Recently, I’ve been having that ‘in-between’ feeling again.

I guess it happens to baal teshuvas a lot, and it must happen to English speaking baal teshuvas who moved to Israel even more, because there are so many more ‘worlds’ that we kind of fall between or outside of.

This time round, it was triggered by my kids’ choice of music. I don’t have radio in the house, we don’t watch videos on Youtube (generally…) or movies, yet somehow secular Anglo culture is still permeating the walls of my home.

My kids both have a lot of music stored on their phones, and a lot of the music they’ve downloaded wholesale from their friends includes Anglo songs by secular singers.

When I first heard Celine Dion blasting out the theme from Titanic on a kid’s phone a few weeks’ back, I couldn’t believe it.

That song used to be one of my favorites back in London, and for three years after I saw the movie, it could instantly trigger off a sobbing fit – because Leonardo di Caprio died!!!

Sniff sniff.

My kids didn’t know this, of course, but it turns out that one kid in particular likes this song, and she started playing it obsessively all over my house.

I didn’t start crying this time, (at least, not for that reason) –  which was good, but what was less good is that it instantly took me back to my London life, and many London memories, from 16 years’ ago. And once that happened, I had that weird feeling again of not really belonging anywhere. I didn’t belong in turn of the millennia London anymore; I didn’t fit into my old neighbourhood any more, I wasn’t interested in the career I’d had, or the shops I’d frequented back then.

But…It was nice to hear music in English.

The next time Celine Dion popped up was even more headwrecking: I was sitting at a mega-frum chareidi ladies event to celebrate the month of Adar, when one of the performers started singing…the theme from Titanic.

Sure, she’d changed the words to Hebrew, and was singing about getting closer to God, etc, but for me, just hearing the intro was enough to immediately whisk me back to London’s West End, and movies, and restaurants, and that whole lifestyle that I left behind again.

And this time, the contrast between London then and Jerusalem now was so big, I felt really, really out of place.

Over the last few weeks, Celine Dion and Titanic have been popping up all over the place, including shops I walk past, and on other people’s loud car radios. And each time, I have to deal with that London bit of me again.

A few days’ back, I was talking to God about it all, and I told Him:

God, I need some music that really speaks for me now. Music in English, by Jews, who are really connecting to God, and to the struggle and the beauty of being a believing Jew in this world. Yes, I know there’s a ton of music like that in Hebrew, but I need some English songs to help me finally dislodge ‘Titanic’, and to help me feel like I belong in the world a bit more.

I asked, but I didn’t think I’d find anything like that.

Then I went to Hevron over chol hamoed, and there on the music stand I picked up the latest CD by one of my favourite Israeli singers, Gad Elbaz.

It’s only when I started playing it at home that I realised: the whole CD is in English!

Gad Elbaz sings a lot about God, and faith, and the deeper side of Jewish spiritual life, but he dresses very spiffily, and also seems to be between worlds in so many ways. When I saw this video (at the bottom of the post) I nearly cried: frum Jews in New York breakdancing and talking about serving God sincerely?!

You have to be kidding me!

Finally, someone is making music for the people in the middle, who sincerely believe in God and are doing their best to keep mitzvot in a real way, but still gel their hair…

I hope you get as much of a kick out of it as I am.

There seems to be an unfortunate tradition in my house that every Jewish holiday for the last few years has been attended with its own share of challenges and difficulties.

I tried to escape fate this year by checking into a hotel for Rosh Hashana, which worked for two days – but boy, did it catch up with me by Succot.

This last Succot was arguably the worst, or second worst I ever had, in terms of my matzav ruach and overall mood. I spent pretty much the whole of Succot crying my eyes out in the pit of despair about the mess I felt my life was in.

I was pretty nervous about Purim, too, as that’s also traditionally marked the start of a really difficult few weeks heading into Pesach. This year, Purim was bland, but OK – which is much, much better than it usually is, at least for me. So I was cautiously hopeful that I’d get to Seder in reasonably good shape.

Despite a few last minute issues and challenges, we got to a few hours before Pesach, and it was all going far more smoothly and enjoyably than usual. I’d warned my whole family we were going to enjoy seder night this year, even though we had no guests and were by ourselves again, as it’s been the last three years.

Apart from one absolutely massive argument between my husband and a kid an hour before Pesach about setting the table for seder (which ended on a positive note) – it was pretty smooth sailing.

Until about half an hour into the seder, when I started to feel pretty yucky.

Hmm.

Maybe, I hadn’t eaten enough all day? (Very possible…) Maybe, the argument had been more upsetting and draining than I’d realised at the time? (That could be…) Maybe, I was such an alcoholic lightweight that even one inch of fizzy wine mixed with grapejuice was more than I could handle on an empty stomach?

