be doing anything useful or concrete in the world.

====

I happened to meet my future husband in a pub in London, three days before I was due to fly back out to Canada to finish my last year of university.

In contrast to him, I’d never been to a Jewish school, and I’d spent most of my life being bullied and ostracized for being different.

My parents sent me to the local Church of England primary school, in part because the education was meant to be better there. That place seemed stuffed full of bosom-y matrons who seemed to be obsessed with witches’ covens and forcing Yoshki down your throat.

I was bullied from day one, as was the Indian girl in my class who also didn’t fit in with the working class white goyim who made up the rest of the class. But it’s only when I was around 9 years old that people started telling me that I’d “killed their Khrist”.

The bullying continued, one way and another, throughout high school – all three of them, because we moved to Canada when I was 14, and I kept moving around. It was only when my parents returned to observant Judaism, when I was 16, that I actually started to meet any Jews at shul.

And a lot of them were pretty nice, and pretty friendly.

My own experiences had taught me some very valuable lessons about the real differences between Jews and non-Jews.

And so even though initially I chafed at not being able to eat in McDonalds anymore, and not being able to do things on Friday nights, I still bought into kosher and Shabbat, because I could see it was part of the package. That’s not to say I had a clear answer as to why be a Jew at that stage, other than to say if God made you a Jew, then that is what you were meant to be.

So, I went through university as a ‘modern orthodox’ Jew who really believed in God but still wore jeans and watched movies and ate a lot of vegetarian out, and then one fateful day, I met my husband-to-be in that pub.

We hit it off immediately, and by the second date I knew we were going to end up getting married (which clearly made him think I was a grade ‘A’ psycho, but that’s a tale for another time.)

After a year of me being in Canada and him being in London, I moved back to the UK with an eye to getting engaged and married.

And that’s when me and my husband-to-be started to have some massive arguments about what it meant to live life as a Jew.

He’d gone through a nominally orthodox Jewish schooling system, and had come out of that thinking that Judaism was just a set of archaic laws that bore no relation to modern life. The only reason Jews didn’t eat pork is because of trichinosis! The Torah had all been made up by a bunch of controlling rabbis, and God had nothing to do with it! The temples had never existed, it was all a bunch of fairy stories! (God forbid).

All of his friends and relatives also held the same views, so I found myself fighting a battle on so many fronts. And to be honest, I didn’t really have the right ammunition at that stage, or enough knowledge, or any real emuna, so the argument basically came down to the importance of having Jewish children, and raising them in a healthier atmosphere where they would feel as though they belonged, instead of being bullied all the time.

One time during an argument, I asked him: “Do you really want our kids to be doing drugs in some club on a Friday night, instead of eating a meal with us?!” After we got married, my husband told me that had been the clincher, at that stage, for why we should keep kosher, and why we should keep Shabbat, and why we should try to be consistent in our observance.

But I can see now that really, it’s not such a strong argument.

Especially not today, when there are so many kids raised in observant homes who are also going off the path.

====

All of us know of kids raised in apparently very frum homes who have left the path completely, including the recent, extreme, example of the four girls from Chassidic homes in the US who very publically converted to xtianity.

So the question of why be a Jew is even more pertinent today, and part of the reason why providing a truly satisfying answer is often so difficult is because so many of us are still trying to argue from a place of being a body, instead of being a soul.

====

WHAT DOES A BODY LIKE?

What does a body like? A body likes comfort. It likes to eat good food, it likes to have its desires met, its lusts gratified. It likes to feel like it’s a ‘somebody’, like it’s a success, and to display its external achievements and superiority over other people via all sorts of status symbols like clothing, a big house, a nice car, and fancy holidays.

If we’re arguing about why be a Jew from the place of just being a body, we are going to lose the debate every single time.

And from what I can see, this is most of the reason why so many people are leaving their yiddishkeit behind, and why even people who are raised in orthodox environments just view the Torah’s commandments as something burdensome that’s causing them to miss out on all the ‘fun’ and ‘good stuff’ the world has to offer.

Recently, someone told me about one of his good friends, who’d been sent to an orthodox Jewish school until he was 18, married a Jewish girl after university, and who considered himself to be ‘orthodox’. Three years ago, this guy decided that he was missing out on all the delicious-looking traif meat being served in all the fancy restaurants he was going to as part of his highly-paid profession.

He was sick of ordering the fish option, and started to eat expensive traif. The body won the argument hands-down.

====

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SOUL-DIMENSION

But of course, there’s a whole other dimension to why be a Jew, and that is the spiritual, or soul dimension. And here is where the debate really needs to be taking place. After three years of eating fancy traif, the man in the previous story became severely depressed – despite his externally ‘perfect’ lifestyle – and he’s now on anti-depressants.

If you’d ask him, he’d say there is absolutely no connection between his current emotional difficulties and his decision to stop keeping kosher. Even though he went through an orthodox Jewish school for 12 years, and comes from an orthodox Jewish family, he was never taught the bigger picture of why be a Jew.

Apparently, no-one ever explained to him that if he wanted to really feel good about himself, if he wanted to feel as though his life was truly meaningful, if he wanted to feel happy, and satisfied, and filled-up – that he’d have to do the job God gave him to do in this world.

And what is that job?

In a nutshell, to fix the wider world by rectifying our own bad middot, our own negative character traits.

How does this work, in practice?

Rav Ofer Erez has done a fantastic job of explaining this very deep idea in THIS PIECE, but the basic idea is that there are 288 holy sparks that got lost in our lowly world when it was first created.

The whole point of life is to ‘find’ these sparks of holiness, that have been hidden in our reality, and to re-attach them back to God. When all these sparks have been returned to their rightful place, the world will be totally rectified, and we’ll have the complete geula, or redemption.

How do we do this?

We do it by living a Jewish life, and following the Torah’s commandments, and believing in God, and connecting every single thing we experience back to Him.

Why do we say brachot? Because we are connecting our food, our ability to use the bathroom, even the fact we wake up in the morning, etc, straight back to the Creator of the world. At that deeper soul level, every action we take is either fixing the world, spiritually, or pushing the holy sparks further down into the muck and obscurity.

And finding and rectifying these sparks of holiness is what gives us our true feelings of satisfaction and joy in life. That’s what makes us feel truly happy and alive.

And who doesn’t want to feel happy and alive, in 2018?

====

This is the real argument for why be a Jew.

But there’s another thing we should discuss too, and that’s how all this self-sacrifice to keep God’s commandments actually helps us to develop the tools we need to refine our characters – which is where the deeper work of being a Jew is really at.

Let’s go back to how people really work, physiologically and spiritually.

