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Fresh off the back of yet another awful horrible story of potential marriage break-up, God forbid, this is a plea from the heart to all married readers to

PLEASE PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST!!!

I’ve written about this before, but it’s not being talked about enough in the frum Jewish world, that probably the biggest reason that couples break up today is because of a very unhealthy relationship with the parents and parents in law.

And I’m including both sets of ‘parents’ and ‘parents in law’ here, because there is no such thing as only one half of the couple coming from a dysfunctional background, however it may look externally.

When people grow up in emotionally healthy, accepting, God-fearing, functional families, they simply can’t jive with a spouse who grew up in a dysfunctional family that is not all of these things (i.e. nearly everyone in 2017).

I know this flies in the face of conventional marriage guidance and Western psychological thought. But the Zohar teaches us very clearly that husband and wife are two parts of the same soul. In some way that means that both people coming into the marriage experienced the same sorts of traumas, lacks, problems and issues – albeit it’s often dressed up in such different clothing, that usually that’s not at all obvious.

Again, if one set of parents are any admixture of emotionally unhealthy / controlling / neglectful / dismissive of their children’s true feelings / grasping / selfish / rigid / intolerant of difference / snobby / angry / jealous of their children’s love, attention and loyalty going towards a spouse (I’m missing a bunch of things out here, but you get the picture…) then IT’S IMPOSSIBLE for the other set of parents to be totally emotionally healthy.

Everyone has their issues, everyone their problems.

Some are more obvious, some are more hidden, and God puts couples together dafka to bring those ‘hidden’ issues up to the surface, so they can finally be worked on and fixed.

Dear reader, I have heard so many horror stories of parents who are so caught up in what they want, and what they prefer, and what’s good for them that they are wreaking havoc upon their children’s marriages, shalom bayit, emotional health and general well-being. I know this stuff is so hard to spot (also because it’s so common that we think it’s ‘normal’ behavior) – so here’s some examples of what emotionally unhealthy parents do, so you can see what I’m on about:

Emotionally-unhealthy parents:

  • Expect their kid to put them and their needs first, ahead of what’s good for their spouse.

This takes many forms, including: inviting themselves to stay for ages; expecting the kid to attend any events / holidays they deem necessary; making decisions on behalf of their kids without checking it’s what the kid (AND THEIR SPOUSE!!) really wants or can manage (‘we’ll all come to you for Seder again this year!’) etc

  • Only corresponding with their child, while ignoring the spouse (and their wishes) completely.

Instead of encouraging the kid to make a joint decision with their spouse, emotionally unhealthy parents completely sideline the spouse, and speak only to the kid. The spouse doesn’t really ‘exist’ – but here’s the thing, neither does the kid. It’s just harder to hide that reality from a grown-up who didn’t get used to this situation from childhood (at least, from that set of parents).

  • Criticise, pick holes in and generally slag off the kid’s spouse to the kid.

Whatever problems are going in the marriage, it’s very rarely ever only one person’s fault.

Emotionally unhealthy parents excel in seeing the ‘bad’ in the spouse, while excusing their own kids’ contribution to the situation.

This is because they see their kid as an extension of themselves, so when the kid starts acting in their marriages according to the bad middot and mentally ill behaviors they learnt at home, the parents find it very hard to accept this behavior is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’.

If they accepted that it was ‘wrong’, they’d be acknowledging that much of their own behavior is crazy and ‘wrong’ – and emotionally unhealthy people struggle to do that tremendously.

So it’s much easier to just blame the other person and ‘the other side’ for all the issues, and avoid looking at what’s really going on in our backyards, with our own dysfunctional and destructive family dynamics.

  • Drop hints, obviously and otherwise, that if the marriage ends that’s no big loss.

This one is SO upsetting to me when there are kids involved, because the people who do this are operating from the mistaken assumption that you can somehow surgically remove a parent out of the equation and it won’t have any impact on the kids.

Sometimes, when you’re dealing with chronic abuse or a level of madness that is almost impossible to fix, it could be there is no choice except to get divorced. I understand that. But divorce even in those circumstances is still the lesser of two evils, and not a ‘good’ thing.

Whatever the parents don’t fix, it just gets passed down the line to the kids. If you don’t work together with your spouse to fix their bad traits (and also your own…) those bad traits get passed on to the next generation, who then find themselves with a huge job on their hands.

When you divorce, your ability to fix your spouse – and the parts of your spouse that are PART OF YOUR CHILDREN – diminishes considerably.

You don’t get the same siyatta dishmaya, you don’t have the same motivation to do six hour sessions, to pour your heart out to God to help you, to help your spouse, to fix the problems in your family.

Getting divorced is SO much easier than dealing with disappointment, frustration and thwarted dreams day in and day out. At least, that’s how it looks, if you pretend that your spouse is not an integral part of your kids, and the other half of your own neshama…

The buck stops with us! Don’t give up on your marriages! Don’t give up on your spouses!

I know it’s so, so hard, I really do.

But getting divorced is NOT an easy option (even when there are extreme circumstances and your God fearing Rabbi is counselling you that this is truly the best option for you and your family.)

For so many people, it’s the apparent shortcut out of all the drama and hassle that turns into the longest and most painful road of your life.

