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Around three years ago, a new face appeared amongst Jerusalem’s ‘bag men’.

Those people who sleep rough in the Holy City. This new face stood out, because it belonged to a fairly young man who began his journey into madness and destitution wearing Nike trainers and looking like a male model. It happens not infrequently that some visitors to the Holy City, especially younger men, spend a night or two sleeping rough on one of the benches dotted around.

Usually, they’ve run out of money before the plane home, although sometimes, it can also happen to people who live here more permanently. The crime rate is so low, even in a big city like Jerusalem, and the weather for 7-8 months a year is so warm, that sleeping outside on a bench is not a terrible option.

So, the first few weeks I saw this young man asleep on a bench, I figured he was a student, a backpacker, a tourist, who’d run out of cash and was just waiting for his plane home.

He had a large knitted kippa on his head, and a straggly beard together with his long blonde hair, so I had him pegged as a new baal teshuva from America, or some place similar.

Maybe, he’s found God and his parents back home are upset and have cut off the funding…

That’s what I thought, the first few weeks I saw him sleeping rough.

Then, he went off the radar for a while, and I forgot all about him.

A year later, I saw him again – and this time, he was wearing an outfit made entirely of black bin bags, that he’d turned into some sort of suit. He even had bin bags wrapped, and wrapped again, around his feet, like a cheap copy of the shoes worn by mine zappers.

The beard was longer, and there was a wild look in his eyes that signaled that the madness had completely taken over, and dragged him down to that place of searching trash cans for the recyclable bottles that were going to buy him a meal.

I felt so sorry for him.

But what could I do? Honestly, he looked a bit scary at that point, and I wasn’t so close to him, to go over to try and speak to him or give him some money. And he wasn’t asking for money – if anything, he was giving off a mad, proud vibe that he was some sort of independent hunter-gatherer, spearing one old coke bottle after another, for supper.

No-one should get in the way!!!

That’s the vibe I got, as he stalked over to one trash can after another, a look of intense concentration on his face.

The next time I saw him, I was in the car and he was speed walking along the pavement by the trempiada leading out Jerusalem. Again, he had that fixed, mad determined look on his face, in a rush to get somewhere fast. His clothes had deteriorated even more – he was wearing some sort of loin cloth made of supermarket plastic, and another plastic bag on his head that he’d fashioned into some sort of head-covering.

The bags on his feet were gone, and with his long blonde hair and beard, he looked for all the world like the poster boy for an ecological apocalypse.

My heart went out to him. I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t pull over, but I decided there and then, next time I see him, I am going to buy him some clothes.

The next time I saw him was yesterday, almost a year later.

He was walking along the road by the French Hospice that leads onto Tzahal Plaza¸then on again to the Old City. Thank God, he was wearing real clothes, and even a pair of real sneakers, that were ripped at the sides but still functional.

The bag on his head had been replaced by a big knitted kippa, but the fixed, determined madness still shone out of his face, and he still walked fast.

This mad, homeless man was always in a perpetual rush to get somewhere else.

It took me a few second to figure out who he was as he passed by, but then I realized it was the man I’d promised to buy clothes for. I fumbled in my purse for some money, saw that I had 20 shekels I could give, as an opening gambit, and ran after him.

As I got close to him, I made the mistake of calling out hey! I’ve got some money I want to give you!

For a moment, I forgot he was mad. I forgot he’d been living rough for three years. I forgot that people only go mad like that in the first place when they’ve been through unspeakable things in their childhood.

First he cowered away from me, like I was going to attack him. Then he half-pushed / half-slapped me away, and sped walked off.

It didn’t hurt.

Mad as he was, he was still pretty gentle. He could have punched much, much harder, but he didn’t. He just didn’t have the words to tell me to leave him alone, and it was very clear that he wanted me to leave him alone.

He didn’t want money, he didn’t want my concern, he didn’t want any offers to buy a new pair of pants. He was off, searching for truth, searching for God, running away from who-knows-what, and he didn’t want anyone getting in the way.