Physiologically, our brain is split into three main sections, as described in this infographic:

  • The primitive, or ‘snake’ brain
  • The emotional and experiential, or ‘animal’ brain
  • The higher, spiritual, or ‘human’ brain
You can learn a whole bunch more about snake brain tendencies over on spiritualselfhelp.org

The snake brain develops first, and it’s almost exclusively devoted to self-preservation, or ‘me first’.

The snake brain also regulates the body’s stress response, which manifests as our tendency to fight-flight-freeze-fawn our way through life (which is the main root of most of our bad middot).

And it’s also the seat of the body’s desire for comfort, food, and other physical lusts and pleasures (the other main root of our bad middot).

Spiritually speaking, the snake brain equates to the nefesh part of the soul, the spiritual force that’s animating the body and keeping it alive – but that’s about it.

Physiologically, when the stress response has kicked in, or the urge to eat, or to sleep, or to procreate has taken over, a person’s mind is being totally controlled by this primitive, selfish ‘snake brain’. The blood literally rushes away from the frontal lobes, the place where the functions of the ‘human’ brain reside, to feed the snake brain’s stress response. And when that desire, that fear, that anger, that lust kicks in, it’s almost impossible to stop it.

The whole process of becoming a refined human being, and a rectified Jew, depends upon breaking the snake brain’s hold over our body and mind.

So, how do we do that?

We do it by practicing mesirut nefesh, which is usually translated as ‘self-sacrifice’. More accurately, it’s talking about sacrificing the nefesh – that part of our body, that part of our brain that is so caught up in ‘me first’, lusts and bad middot.

Each time that a person exercises their free choice to:

  • NOT give into a desire to eat something, because it’s not kosher; and to
  • NOT gratify their wish to turn on a light, or check their phone, or drive out to the beach just because it’s Shabbat; and to
  • NOT procreate outside the sanctify of marriage;
  • They are breaking the hold of the snake brain, and training themselves to overcome the snake brain’s primitive, knee-jerk reactions.

At the same time, every time a person makes the effort to:

  • Pray
  • Talk to God
  • Pay some charity
  • Learn some Torah
  • Practice having empathy, which means seeing things from another person’s point of view, even if you happen to disagree 100%
  • They are strengthening the altruistic, empathetic, spiritual ‘human’ part of the brain.

Just like the muscles in the body, the more these spiritual muscles are flexed, the stronger they will become, and the more ability a person will have to practice true SELF-CONTROL.

====

HOW IS ALL THIS CONNECTED TO FIXING THE WORLD AND LIVING A HAPPY LIFE?

So now, let’s try to tie all this together, so we can see just how awesome God actually is, and how we actually get so many concrete benefits from following the Torah’s commandment in this world, on top of whatever spiritual rewards we’ll actually get in the world to come.

When people are constantly in the grip of their snake brain, this is what can happen:

  • The snake brain wants instant gratification, and that leads to addictive behavior. On the milder end of the scale, it’ll translate into a craving for coffee, or cake, but addiction to cigarettes, alcoholism, intimacy and drug use (including prescription drugs) are also rooted in the snake brain.
  • The snake brain is devoted to the idea of ‘me first’, or self-preservation. This is the root of all the anti-social behavior, the selfish tendencies, and the phenomenon of justifying violent, hurtful and unethical actions.
  • The snake brain cuts a person off from their ‘higher self’, so they literally start acting and reacting like an cunning animal, instead of a caring human being. That means that life is approached 100% from the superficial, external ‘body’ aspect, which tends to be extremely abrasive, angry, grasping, fearful, fake, selfish and generally ‘ucky’.

Again, there’s a very wide spectrum of behavior going on here, and most people will never be able to totally overcome the snake brain 24/7. But the more the snake brain is being brought under control, the less mental and emotional illness a person will experience, the less they’ll be in the grip of their ‘knee jerk’ reactions, and the nicer and more refined they’ll be.

To put this in Torah parlance, getting control of the snake brain is the ‘flee from evil’ part of the equation, while strengthening the human brain is the ‘do good’ is the second part of the process.

When we avoid transgressing the Torah’s negative commandments, we are effectively breaking the snake brain’s grip on us.

When we actively do the Torah’s positive commandments, we are strengthening the human brain’s ability to govern our thought processes, and to act and think more altruistically and spiritually.

And the place where this process of clarification takes place is the emotional brain, or what Rav Ofer Erez calls the world of feelings. (Take a look at his article, for more background on this idea.)

====

HOW KEEPING THE TORAH HELPS US OVERCOME ‘SNAKE BRAIN’

Many Jews are ‘cherry picking’ which bits of the Torah’s more ‘external’ commandments they like and want to do, and which bits they don’t. A person who only eats kosher meat but who still eats non-kosher vegetarian is still practicing some degree of self-control, and mesirut nefesh, but it’s at a much lower level than a person who is strict about their kashrut.

A person who stays home Friday night but who still turns the lights on and off, or watches TV, is still practicing some degree of mesirut nefesh, but again, it’s at a much lower level than someone who is keeping the finer points of Shabbat. Ditto, when a couple strictly keep the laws of family purity, which means intimacy is off-limits for specific times of the month.

When we only do what’s comfortable for us, we simply don’t make the same progress in breaking the snake brain’s control over us, and limiting its influence.

This means we will lack the self-control required to not eat the cheeseburger, or to not date the nice, attractive non-Jew, or to turn down a lucrative job that will have us working on Shabbat.

At the same time, there is usually almost no emphasis on things like actually believing in God, talking to Him, learning a lot of Torah, giving 10% of our income to charity, and other basic ideas that you can sum up in the phrase ‘having emuna’.

Essentially, ‘having emuna’ means that you connect every single little thing in your life back to God, and you see the world in more abstract, altruistic and spiritual terms, which again strengthens the ‘human’ brain and weakens the control of the snake brain.

In the past, Jews with this sort of belief system still stayed Jewish, they still married Jewish, either because they really had no choice; OR because they were scared of losing their families and friends by marrying out.

FEAR is one of the primary things that motivates the snake brain, so the doctrine of ‘self-preservation’ was actually served by marrying Jewish. Today, this fear no longer applies to the more traditional, but less-observant, Jewish communities, which is a big part of the reason so many people are now marrying out.

====

So, what’s happening in the Torah observant communities?

If a person is used to keeping Shabbat, and used to keeping kosher, and used to putting on their tzitzit every day, their physiological comfort zone is actually built on continuing to do those things. Strange as it may sound, it’s easier for the person to keep strictly kosher, because the thought of eating traif is actually nauseating and profoundly disturbing.

But that doesn’t mean that the snake brain has disappeared. It just means that its area of operations has shifted. The lust won’t be for cheeseburgers, but it will be for more socially ‘acceptable’ things like alcohol and cigarettes.

And where the battle will really take place will be in the area of a person’s bad middot and negative character traits. Anger comes from the snake brain. Fear and anxiety comes from the snake brain. Despair and despondency and laziness all come from the snake brain.