Just ask the divorcee I hear screaming most nights a week that she’s going crazy, and can’t do it all by herself anymore!!! Ask the lost, miserable kids I see wandering around my neighborhood, smoking cigarettes at age 11 and getting into all sorts of trouble. Ask the dad who misses his kids so badly, and who dies a bit more inside every time he thinks of his kids growing up in some other man’s house.

Fight for your marriages, fight for your spouses! Don’t leave your kids to rectify all those massive bad middot they inherited by themselves!

Pray your hearts out!

Be aware that most of us come from highly dysfunctional families, and that if you’re seeing that by your spouse’s family, it’s 100% for sure also lurking in your own background too, just waiting for you to wake up and acknowledge it, and to fix the problem in your own family tree.

And the first way to start that process is this:

PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST.

May God bless us all with the emuna, strength, patience, prayer, perseverance and love we need to hold our families together in these extremely troubling times.

It says in the Gemara that before Moshiach comes, the troubles will come piling in like one big tsunami after another.

Before one trouble ends, another will be washing over us.

I have to say, the last few weeks that’s been really playing out in my life. I had my mini-nervous breakdown three weeks ago that saw me scurrying off to London for the first time in six years to finally face down my UK demons.

I got back from that trip happy but kind of exhausted, immediately came down with a huge stress cold, then got even more stressed when I realized that Rosh Hashana was two days’ away and I’d done pretty much nothing, spiritually or otherwise, to prepare for it. (Or so it seemed.)

I got the message before Rosh Hashana this year that the chag was kind of prepared for me, and that this year all I had to do was show up. But to be honest, even that part was tough.

Sunday morning, I headed out to Ben Gurion to pick my husband up from Uman, accompanied by text messages telling us that my mother-in-law had almost died motzae Shabbat, and things didn’t look good.

Eight hours after I picked him up, we were back at the airport on a last minute flight back out to the UK to try to see my mother-in-law one last time before she passed away.

We were too late. We got the text message she’d died as we were waiting to check in.

We got to the UK in the early hours of Monday morning to discover there were no beds for us (understandably, given what had just gone on). My husband hadn’t slept for two days’ straight by that point and crashed out on the couch.

I, in the meantime, was trying to figure out how I could sleep in a modest fashion on the couch with a bunch of strange men in the house…

In the end, I just couldn’t sleep.

The way things are done in my husband’s old hood is because the Jewish community is so small, they tend to only bury at one time slot a day – 2.30pm. With all the paperwork etc, we’d missed the slot for that day, so we had to wait for the actual funeral to happen the next day.

That day was pretty weird. I kept thinking about my mother-in-law’s soul, and how un-thrilled it probably was about this turn of events. That night, we had a bed – but neither of us could sleep, despite our best efforts. I tossed, I turned, I kept thinking about my mother-in-law and what was going on with her in the heavenly court.

What can you do?

After the funeral, the heaviness started to lift – but then I was put on hardcore ‘tea’ duty.

I forgot how much people in the UK like their cups of tea. I also forgot how people who don’t really know the laws of mourning show up a shiva house expecting to be served tea and cake by the family of mourners.

Me and the brother-in-laws were pressed into service, and man, I was so tired after 6 straight hours of making and serving tea that I could have collapsed right then and there.

At that point, the claustrophobia started to kick in, and knackered as I was, I had to get out and go for a longish walk to clear my head, despite the fact that my eyes were swimming and I was so tired I literally couldn’t speak.

The food was also something of a challenge. I pretty much ate fish balls and fruit for four days’ solid, and things would have been much worse if a kind friend hadn’t shown up having cleared out the local kosher store for us.

I forgot how much Jews in the UK like their fish balls.

We flew back into Israel late Thursday night, and the first thing I did was buy a kosher sandwich at the airport. It tasted so good, I wound down the window of the car as we were leaving Ben Gurion and started yelling loudly about how great Israel really is, and how happy I am to be living here.

Finally.

The next day, my husband sat shiva for a few more hours early in the morning with our girls, until Chatzot, looking through old family pictures. Yom Kippur was looming, and I had no food in the house, and no energy to cook. I bought what I could at the makolet, rummaged around the freezer, and put together something super simple.

Me and my husband were so exhausted. So I came into yet another high holiday completely wasted and (again…) completely unprepared for the chag.

Dear reader, I slept most of Yom Kippur and barely did any praying.

The first text message I got from a friend after the holiday is that her father had just passed away. I also got an email from the evil lawyers who are suing me telling me they haven’t forgotten about it, and still want to extort a few thousand shekels.

I have no idea what’s going on at the moment. I have no energy to do anything, no motivation, no ability to think past the next five minutes.

I just want everything and everyone to go away and leave me alone for a few weeks, so I can get my bearings back and figure out what’s really going on and what I’m meant to be doing with myself.

In three days’ time, it’s Succot.

I’m so not prepared for it. I’m so not ‘there’. I got worried we’d missed our chance to grab a space for the succah this year because round where I live, there are 40 families going after 20 places on the road downstairs, so you usually go bag your place straight after Rosh Hashana.

But apparently, the building ‘saved’ our spot, so hopefully we will have somewhere for our Succah after all.

Is all this madness leading to Moshiach, or just another nervous breakdown?

I have no idea!

But I guess we’ll find out.

As I watched clods of brown mud being spaded on top of a coffin last week, I was pondering what a person truly leaves behind them, when they die.

They leave behind a lot of paperwork – this agreement with the car leasing company, that letter from the bank, a will, a bill, an instruction to an insurance agent or realtor.