I held on until we got to the meal, ate my full share of matza, lettuce and chicken soup – and then started feeling even worse. I got shooting pains down the outside of my legs, and a migraine-type feeling of severe heaviness descended upon me, completely knocking me out.

I could barely even bench, let alone continue on to the end of the Haggada and drink another two cups of grape juice. I asked for a quilt and fell asleep on the couch before we even got to opening the door to rain down retribution on the anti-semites of the world.

I woke up a couple of hours later feeling even worse, and went straight to bed.

The next day, I was completely out of action and felt like I was back in the exhausted ‘burn-out mode’ I’ve had on and off for the last five years.

But this time round, I had no idea why! Usually, I have such big things going on that I’m amazed I’m still walking around some weeks, but nothing so ‘big’ happened before Pesach this year. But nevertheless, I still felt half-dead.

Gosh. I had that sinking feeling that Pesach was going to be a complete spiritual wash-out again.

The next day, I barely had energy to get out of bed. But my husband coaxed me to come out with him to visit Hevron, even if only for a few short minutes – and I somehow managed to get dressed and follow him out to the car.

The Hall of Yitzhak and Rivka in Hevron is only open on chol hamoed, and the small entrance to the underground tombs is located there. Some years, I’ve had the most amazing uplift from sitting close to that small hole in the ground that’s reputed to be the entrance to Gan Eden, so I didn’t want to miss out, if at all possible.

I sat there for half an hour.

The first ten minutes I felt so exhausted again I could barely speak. God, am I going to have months of ill-health and exhaustion again? Am I going to be struggling to find the energy to get out of bed again, and start worrying that ‘something’ is going really wrong health-wise, like happened a couple of years’ ago?

As I pondered that question, I realised I was actually feeling better. After half an hour, I was feeling so refreshed I decided to go for a little walk around the Jewish area of Hevron. I tagged on the back of a tour that was going through the ancient Jewish cemetery located on Tel Hevron, or the mound of earth where the biblical Hevron of the Patriarchs was located.

Hardly any of this Tel has been excavated by archaeologists, I suspect because they would find so much overwhelming evidence of the Torah’s veracity, and the Jewish roots that go so deep in Hevron, that could cause a lot of ‘trouble’ for the world’s politicians and atheists.

On the way, we stopped at the ancient grave of Ruth the Moabitess, and Yishai (Jesse) the father of King David.

The view was gorgeous, the grave was very picturesque, and for a moment, I got a taste of Hevron from 3,000 years ago.

It was magical.

In what is becoming a recurring theme at the moment, I sighed a big sigh and wished that Jews could live more freely in Hevron, and in Jerusalem, and in many other parts of Israel. It’s our country! God gave it to us! Why are places like Ruth and Yishai’s grave effectively ‘off-limits’ to Jews for 360 days of the year?

I know when Moshiach comes, these questions will finally be addressed and resolved, but in the meantime they are piling up higher and higher in the corners of my life.

But the good news: I came back from Hevron feeling so much better, physically and spiritually and not for the first time, I was reminded of the enormous spiritual power these holy places contain, albeit it’s often so hidden.

But the day is coming soon when that ‘hidden’ holiness, that hidden, beautiful Jewish spirituality, that hidden face of God, is going to be revealed in all its glory – and transform the whole world.

As you might have expected, trying to get The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife distributed to regular, orthodox Jewish bookstores is proving to be EXTREMELY difficult.

There’s two main problems going on:

1) Frum Jewish publishing is actually an enormous cartel operation.

Most of the book publishers expect authors to pay around $10,000 to cover all the costs of designing, printing and distributing their own books.

If an author is unwilling or unable to put up this sort of money – and they aren’t directly related to the Baba Sali, or a ‘Rock Star Rabbi / Rabbanit’ type themselves- then most of the Jewish publishers won’t touch them with a barge pole, no matter how interesting or appropriate their books may be for the frum audience.

The corollary to this is that so many of the books that you find on the shelves of orthodox book sellers are there because the person is connected or wealthy, as opposed to a good writer. (Yes, that starts to explain a lot doesn’t it?)

2) Frum Jewish publishing is pushing a distorted image of observant Jewish life.

This was kind of the problem I tripped over with the cover of the Secret Diary, because OFFICIALLY, all the people buying books in frum Jewish bookstores aren’t meant to be surfing the internet, watching movies, or owning i-Phones.

In reality – probably the vast majority of people who shop in frum Jewish bookstores, particularly in the English-speaking world, are doing all those things. But SHUSSSSHSH!!!! Don’t tell the orthodox Jewish publishers, because they still think that Jewish women are all called ‘Breindy’ and obsessed with making the perfect kugel!!!!