‘Me first’ is still operating in the frum community, just it manifests in a different way.

A person can keep Shabbat and kosher, and think they’ve 100% fixed their ‘snake brain’ tendencies. But if they still have times when they are angry, controlling, arrogant, selfish, cruel, alcoholic, overeating – etc etc etc – that means there is still some work to do, and still a lot of mesirut nefesh required.

So, how do we fix the problem, tachlis?

First and foremost, it comes back to having emuna, and connecting every single thing back to God. But this is also where Rebbe Nachman’s advice of doing an hour a day of hitbodedut, or talking to God in our own words really comes into its own.

When you spend 60 minutes a day talking to God, and really trying to work out what the message is God is sending you in all the things you’re experiencing, and where you need to improve, you are effectively letting your ‘human brain’ run the show for that time. And when you do this, that enables the ‘human brain’ to start over-riding all the excuses, justifications, self-righteousness, hypocrisy and arrogance that the snake brain manufactures to try to cover its tracks.

In real time, the snake brain will tell you that you are yelling at your kid because it’s good chinuch to do that, and they need to be dealt with strictly. Meanwhile, in hitbodedut, your human brain will start whispering at you that you probably over-reacted, and that you need to make some effort to fix the relationship with your kid and to figure out where your anger is actually coming from.

Throughout that 60 minutes, you will sift through the two sides – the ‘human brain’ opinion, and the ‘snake brain’ opinion – to get more clarity about what really happened, and what you really should be doing about it now.

This ‘sifting’ process will occur in the realm of our emotions and feelings, the place where the ‘outside’ interfaces with our internal dimension.

(I’m stuck oversimplifying to make the point. Hitbodedut doesn’t always work in such an obvious or linear way, especially not at the beginning. But if you stick at it and continue to talk to God regularly, you’ll get more and more clarity about what’s really going on, and why you really feel the way you do and react the way you do. Again, this is a long process! It takes 120 years for a reason.)

====

The crucial element of all this is having a real relationship with God, and a real connection with God.

If a person is just praying three times like a robot, just because it’s expected, then it’s not really strengthening their ‘human brain’ very much at all. (Although no word of prayer is ever said in vain, the Chassidic masters taught that our prayers can get ‘stuck’ down in this world, unable to rise up to the higher worlds where they can really start to work and to act, to change our reality. What enables the words of our prayers to rise up is developing a real connection to God.)

If a person is learning a lot of Torah, but still failing to see how their issues making a living (to quote one common example) are directly connected to how they are (mis)treating their wife, or their children, then they are still not living life with true emuna, where every tiny thing is connected back to God, and viewed through the prism of ongoing self-development, teshuva and avodat hamiddot.

Avodat hamiddot means working to lessen our negative character traits like anger, fear, despondency, jealousy, arrogance, selfishness and flattery (i.e. snake brain tendencies), while strengthening positive character traits like altruism, empathy, kindness, generosity and forgiveness (i.e. human brain tendencies.)

If a real connection to God is absent, then the snake brain will still mostly be in control, regardless of which community a person belongs to, and regardless of how externally ‘observant’ their environment actually is.

When emuna is absent, and bad middot and rote, robotic learning and praying is the norm, then many people will still be groping for a satisfactory answer to why be a Jew? But, in contrast to the less frum communities, the cost of marrying out, or dropping out of the frum world is often still high enough to keep them in and to keep them quiet about their religious doubts.

But the fundamental problem remains.

====

TO SUM UP:

This is a super-long post, I know, but I felt the urge to get all this down in writing today, as hopefully it can be useful to others. The ‘problem’ of people not knowing why be a Jew is not confined to non-religious communities, or communities outside of Israel.

It’s more obvious in those places, because the obvious price to be paid for marrying out and assimilating in less observant communities is much less scary. No-one sits shiva for their children these days, and the non-Jewish spouse will still be accepted by most if not all of their friends and families.

Meanwhile in Israel, the opportunity to marry out is much less, as the whole country is full of Jews.

But as we move towards Moshiach and the world of truth, God seems to be removing more and more of the superficial props and barriers that have traditionally stopped Jews from assimilating even though they often lacked a real answer to why be a Jew?

There are girls from even orthodox homes in Israel who are marrying Arab men. My daughter was working with one of these ladies a few months’ ago, and found out that she came from an emotionally-dysfunctional frum home where she was extremely unhappy.

So, we need to have a clear answer to the question of why be a Jew that goes beyond ‘because I said so’, or ‘because it will make me happy’, or ‘because the children will be Jewish.’

And here’s my best attempt at setting it down:

My child, be a Jew because God created you to fix the world in partnership with Him, and to do something that no other person can do. Each of a Jew’s 613 commandments enables them to fix their own negative character traits, and to strengthen the hand of altruism, generosity, spirituality and emuna in the world.

Be a Jew because you’ll live a far happier life, and you’ll feel much more satisfied and filled-up. You’ll have more inner peace, your personal relationships will work much better, and your life will be full of love, true meaning and vitality.

Be a Jew, because otherwise you’ll get stuck living a superficial life running after more and more of the things that can never really satisfy you, and that will only end up poisoning your soul and leaving you ultimately bitter and depressed.

Be a Jew so that God’s light can shine out of you, and light up all those dark corners of the world where so much misery, despair and evil are lurking.

Be a Jew because it’s impossible for a Jew and a non-Jew to really relate to each other as anything other than ‘bodies’ – and your soul will wither away when it gets stuck in that plastic, materialistic, superficial world.

Be a Jew so you can engage in real discussions about real things with real people – including your spouse and children. Be a Jew so that you can have the courage you need to leave the comfort zone and to discover who God really created you to be, and what your mission in life really is.

Be a Jew because I guarantee you, you will never feel truly happy being anything else, however hard you try. Bring God into every area of your life, and connect everything that happens to you back to Hashem, so that you understand that absolutely everything you do in the world is deeply meaningful.

That’s what I tell my kids.

That’s what I try to live myself.

But this whole long piece notwithstanding, I now realize that it boils down to something very simple:

I need to ask God to help my kids be Jews, and to help me and my husband to be Jews.

And if I do that on a regular basis, hopefully it’ll all turn out OK.

====

You might also like these articles:

Sassonmag.com is kicking off what we hope will be a grown-up discussion about the best way of educating our children in the orthodox Jewish world, going forward, because really?

It’s a huge mess.

There’s a number of articles with different viewpoints and ideas going up over the next few weeks, but I just wanted to bring your attention to this piece by Varda Branfman, which is one of the most eye-opening articles on education I’ve ever read.

It explains so much, about why modern education is so broken, why so many kids loathe school, and how the system is causing problems for everyone – both the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers.’