They also leave behind a lot of clothes. And accessories. And jewellery. Closets and closets full of stuff that no-one else actually wants, for all the person who used to wear them is so loved and missed.

Other things remain, like furniture. A new fridge. A shed-full of other people’s memories that couldn’t quite be discarded despite the lack of real use for them in the world.

Then there’s the photos – or at least, there used to be the photos before the i-Phones showed up and turned everything into yet another anonymous, bland file on Dropbox that could be viewed or ignored with equal equanimity.

All these things are left behind, but carry no weight in the world in the world as soon as person moves on to the next, purely spiritual, stage of left.

So what’s really left behind, tachlis, in the world?

The truth is, we really all already know the answer to this question, for all that it can be so obscured behind the rat race, and the keeping up with the Joneses, and the massive mortgage payments.

What we leave behind is our kindnesses, and the things we did that touched and effected other people worlds, in some way.

Like, that conversation we once had with someone that ended up somehow changing the whole course of their life. Or the event we helped organize that raised so much money, or brought so much joy and meaning to other people’s hearts.

Or the meals we made with love, day in day out, that nourished our families and friends, and made them feel like someone had their back.

What we leave behind is the impression we made on other people’s lives, and in other people’s memories, and within other people’s hearts.

Did we turn someone else’s heart to stone with a cruel word, or a hateful comment, or did we warm it up in some way?

Thank God, I haven’t been to a lot of funerals. But I’ve been to enough to know that no-one talks about how much money the dead person had, or how big their house was, or how nattily they dressed.

What we leave behind is our kindnesses for others, and our commitment to living a ‘good’ life as delineated by Hashem, and His Torah.

As below, so above. Parodoxically, what we take with us into the next world are exactly the same things that we leave behind here. Our kindnesses and our mitzvot, and our character traits.

In the world of truth, no-one cares what car you drive, or how many square metres you call ‘home’.

I got off the plane at midnight, London time, and breathed in the crisp, cold, damp air so typical of British ‘summertime’.

So, I’d come back to my old hood after all, to face all my demons down and to firmly address the question once and for all about whether moving Israel had been some sort of ‘mistake’, God forbid.

My brother picked me up from Luton, and asked me if I thought I was capable of hurdling two metal railings (next to the busy main road…) as he was a bit worried about getting a ticket where he parked, as they’d changed all the parking rules again.

I’m a game girl, but long jeans skirts aren’t so useful when it comes to hurdling high bits of metal, so I told him we’d probably have to go round the long way. It was so good to see my brother.

As we were talking in the car, I noticed he was gripping the steering wheel in a pretty anxious way.

“Bruvs, are you OK?”

“Yeh, I’m just worrying about the speed cameras. They basically video you the whole time to get your average speed, and if then you get slapped with an £80 speeding ticket.”

Hmm. I started to cheer up as even as that early hour, I could see that London life is far more stressful than is apparent to tourists.

The next day, I decided to go and walk around all my old Jewish haunts in NW London:

Hendon, (where I used to live), Golders Green (where I used to shop), Temple Fortune, and Hampstead Heath (where I used to jealously eye up all the big mansions looking out onto the heath and wish that I lived there…).

While half of Hendon is still pretty Jewish, the other half is now almost entirely ‘ethnic’. Not only that, a huge, shiny ‘Jews for J’ shop has opened right next door to Hendon Tube. I used to live in the more Jewish bit, so I walked down the street to my old house, and I saw that apart from the trees I’d planted in the front garden now being toweringly tall, nothing else about the house – or street – had really changed at all.

It was stuck in a time warp, like I’d been. Looking at my house, I realized it had actually been pretty big, and pretty nice. But I’d never, ever been satisfied with it. I always had a jealous eye on the fancier, bigger houses up the road, or the nicer locations elsewhere.

I started to realize why God has put me through all my trials with houses in Israel, because jealousy is a form of sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, and I could see how jealousy is probably the single biggest pervasive bad midda coursing through London’s veins.

I heard so many stories of friends and siblings who stopped talking to each other when one of them got more financially successful, or a much bigger, or better house than his peers. How yucky!

How London.

A large swathe of the kosher shops in Golders Green had recently burned down, giving that half of the street a bit of an eery, empty feel. At the other end of the road, by the station, a beige banner announced the exciting news that the old Hippodrome building had just been acquired by an Islamic group, who had plans to turn it into a massive Islamic education centre. I raised an eyebrow.

When I got home, I checked that bit of info out and discovered it’s all true. They want to build the largest ‘Islamic education centre’ in Europe, right on the doorstep of one of the most solidly chareidi Jewish neighborhoods in the UK.

I bought some ubiquitous, incredibly expensive kosher fish and chips on the way home, and sat in Hendon Park to eat them. With a start, I realized that this was the first time I’d ever really just sat in that park, watching the sky and the people, even though I’d lived in Hendon for the best part of 10 years.

It was a beautiful scene, but I’d always been too busy to notice it, or too worried about getting mugged or harassed by drug addicts to spend any time there.

How London.

The following day, I caught the bus into town with my brother, and discovered that you can no longer use cash to pay for a bus ticket. Everything is credit cards or automated online travel cards. My brother lent me his card for the day, but I started to ponder what would have happened if I didn’t have him to help me, or if I was a tourist, or someone down on their luck who simply didn’t have a credit card?