‘Breindy’ doesn’t have any problems, has perfect faith and has no need of books that realistically portray orthodox Jewish life, because ‘Breindy’ is a Jewish superwoman with 15 kids, two jobs, a husband in full-time learning, and a stunning 200 sqm home that she keeps immaculately stocked with 5 different types of homemade kugel!!!!

And if your life isn’t like ‘Breindy’s’ – then what on earth are you doing trying to find suitable reading material in a frum Jewish bookstore?!?!

Of course, the real reality is that even ‘Breindy’ is cracking at the seams in 2017, and has just upped her dosage of anti-depressants…but SHUSSSSSSH!!!! Let’s not talk of such things.

This ‘head in the sand’ approach to frum life means that while the shelves are full of inspiring stories from previous generations of women who could make one chicken stretch to generously feed 38 starving orphans with leftovers; and full of ‘uplifting’ Holocaust tales of every stripe (including wonderfully illustrated holocaust strip cartoons for the kiddies…); and full of ‘perfect kugel’ cookbooks and ‘frum’ fiction that I find terribly disturbing for SO many different reasons – they’re generally very empty of real books by real Jewish women, that portray the challenges and beauty of real Jewish life.

I.e., books like The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife (and pretty much anything else that I write).

Case in point:

I just emailed one of the frum book publishers to see if I could pay to get The Secret Diary distributed via them, and all they did was take a look at the cover, and then pointblank refuse. Even if I paid to print a thousand copies by them, they still won’t guarantee they’d distribute it.

So dear reader, not for the first time I find myself a little stuck between the familiar rock and the hard place.

For as long as the frum Jewish book world – and the out-of-touch people running it – refuse to carry books that are ‘real’ portrayals of orthodox Jewish life, albeit with a lot of God and emuna mixed in, frum people have little choice but to get their ‘real’ books about real problems and challenges from the secular world.

And make no mistake, that’s what’s happening. Even in the hallowed halls of Meah Shearim, people are turning to Tony Robbins and Dr Mercola for advice on how to solve their real problems and crises, because the frum world is still pretending that we’re all supermen and superwomen, with all emuna, all the time, and a never-ending obsession with creating the perfect kugel.

Frum women aren’t being given an authentic voice in our communities, and we are all paying the price for that in so many different ways. If they aren’t a ‘Breindy’, none of the men who are running the Jewish publishing business are remotely interested in what they have to say.

Dear reader, I am DEFINITELY not a Breindy, and my kugels normally suck, big time.

I can see I’m going to have to pray on this a lot, and ask God to show me how to get past this huge obstacle. I will keep you posted.

What’s been so hard to deal with the last few years is not so much the money issues, because hey, who doesn’t have money issues one way or another in 2017?

The main thing that’s been so hard for me to overcome is the overwhelming sense of loneliness that so often floods up a week or two before the next Jewish holiday. Anglos are very social creatures. When Pesach looms around the corner, or Rosh Hashana, or Purim, or whatever it is, our first thought is ‘who can we invite’?

At this stage in the game, I realize that part of the reason that God has put me in a space and a place where there are very few opportunities to invite or be invited is because socializing on Jewish festivals and shabbat is often just another form of unhealthy ‘escapism’.

The people I know who have the hardest times just ‘being’ – being themselves, being with their close families, being honest about who and what they really are – are the same people I see repeatedly knocking themselves out on the social circuit.

In London, I used to be like that too.

It was unthinkable for me to spend a whole Shabbat without being invited out, or having guests, for at least one of the meals. The times that happened were so few and far between, and nearly always made for a pretty unpleasant Shabbat.

Shabbat is quiet. There’s no i-Phones, no internet, no work, to movies, no soccer games, no arts and crafts or cooking to distract you away from your inner dimension. If the ‘inner dimension’ is a place where you’re happy to hang out, that’s great, and can be the springboard to enhanced awareness and spirituality. Which is really the original purpose of Shabbat.

But when you’re NOT so happy to spend quiet time in your ‘inner dimension’ – a quiet Shabbat can leave you rolling around on the floor tearing your hair out.

Which is why so many of us Anglos like to entertain so very much, so stop those overwhelming feelings of existential angst and loneliness from surfacing.

I’m the same way!

Except, God hasn’t been letting me get away with it anymore the last few years. Since we moved to Jerusalem two and a half years’ ago, I can count the number of times we’ve been invited out on one hand. I try to invite ‘in’ as much as I can, but that’s also been tricky.

Part of the problem is that there is space for another four people around my table, and most of the families we’d like to invite are much, much bigger than that. But, there’s also the ‘teenager’ factor, which works in two ways:

1) Often, my teenagers feel very awkward around people they don’t know, especially if those people appear to be more ‘more frum’ or different ages than they are, so they don’t enjoy meals with guests so much.