I sighed a deep sigh, stuffed my money back in my purse, and walked off in the other direction.

I can’t help him. He’s so far gone, no-one can help him. Only God can help him.

And let’s be clear, God is helping him, because he’s totally out of this world, and yet he must still be finding food, and a place to sleep and even a place to shower every day, because he looked clean and didn’t smell bad at all.

And then I thought of all the other people out there struggling with such enormous problems, and the poor, mad person came to personify our poor, battered nation.

We’re all in such a rush, rush, rush today, and we have no idea why. No-one can talk to us, no-one can offer us help. Even when our Tzaddikim rush after us with bounty and blessings in their hands, we attack them and push them away.

Leave us alone! We know what we’re doing! We know where we’re going! We don’t need help from anyone!

The same madness that is propelling this man from trash can to endless trash can is weaving its pernicious spells around us, too. We’re so busy dumpster-diving, trying to come up with a new deal, a new client, a new business, a new project, a new holiday, we have no time to stop and to really think.

What is all this for? Where is all this going? What is the point, really?

Not for the first time, God showed me that I can’t solve other people’s problems.

All I can do is pray.

A few weeks’ ago, I decided I was spending way too much time on my computer and ‘in my head’, as opposed to actually doing things in the real world.

This is something that unfortunately happens to me a lot, as sometimes I get so caught up in thinking and typing, I actually forget about the ‘living, eating and breathing’ stuff that is also really important.

In the past, I’ve also tried (and usually failed….) to get out of the house more, and to try and find more things to do in the so-called real world, but they haven’t got very far. Either I can’t find anything suitable, or it lasts for a week, or something happens to pull me away from it, and I can’t seem to get back into it again.

But this time, God helped me out a lot, and sent me a netball game every Wednesday, and an English-speaking sewing teacher here in Jerusalem who wasn’t charging a fortune for lessons.

(If you have no idea what netball is, read THIS).

The netball game was great – except for the fact that I haven’t played for a decade, so my face stayed beet-red for 24 hours after my first official ‘exercise’ since George Dubbya was in the White House.

I’m also really enjoying the sewing, too, and my first skirt even turned out wearable….

So I got really inspired when the instructor asked me what I wanted to make next, and I plumped for a full-length, full-width super-fancy ball-gown type skirt that would cost me a fortune to buy ready-made, but is really pretty cheap when I’m making it myself.

I made a lot of progress on it last week, so my instructor asked me if I’m making it to wear to a wedding, or something. I told her no: this is the skirt I’m planning to wear when Moshiach shows up.

Ladies, I know the world is full of pain, suffering and uncertainty at the moment, but let’s keep our priorities straight:

If Moshiach shows up tomorrow, do you have an outfit you can wear for the inauguration parade?

I mean, this is a once in a lifetime event, and it would be such a shame to miss out on participating in it just because you don’t have anything suitable to wear….

I asked my kids this question yesterday, and they both snorted at me in that way only teenagers can. “I still remember those dresses you bought us for Moshiach from 8 years ago,” one of them told me, and then rolled her eyeballs back so dramatically I was waiting for them to pop out the top of her head.

Hey! I wasn’t the only one who thought Moshiach was imminent when all the banks started to crash all over the world. But my kids got a little ‘Moshiach-outed’ from seeing me stockpiling tuna for four years solid while the main man didn’t actually show up and redeem us.

It could be, I’m falling for the same line again, and that Moshiach really isn’t as close as I’m starting to feel he might be.

But if he does show up soon, at least I’ll have the outfit ready.

One of the things that made a huge impact on me when I was reading The Unfinished Diary: A chronicle of tears was the author’s comments on why the Jews were suffering so much in the Holocaust. Writing in a Polish barn hideaway where he’d spent the best part of 3 years’ on the run from the Nazis, and as a man who’d already seen his daughter, parents and other family members killed,  the diary’s author, Chaim Wolgelertner, certainly had first-hand experience of suffering.