London is getting so expensive and so complicated to live in, that the down and outs simply have no chance these days. You can’t even catch a bus without a pin number.

I got off at Oxford Street, near Selfridges, and hit Primark (together with about 20 other frum ladies from Israel, and 20 more from Saudi Arabia). Stuff was so cheap in Primark! I started to see some ‘up’ to living in London after all.

Except, I couldn’t find any skirts to buy, or even to look at. Everything was trousers.

Hmm.

I wondered off down Oxford Street, popping into all my old favorites, and I had the same experience over and over again: the stores were full of clothes, but they were all so trashy, tacky, short, immodest or inappropriate that I didn’t feel like buying anything.

So then I tried my ‘expensive designer fashion street’ – just as an experiment, not to actually buy anything – and lo and behold, I found the first skirt I liked, boasting a price tag of £500… (around 2000 shekels).

Gosh, no wonder I used to buy expensive designer skirts when I lived there. There wasn’t much else available for a frum Jewish female.

It was strangely comforting to realize that my exaggerated gashmius had been pinned on a strong spiritual basis, after all.

I spent another three hours walking around central London. Through the Burlington Arcade, pass all the fancy designer shops, up past Nelson’s Column and Horse Guards’ Parade into St James Park, where I sat down to look at the gorgeous massive duck pond that used to be a 10 minute walk from my work, but that I hardly ever came to because I was always so stressed and busy.

As I was looking at the grey geese, I realized that nearly all the ‘couples’ parading around the park locked in deep conversations were men – and I suddenly got that uncomfortable feeling that was popping up a lot in London that I’d tripped into some covert bastion of pinkness.

Sure, men do occasionally hang out with each other, and talk to each other, it’s not unheard of. But something about the way that so many of these men were gazing into each other’s eyes, and dressing almost identically sent alarm bells ringing that I was witnessing part of the ‘pink revolution’ that’s currently revving away at full throttle in the UK.

All the highest paid TV presenters are gay; the trashy papers are full of ‘gay couple escapades’; or stories about small boy children being sent to school in dresses in the name of ‘gender neutrality’ and ‘equality’ (and also of schools banning skirts from their school uniform – clearly only for girls – in the name of the same misguided principles.)

Uck, uck and uck again.

I got up briskly, and headed off to Whitehall, where I used to work. Right outside Richmond House, and opposite a very heavily barricaded Downing Street, you’ll find London’s main memorial to the dead of World War II.

I stood on the pavement rooted to the spot. Each side of that monument bore the inscription:

‘The Glorious Dead’

– and it suddenly struck me that this epitaph summed up London life to a tee. The whole time I’d been living there, I’d felt so stressed and spiritually-dead – but hey, so gloriously dressed and well-paid!

God had put that message right outside my office, and I saw it at least twice a day. But I never paid attention, because I was always too stressed, preoccupied and busy.

How London.

Last stop in Central London was the British Museum.

I joined the queue to go through all the security checks that definitely weren’t there last time I lived in London, but which now reminded me of life in Israel.

I entered the great hall, turned left to the Egyptian and Assyrian galleries full of dead pharaohs and massive winged lions – and then left, bored, 20 minutes later. After reading Velikovsky, I knew that most of what was being described on the plaques next to the exhibits was pure conjecture or scholarly fancy, and without a real context the exhibits themselves became meaningless statues.

All that shefa, all that bounty, all that wealth, all that treasure – yet it all felt so empty and pointless.

How London.

Just outside the museum, I got accosted by a down-and-out guy obviously from Africa.

“Don’t run away!” he implored me. “I just want to talk to you! People are so scared of me here they run away as soon I get close to them!”

I took a good look at him, and saw that while he was poor and certainly a little grimy, he wasn’t dangerous, drug addicted or mad. So I listened to what he had to say, which was basically that he was a school teacher from Nigeria who’d applied for asylum in the UK, and been refused.

In the meantime, he was completely indigent, living from hand to mouth, and had no money for food. “In Africa, people look out for each other, they share their food,” he told me. “Here, people treat me like I’m not even human.”

So much for all the ‘political correctness’ and ‘equality’ being mouthed, pointlessly, by the chattering classes.

I felt sorry for him, and handed over a few pound coins – the money I’d brought with to use on the bus, but which no longer worked for those purposes.

“You didn’t have to give me the money,” he said. “It was enough that you just talked to me like I’m a real person.”

And maybe it was, but I felt that the cash probably also wouldn’t hurt him.

That chat with the Nigerian hobo was the highlight of my day out in Central London.

I caught the bus back, and I thought about how this glitzy, glittery city where people are still throwing so much cash at the gods of superficiality and fashion is actually dead at its core. They have the ‘latest’ this and that, Primark with its mountains of cheap stuff from China, designer knick-knacks, designer haircuts, designer beards – and no heart.

No soul.

So much more happened in the three short days I was there, but let’s sum it up this way: I was so pleased to be coming back to my rented pseudo-slum flat in Jerusalem by the end. Jerusalem is so full of soul, and meaning, and real people, and joy and laughter.

(And clearly also ridiculous bureaucracy, deranged Arab terrorists, crazy house prices, lunatics of all stripes, financial problems, and missionaries).

But it’s home. My home. The only place I want to be. And if I hadn’t bitten the bullet and gone to London to feel things out, I’d never have known that that way I do now, with complete clarity, 200%.