We’re very happy to get more input, and more ideas – in a grown-up, mutually-respectful way, natch. So, take a look here:

Around 6-7 years ago, I went through a bunch of experiences that made me extremely wary of other people.

Long story short, Hashem arranged for pretty much every relationship I had at that time, from the most serious to the most casual, to explode in my face in an extremely traumatic way.

Clearly, I had a lot of work to do on my own bad middot (character traits).

Clearly, other people also had a lot of work to do on theirs, too.

Things got so bad, that I kind of took the equivalent of a social vow of chastity: no more friends! No more Shabbat guests! No more making an effort with anyone outside my immediate family!!

It was just too hard to have a relationship that didn’t seem way too complicated, exhausting and toxic, back then.

Thankfully, the last 2-3 years, God has slowly been moving me out of that space.

A lot of the improvement came when I stopped trying to be a ‘fake frummer’, and playing a part that didn’t suit me, and pretending to be something and someone I’m not.

I realized that for as long as I was secretly yearning for my life in London, that was translating into very harsh judgement calls against people who hadn’t (yet…) made aliya.

And, for as long as I was missing reading secular books and watching secular movies, I was so ‘anti’ all those people who felt they could combine the ‘ultra-orthodox’ or ‘chareidi’ label with massive i-Phones, Youtube and subscriptions to the National Enquirer.

Today, I read some secular stuff, non-fiction, and I’m trying to find a way of serving God with my yetzer hara, as well as my yetzer tov.

But the real breakthrough came as a result of my children, my teens.

My two precious girls who combine their father’s sweet personality with my ability to argue.

These girls have taught me so much.

They taught me that lashon hara even counts (or maybe, especially counts) in the home, and that’s there is no heter, or permission, for slagging people off behind closed doors.

They taught me that often, the very best girls, spiritually, are doing the weirdest things with their hair, clothes and nose-rings.

They taught me to stop holding the whole world, including them, including myself, to ridiculously high, unrealistic standards, that no-one can ever really get to, or maintain, at least, not before 120.

And the last, but perhaps most precious thing they taught me, is to not take things so personally, and to keep looking for reasons to play down issues and forgive other people.

Dear readers, that so was not my way, my derech, before these precious girls took me in hand.

In the past, I excelled at finding a million reasons why people are unfixable psychos, or ‘erev rav’, or toxic relations, or religious hypocrites, and once I’d found that out about them, I couldn’t speak to them or like them anymore.

And then my girls came along, and held a big mirror up, and I started to realise that sometimes (often…) I was also acting like an unfixable psycho, an erev rav, a toxic relative, a religious hypocrite.

And so many times, they forgive me for not treating them so nicely, or making their life difficult, and we worked together to try to turn things around.

And that taught me the importance of not taking things so personally, when people say things I don’t like, or act in ways that hurt me.

Sure, I don’t have to stand there while someone slaps my face because they’re having a bad, or tries to make me feel bad just to make themselves feel good, but now when that happens, I don’t automatically put that person on the ‘unfixable psycho’ list.

I take sensible measures to protect myself, and stay at a safe distance, but then, I try to understand where they’re coming from, and to see how ever-so-easily, if I didn’t have Rabbenu, and hitbodedut, and big tzaddikim like Rav Berland in my life – I could act in exactly the same way.

And more, sometimes I do act in exactly the same way.

Because I’m not perfect, and neither are they.

And then, I don’t hate that person in my heart anymore (which is not to say I automatically like or love them. If they have pronounced emotional issues that they are in denial about, I still do my best to steer clear of them.)

But even then, I don’t hate them, and I can even still find reasons and occasions to enjoy their company.

And so, the door to the social dungeon I’ve been in for well over 5 years is slowly starting to creak open again. And what’s oiling the hinges is Azamra, Rebbe Nachman’s lesson of seeing the good and focusing on the good.

First in ourselves, and then in others.

And above all, in our kids and spouses.

Challenging as they can be, my teens have been the biggest blessing in my life, and they have taught me – almost single-handedly – how to like people again.

One of my kids is in school in a yishuv that’s smack bang in the middle of the area that’s been experiencing all the terrorist attacks of the last three days. 12 minutes drive from Ofra, 10 minutes drive from Givat Assaf, 14 minutes drive from Bet El (when there’s no traffic).

Also, everyone caught up in that shooting attack in Ofra has siblings, or parents, or cousins in my kid’s school. And the young woman who was seriously hurt in yesterday’s shooting at Givat Assaf is the commonarite, or local head, of the Beit El branch of the youth group Ariel, so a whole bunch of the kids in the ulpana know her directly.

These are the kids that stand at the trempiadas (hitch-hiking posts) and bus stops up and down Route 60, the road that leads out past Pisgat Ze’ev, and then forks between Ramallah to the left, and Bet El, Ofra, and the northern route up through the Shomron on the right.

I know it well.

I was driving it almost every day for six months last year, when my kid was having a nervous breakdown most days and just couldn’t get herself to school on the bus.

This is the road, these are the communities, being hit by this awful spate of terrorist incidents.

Yesterday, even before I heard about Givat Assaf, I got an email from the school’s principal explaining how the kids were down in the main hall reciting tehillim together, and how counselling services were being offered to any kid that required them.

You know, I hate getting emails like that.

My kid was late home from school, of course.

Budding ‘hill top yoof’ that she is, she and five of her friends decided to make massive banners stating “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Jewish blood is not hefker” (ownerless). Then, they went and climbed up on some of the rocks next to the junction that pulls off into the yishuv where they’re studying – on that self-same Route 60! – to pin them to the fences up there.

Thank God, she told me all this after she was home safe.

“Ima, do you beep when you agree or when you disagree?” she asked me. “Because we had a lot of Palestinian cars beeping us.”

For once, I was speechless.

Then that night, both kids told me there were going to an atzeret, or gathering, in Jerusalem, organised near the PM’s residence, where they were going to sing songs, light candles, and ‘demand’ that the Government do something to beef up the security in the West Bank.

My kids are very idealistic. They are very good, holy kids.

Probably, they are also a little naïve.

What can I tell them?

“Dear children, the government can’t do anything to stop this current wave of violence, and really, we just need to open our eyes and realise what’s really going on. The government is over a barrel. Whatever they do, it’s only going to escalate the situation, and bring all the Jew-haters in the world after us.”

It’s exactly as Rav Berland said a few days ago, that if we lift more than the tiniest finger to really start defending ourselves, the whole, PC, Jew-hating world will be after us in all in the international (kangaroo…) courts of law, screaming ‘war crimes!!!’ and ‘genocide!!!’ and ‘sanctions!!!’ and who knows what else.

There are no military solutions that really solve the problem.

Really, the government knows this. That’s why they are so big on pseudo-reassuring bluster, and so short on real, concrete action.