Chaim was a Chassidic Jew who remarkably managed to retain his emuna right up until the end, when he was murdered by the Polish farmer who he’d been paying to hide him a few short months’ before the war ended.

Over months of enforced captivity and bitter mental and physical suffering, he contemplated the notion of Jewish suffering – why do the Jews suffer so very much – a great deal, and this is what he concluded: this world is not the place of the Jews. We are people of the spirit, not people of the flesh.

Our essence is spiritual, our inner world contains a lofty dimension of holiness that is simply inaccessible to others.

But sometimes, we forget that. Sometimes, we think that having a nice life, or a comfortable life, or an easy life is the main goal of being down here on the planet, and so God sends us suffering to remind us that this world is not the main event for Jews; it never has been, and it never will be.

Last Wednesday in the middle of the craziness that is currently life in Jerusalem, I did a long personal prayer session to try to get on top of the fear and stress that had taken hold of me, and was literally making me feel like I was about to crack-up or get seriously ill, God-forbid.

For once, I didn’t actually do a lot of talking, not least because my brain was completely fried by the events of the past week. It was a very quiet, very humble sort of hitbodedut, because I really didn’t have anything to say, or anything much to offer God. But God didn’t mind. In fact, He still gave me an insight that went a long way to starting to unravel the stress I’d been caught in worrying about my family’s safety, and worrying about World War III starting, and worrying about how on earth I was meant to cope with the terrible war of Gog and Magog if a few Arab stabbings were already having this much impact on me.

I want to share it with you now, and this is it: Sooner or later, we’re all going to die.

The point is not trying to stay alive at all costs (although don’t get me wrong that Jewish life, and any life, is extremely precious and must be protected at all times.) But I’d got unhealthily obsessed with worrying about how to survive all the madness being predicted for the Jewish people, instead of focusing on what all the madness was actually for: to help me achieve my soul correction, and to get closer to God.

As long as me and my family achieved our soul corrections, and got closer to God, whatever else happened was secondary.

That understanding was the beginning of me being able to let go a little of the terrible, crushing stress and fear that was literally starting to choke me to death. My job is to get closer to God. God’s job is to keep me alive for as long as He sees fit. Full-stop.

Today as I write this (Friday), people are apparently still being stabbed all over the place. But I woke up headache-free for the first time in a week, and things feel much, much calmer, both externally and internally. It helps that I haven’t heard any sirens today. It helps that I decided to let my kid skip school today (and half of her class also had the same idea.) And it helps that my other kid is having a Shabbat away at her high school, so I don’t have to get into any discussions about seeing friends in the Old City over Shabbat.

All that helps.

But really? Knowing that this world is not the true place of a yid – that it’s all temporary, and a corridor, not the main event – was the key to calming down. As to whether I can stay in that calm, accepting place, who knows? But even if it’s only for today, I’m still going to enjoy it.

So the big question for me on Shabbat was this: go to the Kotel for Friday night prayers like I always do, or not?

Friday morning, I went for a long walk via Geula to Machane Yehuda to buy stuff for Shabbat, and it seemed to me like something fundamental had changed in the atmosphere of Jerusalem. I know people were still being stabbed all over the place, but it suddenly felt much safer to be in the Holy City again.

As Shabbat came in, we made the decision to go down to the Kotel to pray, as has become our custom over the past year. Last week, when it was still Succot, there was standing room only at the Wailing Wall. This week, it was the emptiest I’ve seen it for a long while, although still full of people, notably a whole bunch of soldiers and goyim.

The soldiers were dancing and singing their socks off, and the goyim were doing all sorts of weird prayer circles, chants and mumblings. I sat down to say my Tikun Haklali (having dropped my kid off at her friend in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City) – and burst into tears. I don’t know why.