There’s no going back.

I’m 43.

At this age, I’ve already seen so many marriages go to the wall, so many children messed up by parents who ran away from their true selves, so many people walking around in bitterness and frustration and utter loneliness, that it literally breaks my heart.

I know God is behind this plan somewhere, clearly so hidden that’s it’s almost impossible to see Him. But emuna dictates that God is behind everything, even this terrible human suffering that is unfolding on a day to day basis on every block, every street, within every sector of Jewish society.

This is not a ‘secular’ problem, or a ‘frum’ problem, or an ‘anglo’ problem, or an ‘Israeli’ problem – it’s a problem we all have today, bigger or smaller, lesser or greater, and the only remedy for it is the emuna that God is running the world, and can and will ultimately heal our shattered souls.

That there is hope.

That people CAN change  – we can change, the people we love but despair of can change, the parents can change, the spouses can change.

They can.

This is the main war we’re all fighting, the propaganda being put out by the yetzer that humanity can’t be fixed, that people will always be so petty, scared, selfish, jealous and small.

But it’s not true!

I’ve seen so many things change and transform in my own life over the last few years. I’ve seen so many people who I despaired of shifting an inch out of their spiritual and emotional ruts bud wings and fly off to a completely different perspective, a completely different way of being.

Things can change for the better.

They can.

And the way we get things to change is to recognize that it’s not us who’s going to make this miracle happen, but God.

God has all the answers, all the remedies, all the solutions for all the broken marriages, broken children, broken adults, broken hearts out there, that continue to pile up higher and higher with each passing day.

God can fix things – everything!

He can!

But we need to ask Him to do it.

Recently, I’ve been increasingly niggled by this question.

On the one hand, it’s clear that Eretz Yisrael is in a whole different spiritual dimension, and that a person’s emuna and Jewish identity can blossom here in a way that it really can’t do, in most normal circumstances, anywhere else.

At the same time, Israel is still home to some of the craziest, nastiest, ickiest Jews I’ve ever met. It’s a place of contrasts, a place of extremes, because the good and the holy is so palpable and tangible here, the bad and the profane has to also be at sky-high levels to maintain free choice.

So, the question remains: is being in Israel a guarantee that ‘you’ll make it’, whatever that actually means, when the chaos currently enveloping the world finally hits tipping point?

And then there’s a second, no less pressing, question: is being out of Israel a guarantee that ‘you won’t make it’, God forbid?

I know that so many of us who made aliya over the last decade or so were prompted by the thought that our chances of ‘making it’, whatever that means, would be much higher in Eretz Yisrael.

But then came the intifada…and Lebanon II…and rockets from Gaza…and more rockets from Gaza…and then the threat of the Iranian nuke, which kind of started to rock the certainty of who was going to make it, where…

Now, the pendulum appears to have swung back again, with Islamic terrorism across Europe, black fascists and white fascists slugging it out in the US, and wildfires, earthquakes, floods, Harveys and Irmas stirring everything up all over the place.

So who’s going to ‘make it’? (Whatever that means…)

And does it only depend on where a person lives?

You’ll probably be reading this when I’m in the UK for three days, trying to finally get my soul unstuck from the streets of London. (Note to robbers: The rest of my family is staying at home, so don’t even think about it.)

When I step off the plane at Luton airport, does that instantly turn me into a person who ‘couldn’t make it’, God forbid, because now I’m in the wrong place? Or would God have mercy on me, and still find a way to spirit me back to Israel if Moshiach revealed himself while I’m gone?

It’s not a simple point.

Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook got trapped outside of Eretz Yisrael when World War I unexpectedly started, and he spent four years in galut, primarily in London, until he was able to return.

If someone like Rav Kook didn’t have the merit to be brought back to the land miraculously, what are my chances?

Let’s look at it from the other direction. Let’s say someone from outside – someone who likes to parade their gaava around in city centres – flies into Jerusalem just as Moshiach is revealed. Does that person now get to ‘make it’ (whatever that means) by sheer dint of being in the right place at the right time?

And if the answer is ‘no’ to the first scenario, or at least a ‘maybe’, and if the answer is ‘no’ to the second scenario, then clearly, something else is going here that would enable a person to ‘make it’ when Moshiach comes.

For all of us who sacrificed so much to come to Israel, this isn’t always a comfortable conclusion.

What, I could have stayed in chutz l’aretz in my soul-destroying job and my comfortable ‘modern orthodox’ box without having to go through all the tests, challenges and excruciating soul corrections I’ve had over the years, and still have ‘made it’?!?!?

That doesn’t sound fair!

But is it true?

After pondering this, I think the answer is probably ‘yes and no’.

Yes, if I’d grown the way I’d grown in Israel, spiritually, or changed the way I changed, or tried to learn the humility and emuna that I’ve tried to learn here, then I think probably, I would still make it. (Whatever that means).

But if I didn’t change an iota? Or at least, not very much? Or even, got even more arrogant, nasty and materialistic?

Then I probably wouldn’t.

Flipping the question over to the Israeli side, we can draw the same conclusions. It’s very, very hard to live in Israel, with all its ongoing security challenges, social issues, terrorism, corrupt politicians and financial hardships without growing your emuna and humility, in some way.

But it’s still possible.

So, if a person is living in Israel, and is including God in their life, and is responding to the cues they get every single day here, smack in the face, to return to God and work on their bad middot ASAP – their chances of making it are probably pretty good.