2) We don’t really ‘fit’ into any recognizable Jewish box, so while my husband dresses like a chareidi Kollel guy, I dress chardal (kind of…), one kid dresses ‘dati leumi’ and the other one ‘dati lite’.

Trying to find guests that are comfortable with my family’s diversity is also not so simple, especially when you have factors involved like guarding the eyes, setting a good example to smaller kids, insisting that girls need to wear socks, etc….

It takes a lot of good will on both sides of the equation to make it all ‘work’.

If I feel I’d have to cajole a kid into wearing socks to the table or dressing differently than they usually would in order for my guests to feel comfortable, then I usually can’t invite those guests, however much I personally like them.

Having more money or a bigger apartment won’t solve these issues. But, maybe they’d let me run away from the loneliness a bit more (because I’d build my teenagers their own ‘shabbat’ annex and pretend they didn’t exist.)

My husband and I have no close family in Israel. When the Jewish holidays roll around, I’m getting taken out by a feeling of complete isolation and ‘aloneness’, and that’s what’s so hard for me to come to terms with and accept. I moved to Israel to live a fuller Jewish life. I left behind family and a lot of close friends to be here.

I’ve mostly made my peace with not having a lot of money, a career, external ‘success’ etc, but I can’t make my peace with the loneliness. How can it be that I live in a country of six million Jews, that all my neighbors are Jews, that most of them are even frum Jews – and yet, I dread Jewish holidays because I have no shul I feel comfortable in, no community to belong to, and no-one to spend the meals with?

I miss people.

I miss having friends I could pop in to talk to on Shabbat. I miss having a shul that I knew was ‘my shul’ whenever I HAD to go, like on Rosh Hashana, or to hear Parshat Zachor.

I don’t know what to do about all these issues, and sometimes still, I feel very trapped and miserable about it all. On Purim, my oldest came with me to another ‘frum’ shul to hear Megilla. We lasted five minutes, then we had to go somewhere else. Even on Purim, her ‘not-so-frum teenage girl’ costume (ahem…) was more than the locals could handle (at least, that’s what she felt).

I don’t want my family to spend each holiday divided across four different synagogues, so I’ve been going with my kids to wherever they feel happiest – which is typically a 100% Hebrew speaking Israeli environment where I don’t know anyone and feel like the odd-one-out, but they have tons of their friends.

I’ll write more about this subject, but my family’s experience is just reflecting the splintering that’s occurred at the heart of the Jewish people. I guess I feel it more than most people, because I don’t have a ‘bubble’ of family and old friends from the old country to cushion me.

I think what I’m missing is a sense of unity and connection to my fellow Jew, and a feeling that I truly belong here, in the world, in Jerusalem, in Israel.

Of all the things I’m waiting for Moshiach to help me fix, this is probably the biggest.

Sometimes, we question why God put certain things in the world, like ISIS terrorists, left-wingers, poisonous snakes, mosquitoes, and….stroppy teenagers.

As my two kids have been moving through their teenage years, it’s certainly been challenging in parts, especially until I got the message that God was just using them to give me a message about what I still needed to work on and fix.

For example, when one of my kids started to dress like a semi-freak, I was sitting there wondering what on earth it was all about for months, until I realized that she was just mirroring that ‘squashed’ bit of me that didn’t really want to do the whole ‘black-clothing’ thing that’s the hallmark of ladies in the very frum charedi world.

As my clothes have returned to being more colorful, and more authentically ‘me’, my daughter’s weird fashion habits have simmered back down to almost normal.

Teenagers test us on our middot (character traits) like no-one else in the world. Every day, they can say things, and act in ways, that completely throw us out of our comfort zones, and challenge to the core that picture we’ve built up of ourselves, and our family lives, and our spiritual aspirations and accomplishments.

Even the small, nonchalant stuff can be testing sometimes. Like, two years’ ago, my oldest daughter said to me in such a sweet way:

“Mum, we have fat arms, don’t we?”

Do we?!?!?!?

This was news to me! I was secretly quite pleased that I’d been avoiding the dreaded ‘middle-age spread’ – but apparently my arms had been hit by the horrible ‘fat arm blight’ and here was my teenager shoving that fact clearly in my face.

Thank God, I’ve really been working on accepting criticism with love, like Rebbe Nachman teaches us, so I smiled weakly and decided I have to start buying looser-fitting tops from now on.

Not to be outdone, today my other teenager went into a whole big rant about how big her bottom now is, and apparently it’s all my fault, because my derriere should have its own chapter in the Guinness Book of Records and she got my mutant genes…

By this stage, I actually find a lot of these comments funny, which annoys teenagers no end, because they’re trying to make a point, and I’m there laughing my head off that people still get so agitated about how bad their hair looks, or how big their bottoms are (NOT….) when geula is probably about to kick off any minute.