I wish more people in the religious community here would realise that, and stop pinning all their hopes on the army, and on some massive ‘offensive’ to finish the problem off.

The problem is coming from God, the Arabs are just a stick in God’s hand, to bring the Jews back to Him, and get us all to make teshuva.

If more of us would realise that, then more of us would have showed up to the Rav’s prayer gathering in Hevron on Zot Chanuka, to try to get the awful decrees the Rav could see coming down the pipe cancelled, or sweetened.

As it is, now there are atzerot and gatherings of a different kind happening this week, and large groups of people reciting tehillim together in very different circumstances.

My kid showed me a clip she’d been sent on WhatsApp of people taking the law into their own hands, and smashing the windows of Arab cars in the West Bank with stones.

She wanted to know what I thought, because she was of the view that this is what it would take, for them to stop killing Jews so freely.

I told her that answering senseless violence with more senseless violence doesn’t solve anything, and just brings us Jews down to the terrorists’ very low spiritual level.

So what, then, can we do?

Pray. Make teshuva. Stop pinning our hopes on the IDF, and the government, stop wasting our time discussing politics and arguing with each other, and reading all the God-less news sites.

God wants the heart. God wants us back.

And when more of us give God what He really wants, the violence will stop, and the problem will disappear by itself.

This is what I told my kid, who is now in her room reciting the Tikkun HaKlali, because there was another stabbing in Bet El this morning, and there is talk that her school is going to close on Sunday in protest, and to ‘force’ the government to do something.

Of course, closing the school doesn’t change anything (except to make my kid very happy to have a free day off.)

This is out of our hands.

Because the hands are the hands of Esav.

And the voice is the voice of Yaakov.

I’m now on my second official ‘teen’, which doesn’t make me the world’s expert on teens, but is giving me a lot of useful insights that I thought other people could also benefit from.

The single biggest problem I notice with teens – starting at 13/14 – is that when they acquire ‘maturity’, i.e. they get to the age where they are required to keep mitzvahs in their own right – their yetzer hara pulls a huge trick on them, and this is it:

It convinces them that they don’t have a yetzer hara.

So every time they are overwhelmed with life, depressed, annoying, selfish, thoughtless, confused, irritating, aggressive, emotional etc etc etc – their yetzer is telling them over and over again that THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!!

This annoying, somewhat icky person IS THE REAL YOU!!!

And if the parents don’t understand what is really going on with their teens, they can unwittingly play right into the yetzer’s hand by reinforcing the message that this lazy, selfish, irritating slob is THE REAL THEM!!!

But really?

Our teens are SO good.

They are so considerate, thoughtful, caring, sensitive and deep. Just modern life overwhelms them so quickly, and then their yetzer piles in with all its poisonous ‘THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!’ stuff, and unless the parents are there to tell them otherwise, they completely believe it.

From my own experience, the single biggest kindness you can do for your teenager is to keep re-inforcing – to them – that the real them is ONLY good.

Yes, that person who keeps leaving plates full of mouldy food in their bed (!); that person who keeps losing their Rav Kav every single week, causing a family-wide panic at 6am when they have to get the bus to school; that person who out of no-where starts ranting at you that they got all your ugly / fat / hairy genes and it’s ruining their life; that person who routinely forgets that you get up much earlier than they do, most days, and therefore need to get to bed before 2am; that person who keeps stealing your deodorant – and even your toothbrush – without telling you –

THAT PERSON IS ONLY GOOD!!!!

The more you keep reminding yourself, and your teen, of this, the better it will be for everyone.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but now that I’m on to my second teenager, I can see that this really is the best piece of advice a parent could have, for dealing with their teens. Because we have to understand that every time we criticise them – instead of just focusing on unacceptable behaviour, and  making it clear that this bad behaviour is simply coming from their yetzers, and NOT THE REAL THEM – we are simply reinforcing all their huge feelings that they aren’t good enough, kind enough, nice enough, clever enough etc etc etc.

And if that is programmed in too much in the teenage years, it can literally take a lifetime to overcome (with an awful amount of siyatta d’shmiya).

I get a lot of miserable teens passing through my house.

So many of my kids’ peers have really awful relationships with their parents, because the parents keep piling on guilt trips, power plays, punishments and ultimatums to try and maintain the upper hand in the relationship.

It’s so sad, because I see the gap growing between these kids and their parents, and I know where that leads: to dysfunctional families, unhappy people, never-ending tension and strife, all sorts of mental health challenges and other issues, including kids going off the derech.

So do your kid – and yourself – a huge favour, and ONLY SEE THE GOOD.

I can’t do this all the time, it’s true. There are time when I’ve completely snapped at my teens and said things I really regretted. But each time that happened, I’ve apologised profusely, and I’ve re-stated my true position, i.e. you, kid, are only good, and I’m also only good.

But man, are your yetzers on the wild side.

If you’ve been reading this blog this week, you’ll know that I’ve been in a pretty bad mood where life has seemed pretty meaningless, and everything I do pointless.

I’ve just had this feeling for a few days that nothing I do counts, or matters, and that I’m adrift in the universe without really knowing what I’m actually meant to be doing here.

I thought it was just me, but then one of my kids started telling me how she’s feeling life, and school, is so heavy and meaningless at the moment… and then one of my friends called me and told me: ‘Rivka, I’m going crazy! I just feel so frustrated, and that my life is so empty and pointless, and all these bad middot are pouring out that I never even knew were there!”

The person saying this is objectively one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, a busy mother, and constantly trying to do kindnesses and to work on herself, spiritually. My daughter is also a mitzvah machine, and is constantly engaged in big and small attempts at fixing the world.

And me?

Well, I actually write a lot of useful stuff (mostly behind the scenes, for other people…) so intellectually, I know I’m not wasting my life as much as I could be. And yet, that ‘life is meaningless vibe’ also blew me off my feet this week.

Yesterday, I bundled my sourpuss self into my car, and drove up to my youngest daughter’s new high-school, or Ulpana, where they were having ‘a night for mothers and daughters’.

In the past, these nights have almost always been a peculiar form of torture, where I had to follow instructions in Hebrew I couldn’t understand, to say or do things that were mortifyingly embarrassing even if it was all in English, and where I’d just kind of space out and dissociate to get through.

(I have a huge amount of C-PTSD from attending 12 years’ of these ‘events’ in Israel.)

So, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

I get there (20 minutes late, to try to minimize the torture…), and my kid whisked me straight into the (packed…) classroom. Sigh. Gulp. Unveil the thumbscrews. The young, very pregnant teacher smiled sweetly, handed me a whole big sheet (in close typeset Hebrew….) and started to discuss – Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Lost Princess!