And if not?

Then they aren’t. And not only that, at some point God will probably arrange for them to be unceremoniously dumped out of the country. Of course, they won’t see things that way. It’ll be phrased as ‘an opportunity’ abroad, a great job, a chance to make more money, a person they fell in love with and want to marry, yadda yadda yadda.

But the point to be made here is that at any point in the process, a person can return to God from anywhere in the world.

I know people who made a lot of sincere teshuva dafka when they were forced out of Israel. For whatever reason, it was something they just couldn’t do for as long as they lived here.

I also know people who fell off the frum wagon big time, when they moved here.

Which brings us back to the question we started with, and hopefully also give us something of an answer.

Being in Israel is no guarantee of ‘making it’, but the reality of life in Israel maximizes your spiritual potential, and encourages you – every second of the day – to acquire the traits and the beliefs and the behaviors that are necessary to ‘make it’, ultimately.

The spiritual current here tends to pull a person ‘up’, while the spiritual current in chutz l’aretz tends to pull a person ‘down’.

But whether we’re going to grow from our experiences, and learn more emuna, and turn to Hashem regardless, is only and always up to us. And the people who can genuinely do that even in the very heart of galut may be the biggest neshamas of all.

So to sum up, location does make a big difference. Being in Israel does make a big difference. But it’s by no means the only factor deciding who’s going to ‘make it’ when Moshiach shows up.

Sometimes the gap between who I really am and who I want to be, spiritually, is just so huge.

When a Jew is born in galut ­– whether we call that place ‘London’ or ‘New York’ or ‘Paris’ or ‘Melbourne, or whether it’s named ‘xtianity’, ‘atheism’ or ‘crushing materialism’, so much of that galut, that exile, gets hard-wired into the soul.

This isn’t our fault! When you grow up listening to Top of the Pops and the weekly top 40 tunes on the radio for 30 years, you can’t just turn that stuff off and excise it out of your brain and your memory in one go.

Guns N’ Roses, or Queen, or George Michael, or even (chas v’halila…) Madonna aren’t just songs, they’re the soundtrack of your life. ‘Careless Whisper’ encapsulates at least three years of early teenage-dom all by itself, replete with so many memories and so many associated experiences and thoughts that ultimately make us us.

But then, we grow up a bit, and we start trying to get out of galut, and we learn that music that isn’t coming from a ‘kosher’ source is actually really bad for a Jewish neshama – and then, the fight really begins.

Because that goyish, spiritually unhealthy-music is actually hardwired in, on some level, and chucking it out really involves taking a huge big part of your psyche, your memories, your self, mamash, and shoving it in some lidded box.

Around 10 years’ ago, I got rid of all my non-Jewish CDs – hundreds of them! – because I was really, sincerely trying to do what God wants, and to be a good Jew. I believe 100% that unkosher music is not good for my soul.

Most of that music, I really don’t miss. But there’s probably five or six albums, and at least 20 songs, that were the soundtrack to my life growing up, and hard as I try, I simply haven’t been able to turn it off in my head.

Take Sweet Child O Mine, by Guns N Roses. In my younger days, I was completely and utterly addicted to raw electric guitar. Try as I might, I’ve found it so hard to find really good electric guitar riffs in the kosher music scene (if anyone knows of any, P-L-E-A-S-E do me a favor and tell me what in the comments.)

On top of that, Sweet Child O Mine accompanied me on so many holidays, on so many milestones of my pre-Israel life that more than nearly any other song, it’s like my theme tune.

This last week, after weeks and weeks of feeling so irritable and out of place, and ‘not belonging’ the penny finally dropped in hitbodedut that I’ve become a musical schizo.

I can’t really integrate my ‘Guns N’ Roses’ past with my frum present, because a frum Jew in Jerusalem just can’t listen to Axel Rose and keep their soul intact.

That’s what I thought until two days’ ago.

But then, I started to get more and more clues that suppressing all this real, imperfect, kinda-tumahdik stuff that’s hardwired into my soul is actually bringing me down, and making me feel pretty sad, and is taking me further and further away from Hashem, which Rav Natan teaches is always the hallmark of sheker, however convincing and ‘right’ it actually sounds.

Why?

Because I’m not serving God as me.

I’m serving God as someone I think I’m supposed to be, but really? I want to dance around my living room with Guns N’ Roses blasting the walls down.

This is not a simple thing at all. On the one hand, unkosher music is bad for a Jewish soul. On the other hand, denying that part of myself has been almost cracking me up for a few months, and making me feel that I’m not real, and that my life isn’t real, and that I’m kind of lost in the world, because I’ve been so cut off from things that make me who I am – but that really aren’t so kosher.

So what to do?

Enter Rabbenu.

Rebbe Nachman basically says: strive to serve God on the up, but ALSO SERVE HIM ON THE DOWN!!! Just because you cracked and have been listening to Sweet Child O Mine all week, don’t let that stop you from saying your Tikkun Haklalis, or doing an hour of hitbodedut a day.

You can do both.

You only get advice like this by Rabbenu, which is why Breslov Torah is really the only Torah that can help our lowly generation, that is so beset by inner demons and confusion and doubts. I can’t help that I spent so much time listening to secular music that’s it’s become a part of me.