I prayed, met my husband, collected my husband and walked back home. All quiet, uneventful and actually quite nice. My kid had a plan to meet her friend again the next day, and I agreed to walk her in.

Shabbat morning, I went to Rav Arush’s shiur in the Chut Shel Chesed yeshiva, like I do some times, and I crossed Neviim street to go into Meah Shearim and on to the yeshiva.

It was pretty quiet.

Just before the shiur started, the roads exploded with the sounds of sirens, and we all sat there looking at each other, as the Rav gave a very rousing shiur about how the test of today is to walk – everywhere – with Hashem.

Rav Arush explained that the only thing that’s going to protect us is God, and to turn our fear of stabbing Arab terrorists into fear of the Almighty instead. I came home feeling pretty calm, and filled-up by the Rav’s words of wisdom and emuna, although still wondering about what had just happened to cause all the noise.

We ate lunch, and me and my daughter headed off to the old city around 3pm, her to her friend and me to go and do some praying at Kever David. Again, it was very quiet going in. I dropped my daughter off in the Jewish Quarter, headed over to the Zion gate – and then got stuck there for 40 minutes because they weren’t letting anyone out.

I said some Psalms, waited a bit, then went over to the Jaffa Gate – which the police had also blocked, and closed. Hmm. In the meantime, the sirens and the helicopters had started up again, and again I wondered what was going on, but I didn’t feel the horrible fear and stress that was literally crippling me for most of last week, Baruch Hashem.

All the tourists were pulling out their huge i-Phones and scrolling up and down to see what was happening. ‘2 stabbed in Neveeem’ someone said. ‘Where’s that?’ Hmm.

It’s the road that’s 2 minutes away from my house.

‘Someone stabbed at the Damascus Gate’ someone else rejoined. Then the kicker from a local Arab ‘They just killed 3 soldiers!’ he yelled out. Gulp!

And anyway, who’s the ‘they’, o Arab shopkeeper?!

They let me through the barrier (thank God, I’ve started waxing my eyebrows properly again, so no-one suspected me of being a terrorist…) and I came home a little thoughtfully.

Motzae Shabbat, I checked the news, and saw that no-one had been killed, thank God. The choppers are going crazy again overhead as I write this. Who knows what’s going on now. But thank God, my fear levels have reduced so much from last week, and I’m starting to feel like the situation is cope-able again, Arab terrorists notwithstanding.

I hope it lasts.

In London, IKEA was top of the list of places I hated going. I hated the traffic jams to get there, I hated the enormous crowd of people you had to fight through just to shop, and I REALLY hated the two hour waits to pay for your stuff and get the heck out of there.

Now, IKEA Israel has always been a much more pleasant experience than IKEA London ever was: much less traffic, much less barging and noise and best of all, the café is 100% glatt kosher… But to say that it’s a ‘relaxing’ experience? Not really. Especially not when you discover that all the chatchkees you picked up for 3 nis have now taken your bill sky-high.

But yesterday, Thursday, I couldn’t take it any more.

From where I am in Jerusalem, I think I hear every police car and ambulance being dispatched to every incident in the whole city. All day, I heard the multiple sirens and ‘honking’ sound that is the sure-fire sign that a terrorist has just struck again, and I sat there tensed to the max, waiting to get more details.

It’s a little easier when everyone is at home and at least you’re not actively worrying that your family got directly affected, but one bunch of sirens exploded around coming home time for the kid who’s in school in the Old City, and I literally felt I’d reached breaking point.

All week, I’d had severe tension headaches (that I usually never get), pains in my neck and throat, and general all-over feeling of unwellness that I knew was stress-related.

But how to stop stressing when you live in a very intense, albeit very holy place, and there’s always something going on?

On Wednesday, I did a long session of hitbodedut, or personal prayer and that definitely helped, even though I could barely get a word out. I got some insights into the nature of fear that I hope to share with you in another post, as they helped me put things into a more correct perspective, and to remember that this world is just the corridor, not the main event.