My spirits rose, because I already knew this story really well, so maybe I could actually fake participating in the group exercises, this time around! The teacher was not at all bossy (what a relief!) not at all insisting that I read out all the personal stuff I’d discussed with my daughter in my terrible spoken Hebrew (thanks, Hashem!) and also, unusually insightful about the story.

“It’s about the process, not the goal!” She told the class. “Don’t get so hung up on the outcome, or the exam! It’s all just about the journey!”

Hmmm.

The next stage of mental torture began.

I had to mill around with the other mums, feeling completely like I don’t belong and having intermittent bouts of ‘mitpachat envy’ when another toweringly colorful creation entered the room.

My hair is at a really awkward length at the mo, so anything I try to put on my head looks awful. The best I can do is try to smother it in a tea-cosy type hat which isn’t so ‘cool’, but at least keeps most of my hair under wraps.

Luckily, this awkward stage was also cut short by my kid finding us a deserted spot on the swinging bench outside, where we could eat our soup in peace and gaze at the stars spotting the Shomron sky.

Then it was time for the main event, the hatzega, or show. I usually try to park myself as close to the aisle as possible, so I can feign going to the toilet five times, if required for mental health purposes. This time, my kid made me sit right at the end of the row, right at the top of the benchers.

Kid, are you crazy?! Don’t you know this stuff makes me claustrophobic?!

But as I sat down, I could feel a reassuring vibe in the air.

As I was about to discover, Rabbenu was in the building.

We got through the standard menahelet’s opening speech OK. Not too long, not too boring, not too self-righteous, preachy and subtly menacing – and then it was time for the main event, which turned out to be a half-acted / half-filmed rendition of The Lost Princess!

To cut a long story short, while three young Israeli women acted out the story onstage, the narrative was spliced together with interviews on screen with four Israelis who were living the story of the Lost Princess (as indeed, we all actually are.)

One had been abused by a step-father, and left home as a young teen to live on the streets for a couple of years. One had a bad accident at age two that left him blind and almost deaf. Another, Miriam Peretz, had two sons killed in action in the IDF. And a fourth was a famous Israeli entertainer who’d felt so soul-dead and empty in the midst of all her success, she’d lost the will to live and the ability to get up in the morning.

That was how the story began, with the Lost Princess being banished to the place of ‘no good’, a place where the outside all looked so shiny and amazing, but where the inside was painful, empty misery.

These four people on screen explained how the ‘no good’ had played out in their own lives. The homeless teen had done parties and drugs; the entertainer had done more songs, more shows, more ‘celeb’ stuff, etc.

But then, came the point when they realized that wasn’t the answer – that all the escapism and superficiality was killing them – and the quest to reclaim the Lost Princess really began. They tried to pull themselves up by their boot straps, and to move on.

The blind guy learnt how to shoot hoops and started working out, and became the Tanach champion of the year; the homeless girl decided to start dreaming of a future where she’d be married, a mother, in her own warm, loving home. Miriam Peretz decided to reclaim life and to start enjoying cake again, after the death of her first son.

But at the last minute, the quest failed.

They ate the apple and fell asleep just at the moment they could rescue the Lost Princess. She reappeared, distraught but encouraging, and told them to try again, to spend another year trying again.

So they did.

And again, at the last moment the ‘success’ was snatched away from them, and they fell very, very badly.

They gave up hope. They didn’t want to continue. They didn’t want to be alive anymore. They couldn’t take the endless struggle, the endless knock backs, the endless reminders of their issues, lacks and problems. They couldn’t escape the feeling that their life was completely meaningless, and that they were stuck in awful circumstances that they couldn’t get out of.

But the story continued.

At some point, they woke up, and quest began again.

Miriam Peretz decided to use her grief to inspire others, and to do good in the world in the memory of her two dead sons. To remember her pain, but also to remember her ongoing joy in life, too.

The homeless teen got herself off the streets, and found a caring, frum midrasha to go to. The blind guy taught himself computers, and started making a fortune in hi-tech. The entertainer finally got married, had children, got frum – and experienced inner peace for the first time in her life.

In short: they came a huge step closer to finding the lost princess.

Rebbe Nachman’s story doesn’t actually end, because life doesn’t ‘end’, until it inevitably does.

It’s the journey that matters, not the destination, which is fixed for every single one of us.

I sat there transfixed throughout this show. I had chills down my back in parts, I cried my eyes out in others, and above all, I had an abiding sense of gratitude and hope that this is where I live, this is what I’m part of, these are the messages that my children are getting in school.

Not that they have to be perfect, soul-less, frum robots. Not that they have to pretend that they never fall, or struggle, or have huge crises of faith. But that falling down, and getting up again, are part of the journey, part of the quest.

And it’s the journey that really counts.

——–

I just want to add one more thing, here, about living in Israel.

I know it’s such a controversial topic for so many reasons, but I can see that so many of the things that are so wrong about the Jewish world, orthodox and otherwise, in chutz l’aretz stem from this need to keep sweeping the real issues we all face under the rug, and to pretend all is well, and that the Jewish community doesn’t have any problems.

Nobody’s falling around here!!! Nobody’s sick to death of all the materialism, competition and superficiality engulfing their lives!!! Nobody hates their job so much it’s literally making them physically ill!!! Nobody’s got issues to work on!!! Nobody feels so lost and lonely they literally don’t want be alive anymore!!!

Except of course, when they do, and that’s when they’re summarily bundled onto Prozac or some other ‘mood stabilising’ narcotic.

In Israel, life is dealt with square on. You can still be an orthodox Jew and express pain, and disappointment, and admit to having flaws and faults, and hating kugel recipes.

This basic level of ‘realness’ is so missing, so lacking, in the Anglo-Jewish world, regardless of religious observance.

The streets of chutz l’aretz are paved with gold, I know. But maybe, the real you doesn’t want that, doesn’t like it, and knows how much it’s really killing you?

I’m not saying that Israel is the only place you can find your Lost Princess, but I am saying that increasingly, Israel is the only place where frum Jews are encouraged to be real, and to be truthful about who they really are and what they really feel.

And when people can’t be real, really them, warts n’all, they’re never going to even start looking for the Lost Princess, let alone finding her.

Pheyew, it’s hard to believe how crazy the pace has been the last couple of weeks.

I thought it was just because my kids were both starting new schools, and it was the usual end of Summer rush to get bags, bits and books, but now they’ve both been in school for three days already, and if anything I’m even busier.

From the moment I open my eyes, I’m rushing, rushing, rushing – and I can’t get it to stop. Today, I got up, tried to exercise while fielding three phone calls, wrote some stuff, tried to get some more text books (! – yes, the torture continues) – but the queue was too big to deal with, went to visit a friend who just moved out of town, then drove on to my ‘one brain’ lady to fix some more subconscious trauma and bad middot, then went to deliver all my husband’s paperwork to the accountant that lives in my old village, then fielded another long and pretty intense phone call, then went off to the other book shop in Geula to try to get the text books (! – yes, the torture still continues, one was out of stock…)

And now, after all that, I’m sitting down for the first time all day trying to work up the energy to make supper. And it’s already 7.30.