But I’ve realized that even this is ‘avodat hamiddot’, or work that God is giving me to do on my character traits. My kid needs some empathy and commiseration that she’s feeling insecure about her appearance, and I’m often still very bad at pulling my head out of all my lofty spiritual concepts to come down to her level, and meet her in that place where she’s really at.

The world at 13 is a very different place from the world at 43, I know. But sometimes, I forget.

So God then sends me a stroppy teenager (or two) to remind me that I also need to pay a bit more attention to my appearance, or that I need to stop pretending that I’m on a spiritual level that I’m really, actually not, or just to give me my daily dose of criticism in a format I can actually usually handle OK.

Sure, they also have their own work to do too, and they’re also on their own paths of growth and self-development. But please be reassured: when your teenager is telling you your arms are fat, your bottom is massive, your cooking sucks, and you’re a control freak who’s trying to ruin their lives, they aren’t just saying those things to upset you.

God’s just using them to get us to work on our middot, and man, it’s hard work!

Even before I knew Amona was being bulldozed last week (because the Israeli government was trying to do it in their usual sneaky, underhanded way) I got a phone call from my almost 16 year old asking me if I could send her permission to leave her school for a day.

“Uh, why?” I wanted to know (call me old-fashioned.)

“Mum, they’re destroying Amona, and me and all my friends from Ulpana want to go and protest. The teacher only lets if you say yes.”

As my kid was hanging on the phone waiting for an answer, a picture popped into my head, unbidden, of some black-clad kassamnik from 10 years ago, using a rubber truncheon to whack the heck out a bunch of peaceful teens who were sitting on the floor passively protesting another ‘dismantling’.

For a growing percentage of Israel’s frum community, the love affair with the Israeli police (and the IDF) is firmly over.

For all the amazing Jews who serve their country, both these organisations are ultimately controlled by anti-Torah, unethical, corrupt people who still stop at nothing to achieve their ends.

Including whacking the heck out of peaceful, idealistic teens who happen to be stopping them from doing their ‘job’ of destroying Jewish homes in Eretz Israel.

The last thing I wanted was for my kid to be one of the ones getting whacked and arrested, and I don’t know what else, because like I said, a lot of these people are plain evil and if they weren’t ‘policemen’, they’d be mafia henchmen. (Some of them probably even are.)

So what to do?

The next thought that popped into my head, unbidden, is that really, I can’t stop my daughter from doing what she wants. I like to pretend that I can, but really, I can’t.

So then, I asked God for some guidance, and heard myself telling her that as long as she was going with all her classmates, I let her go to Amona.

As I hung up, not for the first time I felt a little wistful that my family doesn’t fit the more standard ‘chareidi’ mould that frowns sternly on girls marching out on the streets. Both my girls are deeply, sincerely attached to the ‘national religious’ community, and protesting Government injustice is something they both feel very strongly about.

I get very conflicted about this stuff a lot of the time, because I know that all their protesting isn’t going to make any difference, and could just get them in a whole bunch of trouble. But at the same time, I also feel so proud of them that they care enough to put themselves on the line to protest Jewish families being evicted from their homes.

If more of the ‘grown ups’ cared as much about our fellow Jews, maybe things would look different – and much better – in Israel right now.

In the end, God worked things out nicely for both of us: my daughter was too late to ‘break into’ Amona (although she told me later that two her friends had managed to barricade themselves into one of the houses, and were some of the last ‘protesters’ to be taken out by the police).

So instead, her and her classmates joined an impromptu demonstration against the dismantlement in nearby Raanana.

But I’m still left with the question: Does all this stuff make God happy?

For all my pondering, I still really don’t know. For sure, it’s not the Torah way to encourage girls to go out to ‘battle’, in any way, shape or form, for very good reasons.

On the other hand, I know God has to be impressed by the teens’ mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) and commitment to standing up for what they believe to be right. Like I said, those qualities are sadly lacking in today’s world, perhaps especially by the adults who are meant to be leading us forward and setting the example.

One thing I can tell you for sure: sooner or later, one way or another, Israel will be ruled by Torah-true Jews. If it’s not Moshiach, it’s going to be these teens all grown up and ready to vote.

And nothing and no-one will be able to stop it.

==

After I wrote this, my daughter asked me something else:

“Mum, I’m debating going to Ofra today [where the Government is going to knock down some more Jewish homes]. Do you let me?”

I sighed another deep sigh, and I explained to my daughter that I really don’t think demonstrating is going to help much, because until and unless more of us stop believing in ‘the Government’, and ‘the Likud’ and the ‘Beit Yehudi’ – and start believing in God, instead – these things are just going to keep happening, until we finally get the message.