It seems, I can’t help the urge to listen to at least a couple of those songs again, if only to reintegrate them into my real life in Israel, and to stop feeling like a phoney who is living someone else’s idea of what my life should be.

But if I’m going to whack up the volume on Sweet Child O Mine and dance, at least I’m also going to have the kavana that I’m dancing to sweeten the judgments in the world, and to lighten up and attempt to follow Rebbe Nachman’s maxim of striving to be happy, always.

I’m not going to fall away from all the tremendous good, and mitzvot I’m doing because I can’t do these things with only Avraham Fried as the background muzak.

The last thing to tell you is that after listening to a song 20 times in a row – even an amazing song – you start to get kind of sick and bored of it. Paradoxically, listening to Sweet Child O Mine is helping me to pull my soul out of it, riff by painful riff.

Without Rebbe Nachman’s advice, that as well as serving God on the up, we also can – and have to – serve Him on the down, too, I’d probably be going completely bonkers, buying a pair of leather trousers and scouring e-Bay for a Harley Davidson.

As it is, I know that this too will pass. And when I’m out the other side, I’ll be serving Hashem so much more happily and sincerely again.

Let’s be honest: I could usually call most of what I write by this title, at least over the last nine years.

Yet the past couple of weeks, things seem to be coming to an even bigger head than usual.

This latest round of massive internal angst got sparked off by doing my audiobook in a studio which is plastered with memorabilia from London. You walk in and whap! There’s a massive picture of the #38 red double-decker bus stuck in traffic in Piccadilly Circus, in the centre of London where I often used to hang out.

Even the shower curtain in the toilet is plastered full of London Tube signs and other London stuff, and the fridge is covered with magnets bearing legends from British soccer clubs.

This living in two worlds thing is not really something new, at least not for me, but the last couple of weeks the contrast between my external ‘me’ – that’s doing my tikkun haklali most days by Rav Berland, on the cusp of Meah Shearim, and living 10 minutes walk away from the Old City of Jerusalem – and my internal me, that hasn’t been able to get ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ by Guns n’ Roses out of my head all week, plus thoughts of how much I miss the family and friends stuff from the old country has been completely headwrecking.

My brain KNOWS that it was all pretend, and that even when I lived there I was on the verge of completely cracking up.

I felt 12 years ago that if we didn’t move to Israel ASAP, I was going to end up in a mental institution. (Sometimes, I think I was half right…)

But we left at the height of our ‘success’ in life. Good jobs, two beautiful children, amazing friends, nice house, family all around. And sometimes, the thought of what I left behind when I make aliyah is very hard to bear.

Even though it’s not there anymore.

So many of our friends got divorced…

So many of the people we know went through such hard times the last six years they can’t actually speak to anyone anymore, or be ‘real’, or have a real conversation…

My business croaked six months into moving to Israel, which was a hard financial blow in Israel, but in the UK, would have led to complete and utter disaster…

My husband’s old law firm hit hard times and let go of more than half their lawyers…

Two of my siblings left the country and now live in the US…

So the London I miss isn’t there anymore, even if it was as ‘great’ as I remember.

Which as we’ve already discussed, it wasn’t.

So why can’t I get it out of my head? Why have I been sitting here for two months feeling a deep sadness that I can’t seem to shake, even though my life in Israel is really pretty good on so many different fronts?

I was asking God that question today, when I took one of my random ‘Tehillim quote’ cards out their box for some inspiration, and this is what I got:

“Psalm 93:

The rivers have lifted up, O Being

The rivers have lifted up their voice

The rivers will lift up their voice.

The depression will be carried away

And will become light

As you express what has been suppressed.”

God is nothing if not clear…

I realized I have to stop running away from that bit of myself that got stuck back in London, and that I finally have to go and track it down, face up to it, and bring it back home to Israel.

I’ve avoided the UK for years and years, since I hit ‘skid row’ professionally. The contrast between the external ‘success’ I had then and the external ‘loser’ I am now has been far too hard for me to deal with.

At the beginning of July when we went to Liverpool for family reasons, I felt utter horror well up inside of me at the thought of also going back to London. No way, Jose! What, go back and have to acknowledge what a mess I’ve made of my life, what an idiot I am, how poor I am, how retarded I was to switch spiritual riches for material ones?!

You must be kidding!

But God is showing me that I can’t continue to run away from that encounter. I have to go back for a few days again, this time to London, and I have to go walk the streets, and see my old house, and walk back past all the places I used to work in the heart of London, and to see how it really feels, not just how it looks when I take my trips down memory lane.

It’s pretty scary, because I know that the first day it’s going to look gorgeous and all my suppressed feelings about aliya, and everything we went through the last 12 years is going to well up and capsize me.

But I also know that by day two, I’ll be feeling much happier again. And that by day three, I’ll be raring to get back on the plane back home to Israel.

And that this time, I’ll be bringing all of me back for the ride.

When the Prophet Ezekiel was shown all the dry, dead bones in the valley, and God asks him:

‘Son of man, can these dried out, completely lifeless bits of dead people come back to life again?’

Ezekiel tells God –

‘You’re the only One Who can decide that stuff, Hashem!’

So, I’ve been pondering techiyat hameitim, or the revival of the dead, and I’ve come to realize – it’s us.

You and me. And all the other people walking around technically alive, on the outside, but dried out and dead on the inside.