I simply don’t know how people who have more than two kids, or who have to work, do it.

How do you do it? Without drugs? I can barely move.

All I can do it type, but my brain also feels like it’s got zapped the last couple of weeks, so I have no idea what I’m actually writing.

There’s so much going on for everyone at the moment, isn’t there? If it’s not floods, hurricanes and forest fires, its potential divorce, difficult children, financial problems and crazy relatives.

Two days ago, I had to take my oldest to the Beit Din in Jerusalem to get her formal exemption papers for the army.

Even though she’s only 16 ½, they’re already sending her the sign up forms, so we had to get her officially certified as ‘religious’.

So we get there, and we’re sat in the waiting room next to a very edgy couple + friend who are clearly about to get their religious divorce, or get, finalized. Man, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, it was so tense and yucky.

The only thing that broke it was a very loud conversation, in English, from another woman clearly also on the way to a get, God forbid, loudly cursing out her husband on the phone for being such a loser and not having a job and only jogging all day and leaving her in a situation where she’s going to end up on the street with her kids.

The phone call was extremely personal, extremely loud, and extremely traumatic to listen to, at least for me. I started spacing out and developing more C-PTSD, so my daughter kind of slapped my face, told me to focus on her, and tried to distract me.

Thank God, we got her papers and left pronto, but it was a sobering glimpse into just how much human misery is abounding at the moment.

The Gemara says that before Moshiach comes, a new trouble appears before the old trouble is even done, and it certainly looks like that’s happening all over the place.

Nuclear Iran….Brexit….President Trump….the ‘fire intifada’….Islamic Terrorism….Syria’s civil war….rockets from Gaza….killer heatwaves that last three months….nuclear North Korea….hurricane Harvey….the queue for text books at Moshe Hai….unprecedented forest fires.…hurricane Irma….

So, is Moshiach really coming, or what?

It certainly looks that way.

But whether or not that’s really what we’re all seeing unfolding right now is anyone’s guess.

A couple of weeks back, we got a letter through from the IDF telling my 16 ½ year old daughter that she had to report to the IDF recruiting office in Jerusalem, to discuss joining the army in another year and a half.

Lest you think these letters are only sent to secular / dati-leumi girls, you should know that we met up with a large handful of Beis Yaacov girls in the Jerusalem Beit Din’s offices, where we had to go to start the process of getting my daughter formerly exempted on religious grounds.

But while the Beis Yaacov schools then deals with the process of actually submitting the documents proving a girl is ‘religious’ to the army, we had to actually go down there ourselves to hand in the papers.

As I got to the gate of the recruiting office with my daughter, a youngish chareidi guy suddenly popped up out of nowhere and asked us if we were going to try to get my kid out of the army. The word try kind of bothered me a little, as I thought these things were routine, very simple, a done deal.

Apparently not.

The chareidi guy explained it would be much easier if I left my daughter outside, a little way off, while I handed in her documents from the Beit Din and asked for a receipt. “It’s better that way for you,” he told me, and as he was clearly on a mission to help religious girls avoid being drafted, I believed him.

Thank God, the soldier on the gate had braces and a kippa, so he wasn’t exactly intimidating. There was a big mix-up for five minutes when he thought that I was the one trying to get out of the army, but the female soldier who was on duty with him, Etti, took one look at my wrinkles and burst out with a ma pitom!!! that cleared that small misunderstanding up immediately.

Eventually, I managed to hand in the form from the Beit Din, and I got back a square piece of paper telling me that the IDF had formally received the paperwork, and would come back with a decision in two weeks.

In the car coming home, I was discussing the army with my kid, who is extremely idealistic and ‘zionistic’ in the classical sense of loving Israel, loving Jews, and being prepared to sacrifice a lot to help her people.

But not in the army.

This is the kid who went to protest Amona, and whose friends are in in Yad L’Achim, and who has big plans to make a lot of money – just so she can give it away to charity.

But after Elor Azaria, and after Shaul Goldin, H’yd, and after Amona, and after all the ridiculous political correctness about having women serving in combat positions – the IDF is looking less and less like the place that idealistic, Zionistic young Jews should be even if they were men.

The people running the country and controlling the army don’t fear Hashem. They don’t consult daat Torah before making their decisions about sending Jews into battle. They don’t have siyatta di shmaya (Heavenly help) – and very often they issue orders that go directly contrary to the Torah.

For idealistic mothers of idealistic young Jewish men, serving in the IDF presents a fearsome moral dilemma in 2017.

Thank God, I don’t have sons, so I don’t have to wrestle with that particular question in the deepest recesses of my soul. But what’s clear is that the IDF is certainly no place for Jewish women, religious or not.

When you teach a woman to kill, even in self-defense, you are cutting her off from that loving, feminine, caring, mothering, compassionate part of herself. Woe to the children of such a Rambo-mom, and woe to her husband.

In this violence filled world, we need more of that feminine vibe of unconditional love, kindness, compassion and yes, fragility. Fragile people know they need God to get by in the world, not just an Uzi to protect them.

So I breathed a huge sigh of relief that, b’ezrat Hashem, my daughter got out of the army. I know there are no simple answers here, in terms of how we protect ourselves, tachlis.

But yet, the answer is the same as it’s ever been: put God in the picture, keep His commandments, respect daat Torah – and then watch our enemies melt away by themselves.

‘Quiet’ in Israel is a relative term.

If the only people being stabbed and shot at are soldiers / border police, then for most people in the country that’s considered to be pretty quiet. That’s how the human brain works to try to distance the self from the surrounding danger and the rising feelings of panic that can accompany it.

“It’s only border police / soldiers that the Arabs are targeting, so I don’t have to worry too much…”

When I was writing The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife (which you can get on Amazon HERE and on the Book Depository HERE), it definitely wasn’t ‘quiet’, even according to this crazy definition of ‘quiet’.

At that point two years’ ago, everyone felt like they were a potential target, and that a crazy Arab could try and stab them – with a variety of sharp weapons – or try and run them over anywhere and everywhere.

That was such a stressful time.

Both my children were in school in the Old City, and were frequently walking past all these places where just yesterday someone else had got stabbed to death, God forbid.

So, compared to how it was two years’ ago, even with all the ongoing attacks on the border police that have been happening five minutes away from where I live, it’s still felt relatively ‘quiet’, relatively safe.

But now, I’m starting to feel that the ‘quiet’ is vanishing again.