She agreed…but she also said she feels so bad for the families involved, and wants to help them however she can.

How could I argue against that, really? I told her to ask God to give her the right idea of what to do, and left it at that.

Who is like this people of Yours, Hashem?

One day very soon, the tremendous good that is the authentic Jewish people is going to rise to the top, and the bad will just disappear, like smoke.

There’s been so many fires going on in Israel the last few weeks.

If you read THIS POST about the luminaries of fire vs the luminaries of light, then you’ll have a pretty good idea why this is happening, spiritually-speaking.

Friday morning, I had my own taste of it.

Apartments in Israel don’t tend to have any central heating, and also tend to be really, really cold in the winter. Most people seem to buy plug-in electrical heating devices to heat the space they’re in over winter, or turn their air-conditioning units to ‘hot’.

The last few years’, we’ve been using a ‘glow in the dark’ electrified coil-type of heater – which to be honest, I’ve never liked as they always struck me as pretty dangerous. But they give off a lot of heat, and the rest of my family likes them a lot.

Which brings me to what happened last Friday.

There’s a strange thing that happens with teenagers that all the common sense rules and regulations you ever told them seem to get wiped out of their brains as soon as they hit 13.

Many of these ‘rules’ ARE just opinions, social norms, parental preferences, and the teen is justified in rethinking the validity of these types of rules. But other things – like the strict instruction to NEVER PUT CLOTHING ON THE FIRE-THING TO WARM UP – are clearly just plain common-sense and potentially life-saving.

Sadly, teens often don’t seem to realize that some rules really are inviolable, and for good reason.

Last Friday, thank God my husband was feeling really, really poorly, so he didn’t get up to go to shul like he usually does. I was finding it hard to get out of bed (occasionally that happens…) so my daughter was getting her own act together to go to school.

Eventually, I found the will to get up and make my kid a sandwich, so I opened my bedroom door – and saw a raging inferno burning away in my living room.

I didn’t have my glasses on, so it mamash looked like the whole place had gone up in flames.

I started screaming, my husband and daughter came running, and I decided that we had to get everyone out the apartment ASAP as the fire was very close to the front door and it didn’t look like we’d have much time to get out. I sent the kid to wake up her (still sleeping) sister and friend, and then I just panicked for about a minute and kind of froze in place.

Thank God for my husband.

He grabbed a cushion off the armchair and started beating the flames out. Once everything calmed down (and I put my glasses on) I could see what had actually happened.

My kid had put her jeans skirt on the fire ‘to warm up’ then left it to go and find a top. It had caught fire and fragmented into many different sections, each of which was burning. We were SO lucky that nothing else caught fire, as my apartment is on the small side, and there was a ton of very flammable stuff all around. If any of those things had caught, I wouldn’t be typing this now.

When we all calmed down a little, I realized the following:

  • If my husband hadn’t been ill and at home that morning, things would have ended very differently.
  • Staying in bed is sometimes very dangerous (who knew?)
  • Even very clever, sensitive and otherwise amazing teenagers are occasionally SO DUMB it’s astounding
  • We need to buy a radiator…

The last thing I realized is how much God loves me. I felt very strongly that if I hadn’t made all the teshuva I’d made last week to try to quench all my ‘internal fires of hatred’ against certain people, things could have ended very differently, God forbid.

Our Sages often equate anger and rage to a destructive fire. Last week I got a small taste of just how much damage these ‘fires’ can do, if we don’t make every effort to put them out ASAP.

After all the agro I got the last couple of weeks from my crazy emailers, I have to admit that I’ve been having some massive struggles with my own bad middot, and particularly the traits of vengeance and spite.

(As an aside, every time I stick up the character traits from the ‘Erev Rav’ I try to check where I’m holding on it all myself, and ‘vengeance and spite’ have been at the very top of my list, recently.)

But God has been doing His best to help me overcome these issues the last few days. For example, one of my correspondents sent me a very nice email last week on a completely different subject than my crazy relatives, but which ended with their own observation that whatever happens in our life, we have to see that God is behind it, and He’s just using people as a mirror.

Hmmmm.

As I was busy trying to avoid that idea, I went to see my lady who helps me with a lot of my psychosomatic aches and pains. Mostly, I can figure out the messages my illnesses are giving me myself in hitbodedut, but occasionally they are too much in my blind spot for me to see them myself, and that’s where this lady comes in.

She’s very connected, she’s very Israeli, and she doesn’t pull her punches about what I need to change or fix.

I love that about her! But it’s not always easy to hear it.

Since all the poisonous email stuff, I was having some sort of weird chest pain going on, and I knew it was related (pardon the pun).  This lady told me straight: “God is using this situation to give you a message. It’s going to be very hard work to hear it, because it involves breaking your ego, and that’s never easy. If you’re ready to do the work, come back next week.”