People are so stuck in their phones, and their emails, and their internet because they’re looking for a connection. But the connection we all really need that’s going to revive us, and bring our souls and hearts back to life, can’t be found online.

That vision that Ezekiel had, it happened in Silicon Valley.

The Prophet was shown a picture of all these soul-dead, despairing people wasting their lives commenting on Facebook posts and obsessively checking Arutz 7 every two minutes for the ‘latest’ updates about stuff that mostly is completely irrelevant, and then God asked him:

‘Ezekiel, can all of these people step out of their technological prisons, and re-connect to themselves, and their souls, and other people again? Can they have real conversations about real stuff with real people, without having a panic attack and running away? Can they invite guests for Shabbat again? Can they tell their mum, their wife, their kid that they really love them? Can they stop hiding behind email and text and develop bona fide relationships with real flesh-and-blood people again?”

And Ezekiel took a long, hard look at all those internally dead people in Silicon Valley, and he shrugged his shoulders and said:

‘I have no idea if that’s possible, at this stage, Hashem! Everyone is so used to hiding behind their gadgets these days, reconnecting to themselves, and You, and other people would require an open miracle.’

What does God say after that?

He tells Ezekiel to speak to the ‘bones’, and they start to come together – but they’re still internally dead and all dried out. So then God Himself tells the ‘ruach’ to come from all four directions of the world, and to revive these people.

Do you know what ‘ruach’ is, really?

It’s the second soul level that’s directly connected to our emotions. And that’s the bit that’s completely dessicated, dead and AWOL in 2017. People are scared to feel what they really feel. To say what they really think. To try to connect to the people they really want to connect to. To love the people they really care for.

To be themselves.

And that’s the bit that the rabbis and the prophets can’t do for us, even though they can weld us back together as a people, as a nation, as Jews. The ruach, the emotion, that bit’s going to come directly from Hashem.

And straight after these ‘dead bones’ get their emotions back, we get achdut, unity and connection, and then Ezekiel’s stunning vision of peace:

“I will make them into ONE nation in the land…and ONE king will be a king for them…there will be ONE shepherd for all of them…I will be a God to them and they will be a people to Me. Then the nations will know that I am Hashem, Who sanctifies Israel.”

Ah, connection.

That’s what we’re all really yearning for, isn’t it? And not just the wi-fi version.

One of the things that I still find so hard in Israel is queuing up.

In the UK, social etiquette is strictly enforced (or at least, it used to be a decade ago…) and lines were strictly policed and questions of primogeniture were obvious and clear. First come, first served. Last come, last served.

But it’s not like that in Israel.

In Israel, the line splits firmly into two sections: people with reasonably good middot and respect for their fellow human beings, and people who don’t. And don’t think you can tell from the way people are dressed which camp they belong to, because you can’t.

Take today’s ‘queue experience’ as I stood in the sweltering Jerusalem heat for an hour and half trying to buy text books for my kids. On the one hand, there was the ‘hidden tzaddik’ looking bloke with long tzitzit dangling down to his knees, long beard, long payot and a very quiet, peaceful demeanor.

He took out his pocket chumash, and started reviewing the parsha of the week leaned up against the wall, acting so calm you’d really think he was in the middle of the local beit midrash. He didn’t jostle, he didn’t bother anyone, he just stood there patiently – and then some other woman took pity on him, grabbed his shopping list and started hustling on his behalf.

Then there was the ‘frum’ woman in electric green who marched smartly up to the middle of the queue, and clearly just started pushing her way in, apparently oblivious to all the dirty looks I was throwing her way.

Dear reader, I don’t push in.

But I also can’t just accept the reality of the queue with the same equanimity of the hidden Tzaddik who was learning his chumash, so standing in line is an enormous test of my middot.

I know Rebbe Nachman tells us to keep shtum, and to not have a go at anyone or start a fight with anyone, so I don’t actually say anything. I just stand there secretly boiling inside, as these ‘women in green’ brazenly push their way to the front of queue and pretend that there weren’t 10 people waiting patiently ahead of them.

So then, I try to find justifications for their behavior, and I find this really is helping me to stop feeling quite so angry at them.

“Maybe,” I think to myself, “they have 28 children at home, and they haven’t made supper yet. They need to start cooking already, and they’re too stressed to waste time in the queue…”

“Maybe, their husband is waiting for them in the car somewhere going a bit crazy, and they know they’re going to have a huge fight if they don’t get back ASAP.”

“Maybe, this is their first outing from the mental asylum, and they haven’t yet worked out the social niceties involved in standing in a line the way you’re meant to…”

All these things help to calm me down a bit, until God finally has mercy and I find myself within spitting distance of the front of the line and personal redemption.

Strange to say, the sense of freedom I feel when I’m finally out of that queue is probably at least a little bit of how it’ll feel when we get the geula – the nightmare’s over, and I no longer have to stand in the beating sun, dehydrating away while another ‘woman in green’ runs me over with her stroller.

Ah, Elul. That month of God shining another bright light on all our bad middot, and encouraging us to knuckle down and fix them ahead of Rosh Hashana.

If it wasn’t the queue for textbooks, it would be Rami Levi, or the bank, or queuing up at passport control, or something. Because God has to show me that I still have a whole lot of work to do before Rosh Hashana 5778 rolls around.

I get it God, really, I do!

But God isn’t quite so sure. Half the textbooks were out of stock, which means I get a second chance at cleaning up my middot in another three days. I can’t wait.