But insights aside, physically and emotionally I was suffering from some severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (more about that over on spiritualselfhelp.org…), and I needed a break from the sirens. My 12 year old came home from school wearing her familiar panicked face and panting heavily (her sprinting has come on a treat since the latest outbreak of Arab violence…) and asked me if we could go to IKEA.

Usually, I will pull any trick in the book to avoid going to IKEA, even if it is glatt kosher, but yesterday I jumped at the chance to get some relief from the sirens and tension. As my friend remarked, ‘no-one ever got stabbed in IKEA’, and as my husband remarked, IKEA has no gold-effect furniture, so the Arabs don’t shop there.

Perfect!

We got in the car (my husband came too) and set out for four hours of freedom from the madness. On the way back, I pondered on how crazy the world has got really, and how it’s really become the olam hafuch, or ‘upside-down world’ they talk of in the Gemara. I mean, who ever went to IKEA to relax?

There are many signs that Moshiach is fast on the way, but when spending four hours in IKEA becomes a way of reducing your stress levels, you just know something fundamental has got warped out of place.

Does it ever happen to you that you sometimes feel like you’re in some sort of weird screenplay of your own life? That never happened to me so much in London, but since I’ve lived in Israel, every week has had its own share of unusual events that I sometimes just pinch myself to make sure it’s all actually real.

I don’t have anything particularly ‘out there’ to share with you (this week…) but it’s just the small, unusual circumstances that make up my every day life that sometimes amaze and baffle me, in equal measure.

Some examples:

  • My youngest came home yesterday, and told me a really funny, ‘hilarious’ story of how her friend’s house in Maaleh Zeitim (a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Mount of Olive cemetery, very close to the Temple Mount) got firebombed, by an Arab throwing a Molotov cocktail.
  • My neighbours just bought (and subsequently sold…) a dog that was half Rottweiler, and half Pekinese. Now, I know these things are technically possible, but when I saw that super-aggressive fuzzy slipper with sausage legs, I thought someone was playing a bad joke. I mean, it kind of boggles the mind.
  • I went out for a walk on Yom Yerushalayim (‘Jerusalem Day’) a little while back, and the streets were awash with literally hundreds of thousands of Jewish teenagers, waving Israeli flags and buying every piece of junk food in sight. It was awesome to behold, in every sense of the word.

 

And then there’s the more routine, but no less amazing things, like the fact that I live 15 minutes’ walk away from where King David is buried. Sometimes, I say a few Psalms, and then I get completely weirded-out by the fact that the person who wrote them is interred so close to my home. I mean, that’s just an amazing thing.

Then, there’s the soundtrack that God chooses to accompany my own particular film. Sometimes, I’ll walk into a shop and they’ll be blasting out one of my favourite secular songs from twenty years’ ago, and it always stops me dead in my tracks. Music comes from a very ‘high’ place, spiritually, and it can literally transport you across years and countries and mindsets.

I walk into the shop a 40-something Jewish housewife in Israel, and I walk out a teenage girl in London (or Canada. The moving-around thing’s been happening for decades already.)

A few days’ ago, I was having a bad day. One of my kids started playing some obscure CD by Israeli Singer Gad Elbaz that we’ve had forever, but one of the songs suddenly really grabbed my attention: It was a musical rendition of Psalm 23.

You know the one:

God is my shepherd

I shall not lack.

He lays me down in lush meadows,

He leads me by tranquil waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me on paths of righteousness, for the sake of His Name.

Even though I walk in the valley overshadowed by death,

I will not fear evil, because You are with me.

To say I was transfixed was an understatement.

Once my kids went to school, I had the song on ‘repeat’ for about 2 hours solid.

How did God know that I so needed to hear that song, just then?

How did King David know that I’d be feeling exactly that way, when he wrote that Psalm? (Maybe he also had melodramatic females in his household?).

Point is, it was the perfect soundtrack for that particular scene.