Hmmmm.

I did some hitbodedut on it all, and here’s what came up: My poison penners ARE from God, and ARE sending me and my husband a message, but it’s not directly connected to what’s going on with them (because as I mentioned already, they are certifiably crazy).

Once I wrapped my head around the idea that God is even behind the nasty emails that crazy people send, things really started to move.

I’ve learnt that the thing that most upsets you, that most grabs your attention, that most annoys you or troubles you, that’s the place to start, when trying to work out the messages God is sending each and every one of us via other people.

So I went through all the emails me and my husband received last week, and I carefully underlined the bits that really hit a nerve. By the end of it, I had a list of about 4-5 statements that really, really bothered me, and then I asked God to show me how they were connected to my real, actual life, and not all the lies being told by the crazies.

Dear reader, we came up with some really interesting messages! Like for example, it bothered me tremendously that this person called me and my husband parasites and scroungers, because we really, really aren’t. We give charity generously, we don’t ask other people for help, we try to rely on Hashem and not people in every way possible.

So I was completely offended by this statement, and I also couldn’t understand how it could be a message to me about anything. But after pondering it, I realized that me and my husband ARE still scrounging to make a decent living, and it’s something that’s upsetting both of us.

Once we got that it WAS an accurate description of something in our life that needed fixing, we could move on to the next stage of decoding the message:

How do we fix our chronic lack of parnassa, at its spiritual root?

My husband is currently working on finding the answer to that, and I’ll keep you posted.

This week I went back to my lady, and I got some more insights: She explained that spite is the one thing GUARANTEED to kill a person, physically. All the hate and rage that underpin spite does tremendous damage to a person’s health.

As I’ve been feeling pretty rotten again this week, she didn’t need to do a lot to convince me she was right. But how to get rid of it?

That’s where God came in again.

I had a couple of meaningful dreams, I went to visit the grave of Rav Yehuda Zev Leibowitz in Bnei Brak, I did a couple of hours of really useful hitbodedut, or talking to God, and voila, a few days’ later I’d got to a place where I was willing to let go of my hate and spite, because I finally understood that it was a defense mechanism that I felt I needed to keep these crazy people away from me and my family.

When I was talking to God about it all, I suddenly got that God is going to protect me from the crazies in my life, if I trust Him to do that, which means that my negative emotions are actually redundant. All my spite and hate is doing is making me sick, and it’s God who’s going to protect me anyway – so why kill myself in the meantime?!

Sigh.

Dealing with negative character traits is such hard work. But one thing keeps me going: I want to be a lover, not a hater. I want to get to the end of my 120 years knowing that whatever disgusting traits I came down to the world with, I did my very best to acknowledge them and fix them, with God’s help.

And if I manage to do that, ironically, my crazy emailers are going to get a big amount of the credit for it.

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of when Rav Nechemia Lavi, HYD, and Aharon Benita, HYD, were brutally murdered in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, during the last moments of Succot.

Those murders, more than any of the other recent tragedies, hit my family really, really hard, for a few different reasons. First of all, they were so close by (but I could make that claim about most of the attacks you read about in Jerusalem…) Second, one of my kids was taught by the wife of Rav Lavi. Third, both of my kids were in the Old City when it happened. Fourth, my kids – and their friends – pass by the spot where the murders happened all the time, as a big Jewish residential building, Beit Wittenberg, is right there.

Me and my family went into shock a year ago, and I think it’s taken a whole year for us to start coming out of it again, one way or another.

But in the meantime, the teenagers and kids of the Old City have spent the last year coming up with a whole bunch of meaningful ways of remembering the dead, many of which came to fruition this week.

Firstly, they unveiled a memorial to the dead men, at the spot the attack happened.

Next, they spent months collecting 40,000 shekels (!), then they found an empty shop in the hard-core Arab Shuk, fixed it up, and turned it into a ‘pinah chamah’ or ‘warm place’ for the IDF soldiers, magavnikim and other security people who are in the Old City. The ribbon was cut on the pinah chamah a couple of days’ ago.

The boys’ school in the Old City also wrote a Sefer Torah, in the merit of the deceased, which was finished shortly before Succot.

Next, they arranged to do ‘hakafot shniyot’ at the place where the murders they happened, turning it into a permanent fixture in the Old City calendar that is now bringing hundreds of people into to dance in the Muslim Quarter.

Last, the family of Rav Lavi interviewed a whole bunch of people who knew him, and turned it into a film of his life, to show who he really was. The film’s first screening happened yesterday, at the Heichal Shlomo hall next to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.