There’s a lot of sirens going on, there’s a lot of police. My kids are starting to tell me scary stories again, like for example:

One of my kid’s 14 year old friends lives in Ir David, just outside the Old City walls on the slope down to Silwan village. A couple of days’ ago, this friend was surrounded by a gang of Arab teenagers, just a few metres away from her home, and one of them pulled out a gun.

The girl screamed, made a mad dash for home and somehow broke through the circle. The police were called, and the Arab was arrested.

Baruch Hashem, the only thing that happened is that my kid’s friend has probably now got a severe case of PTSD that’s going to need some urgent attention….

The same kid told me how the Old City is now full of ‘yassamnikim’. When I asked her what that actually was, she told me:

“It’s a type of police that only have men, and they can kill you with one punch.”

Or something like that. I.e. the toughest guys the police have.

Usually, the Jews in the Old City are policed by magavnikim, who still carry guns, but have a much more peaceful, quiet reputation locally.

As these stories start to pile up again, my inner sense of peace and quiet starts to dissolve.

In September, neither of my kids will be learning in the Old City anymore. They are both at the stage of going to Ulpana. But my husband is now there every day – learning in the Shuvu Banim yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, just behind the Kotel.

And it’s not like Jerusalem is the only place starting to feel the heat again. One of my kid’s best friends is going to Ulpana in Neve Tzuf (aka Halamish). Yes, that Halamish where three Jews were just brutally stabbed to death during their Shabbat meal on Friday night…

It could be this is just another temporary flare up, connected to the very inauspicious time of the year we’re currently in. I hope so.

But it seems to me that things have been building up to a head for three years’ now, and that despite all the Government’s loud announcements that ‘they aren’t changing the status quo on the Temple Mount’, God actually may have other plans.

In fact, it’s almost a cast-iron rule that whatever the Israeli Government loudly and confidently announces about matters of security, the truth is usually the exact opposite. So, it seems to me the ‘status quo’ in Jerusalem is changing, despite the Government.

Things are heating up again.

The relative quiet is fast disappearing.

This morning, I was talking to God about the new, low-level panic I’m feeling again (amongst other classic PTSD symptoms…) and I was explaining to Him:

“God, I know this stuff is all leading to a good place. But You know what? I have zero energy, zero tolerance for anymore craziness in my life, or in Jerusalem. I’ve been dealing with stabbings, shootings, running-overs for three whole years, and I feel like I have no reserves left to deal with any more stuff like that.

“Please God, if You are changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, let it come the sweet way, without more Jews being murdered, and without me spending any more time half-panicked that my family is out on the streets when another cacophony of sirens explode…”

Things have been teetering on the edge of utter madness in Jerusalem for years, already, When God is ready to shove it over the cliff, we’ll have the geula. But I hope these last pangs before the birth of Moshiach aren’t going to be too difficult to bear.

I mean, 1948 years of labor is a lot for any mother to go through, even if they do have a lot of emuna…

Two days before Pesach, my daughter slammed her finger in our front door.

She’s a very stoic sort usually, so when she started squealing and saying ‘ow’ loudly I paid attention. Her finger started spurting some blood, she started freaking out, and I knew there was a trip to Terem on the cards, even though I HATE going near any Western medical doctors for any reason.

Before we left, I doused her finger with some helichrysum essential oil, because I know that takes down swelling and promotes bone healing, and I also spent another five minutes poking her uninjured hand with my Su Jok probe, to start stimulating the healing process in her injured finger ‘electrically’.

The last and most important thing I did was ask my husband to immediately make a sizeable donation to Rav Berland as a pidyon Nefesh payment for my daughter. (You can read more about how a pidyon Nefesh works, and why it’s so important, HERE.)

Let’s be clear that my daughter is used to my weird ways with her health issues, but still got a little impatient that I insisted on stabbing her with my Su Jok stick before we got to the ER.

“I’m doing this to give you the best possible chance of healing without the doctors going off on one,” I told her.

But she wasn’t impressed.

We got to Terem, and as I wrote a little while back, after an X-ray, a tetanus shot, and a big speech about why my daughter needed a whole bunch of antibiotics and an urgent visit to an orthopaedic surgeon two days later, we got discharged with the prognosis that she’d sustained an open (or compound) fracture.

I got home, googled ‘compound fracture’ and grimaced. It sounded pretty bad. It’s when the bone breaks, and then breaks through the skin in an open wound, which can be very susceptible to infections, and much harder to heal than a regular fracture. All the American sites warned me sternly that I’d need surgery to deal with a compound fracture (gulp).

The British NHS website was much more down to earth, and explained that surgery was sometimes necessary in complicated breaks, but very often not. (Phew).

I tried making the appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon, but in the meantime no-one was answering the phone, even after I hung on the line for ages. Pesach was approaching, so I decided to take a wait-and-see approach and try to make another appointment after Seder night had passed.

In the meantime, I prayed on my daughter’s health and finger –

That it would heal, that she wouldn’t get an infection, God forbid, that the antibiotics shouldn’t stuff up her health in other ways, God forbid; I used helichrysum essential oil instead of the antibiotic ointment, and I continued to stab her other hand with my Su Jok probe, to stimulate her body’s own healing response.

A few days later, her finger looked really, really good (relatively….). Hmm. She told me it wasn’t even hurting now. Hmm. I took a deep breath and called up the orthopaedic surgeon to make the appointment.

As I mentioned previously, I generally hate Western medical doctors, and the ones in Israel are often particularly arrogant, fear-mongering and generally horrible to deal with.

So with some trepidation I showed up to the appointment, prepared to defend using germ-killing essential oils instead of antibacterial creams, and prepared to argue that my daughter didn’t need urgent surgery on her finger…

The doctor we saw was a really cool, older guy who was not at all from the ‘fear-mongering-surgery-at-all-costs’ school. He took one look at my daughter’s finger, poked it a bit, asked her if it hurt, pulled up her x-ray, then told us something amazing: There was no fracture.

Not even a regular one, let alone a compound one.

She didn’t need any more bandages, treatment or even special precautions with her finger. And she probably also wouldn’t even lose her fingernail. I was astounded!

The pidyon Nefesh with Rav Berland had clearly kicked in, and God had done a miracle for us. Back in Terem, I’d argued about the antibiotics, which is when they went to town on me (and my daughter…) and told us she’d probably need surgery blah blah blah… and it was an open fracture blah blah blah… and they’d checked it all on the x-ray blah blah blah….

Was the miracle that they’d made a mistake in Terem, and told us it was fractured when it wasn’t? Maybe. Or maybe, it really was fractured back then, but now it wasn’t. Either way, I was thrilled.

There’s an idea that when God does a miracle for you, you should publicise it. I decided to write this up to encourage you, dear reader, to put God and pidyon Nefesh in the picture as much as possible with your own health issues.

The more we make space in our lives for the miracles to happen, the more we’ll see them.