Both my girls came home in floods of tears, as they told me some of the stories about how good, and how idealistic, Rav Lavi had been.

They told me that when the Arabs were regularly blowing up buses in Jerusalem, there was one bus line that was had been attacked twice in a row, at exactly the same time, killing lots of people.

When the third week rolled around, Rav Lavi decided to stand at the front of the bus for the whole morning, holding an Israeli flag.

These sound like small things, maybe, but when you consider how many people would devote a whole morning of their time to boosting the morale of their fellow Jews like that – for free – it really speaks volumes.

As all this activity has been occurring around the remembrance of Rav Lavi, and Aharon Benita, it’s really brought home to me WHY I live in Israel.

Tough things happen, like they do everywhere else in the world. But nowhere else in the world do tragedies like this underscore the beauty of life, and the strength of the Jewish soul.

Both my kids got a lot of closure from all the remembrances, and the activities, and the dancing, and the crying they did this last week. It seems to me, Israel is the only place that you can dance and cry together like that, or where violent death can transform itself so amazingly into the purest stuff of life.

Sometimes, it really does take a year to heal from these losses, even when they’re just happening in the periphery of your life. That’s why God is a genius, and tells us it takes a year to mourn, properly.

My kids cried a lot yesterday, and I also had a few tears leak out, as I listened to them. But underneath it all, I could feel that some of the sadness I’ve been lugging around with me for ages seems to have dissolved.

It’s a new year. A new start.

Rav Lavi and Aharon Benita are sadly gone – but their legacy lives on, embodied by the idealism, generosity of spirit and hope of my kids and their friends.

The younger generation really showed me something amazing this week: Jews remember their dead by being even more alive, even more idealistic, even more determined to do good and be good. They don’t let the ‘bad’ take them out – they take it as a prompt to start adding even more good to the world.

I really hope I can follow their lead.

Every year around this time, I struggle with the same thing: huge feelings of anger and annoyance against people who have treated me really, really badly, yet never apologise for anything.

As a frum Jew, I’ve tried pretty hard to make amends, and I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie over the years, trying to make peace with people I’ve fallen out with because they’ve treated me so badly.

Last year, I had a huge test on this front as I finally got around to apologizing to someone who has made my life miserable for years’ already, solely to try to do the right thing, and to keep God happy.

Dear reader, I sent this person three fulsome apologies – and by the end, they still refused to forgive me! What makes it even harder to swallow is that this person is a really nasty, messed-up piece of work that thinks they are 100% justified in all the terrible, awful, horrible things they do and say, and that the problem is always everyone else’s.

Have they ever apologized even once for all the disgusting things they’ve said and done?

Nope.

(To give you an idea of what I’m dealing with, they once told me that I was only apologizing because ‘the Torah’ told me I had to, which meant it couldn’t be sincere, so they didn’t have to accept it.)

I knew once I sent the third apology that I’d done my bit, and that now the problem was 100% back in their court, spiritually-speaking. Halachically, you’re only meant to try to apologise, and to try and appease the person three times, and then they’re considered to be officially ‘cruel’ (i.e., mentally ill) for not accepting your apology, and you don’t have to worry about them anymore.

Which is all well and good if they’re someone you never have to deal with, or see ever again, but occasionally God fixes it that you’re stuck with these really nasty people very close to home. Which is when the next part of the test kicks in, because even though you’ve gone all out to make peace with them, and even though the problem is them and their mentally-ill behavior and attitudes, you’re still stuck having to play the role of being the bad one that’s causing all the difficulties.

King David wrote about this, when he described how he was just for peace, yet his enemies were just for war.

Man, I can relate. And then I sometimes get boiling mad at all the unfairness and unjustice of it all. Until….

Until….

Until I remember that God is behind it all. God is the one who’s sending all these warped, mentally-ill, self-righteous, pretend ‘perfect’ people into my life. Why? Because they clearly have a spiritual job to do, and they are part of the spiritual tests I have to face and overcome.

Nothing but nothing challenges your emuna so much as trying to see God behind some mentally-ill person who’s raised the art of slandering you and abusing you while playing the poor victim into an art form.

But if (WHEN!) you pass that test, nothing but nothing compares to the spiritual rewards you get for standing up in it (so I’ve been told 😉

Which is why this time of year can be so challenging. If I sit and wait for these people to apologise for anything, I’ll be here forever. If I don’t want to get stuck behind their mentally-ill bad middot that means I have to figure out how to neutralize my anger and rage without being appeased by them. That is serious spiritual work. That’s hours and hours of hitbodedut, and asking God for help.

And that’s the main Teshuva to make over these ten days of repentance, at least for me: to ask for God’s help to uproot my own anger and bad middot, to know that God is behind everything and everyone, and to trust that ultimately, it’s all just good.