I’m at that stage in the script of my life where enough suspense has built up over the last year, that it’s time for the denouement, already. I have no idea how the happy ending comes, but I’d like to believe it IS coming, and probably in a hugely unexpected way, like all the best plots.

Moshiach shows up on a donkey and gives my kids a lift to school, in the Old City? I find that $3 million in cash is stuffed in the pipe that keeps backing-up into my toilet? Someone gives me a fat advance to write my life story? Who knows.

All I can tell you, is that the screenplay has never had a dull moment, and while there have definitely been a lot of tear-jerking parts to it, it’s always been more of a comedy than a tragedy – and may it continue thus.

I was talking to my husband a little while back (hey, that still happens occasionally, BH) when he mentioned that he was still feeling a little ‘out of place’.

Despite his attempts to blend in by wearing black and white, my husband’s peyot are still less than a foot long; I won’t let him grow his beard past the point where I’d have to send a search party in to find his face; and the streimel and stripey-dressing-gown-thingy on Shabbat is definitely off limits.

So there he is, kind of stuck being a wannabe chassid.

I know what he means. I’ve spent many a long day yearning to ‘fit’ a little better than I do, and hoping to find a community of like-minded individuals – until God sent me an amazing idea about it all.

It was the day I was wondering around my hood. For some reason, I was in the Old City, then I went down to Jaffa Street to do some shopping, then later on that day, I found myself walking through Meah Shearim on the way up to Geula to buy some groceries.

It suddenly struck me how at home I felt in all these places, albeit that they’re so incredibly different from each other. If I looked like I ‘fit’ in any of these places 100%, I wouldn’t be able to explore anywhere else without feeling like a rank outsider.

It’s like all the tourists I see by the Kotel sometimes, hiding behind their cameras and i-Phones to try to quell the obvious discomfort they’re feeling about being in such unfamiliar surroundings.

The upside of belonging someone specific is that you, well, belong there. The downside, is that then anywhere else you go kind of feels weird. Thank God, I don’t have that problem. It’s precisely because I don’t really belong anywhere that I feel so comfortable everywhere, from the most secular spots to downtown Meah Shearim.

I suddenly realized last week what a blessing that is.

Do you know how many cool people I’m discovering, from all sorts of background and communities? There are some truly amazing people all over the place, and if I truly ‘belonged’ to just one community or area, I’d never know about all the other fab stuff that’s going on in other parts of the Jewish world.

So I came home and told my husband: ‘It’s great we’re social misfits! How else could we spend one Shabbat hanging out with our friends in Caesarea, and the next one in deepest Chassidville, eating our shabbos meal at separate tables for men and women? I love that we don’t fit anywhere properly!”

And now that he’s thought about it a bit (and got over the idea that the gold stripey dressing gown thingy is just not on the cards…) so does he.

As I was lying in bed on Shabbat, watching the sky alternate between a brilliant Spring blue, and a gloomy, maximum-Winter grey, it struck me how the weather in this country is SOOOO holy.

In the UK, where I’m from, the sky most days is some version of grey, with the odd patch of blue showing through in between the clouds (occasionally, in the Summer time…)

When I lived Montreal, a place known for its massive extremes of weather, you could certainly have a tremendously cold, but still sunny day in the middle of the snow season; and you could also have a cloudy day in August, prior to one of Montreal’s spectacular Summer thunderstorms.

But what I’ve never seen anywhere else is a sky going from powder blue, to darkest grey, to powder blue, to darkest grey – literally changing every 10 minutes from one extreme to the other.

I was watching the heavy snow fall in Jerusalem, and interspersed with it, I was watching the sun shine out unabashed, and it took my breath away.

I could deal with the grey, snowy horrible weather so much better, because I knew the sun was literally a 10 minute wait away. I could also enjoy the sun, because I knew that we’ve had enough rainfall this year to last us a decade (but that won’t stop them printing ‘drought imminent’ stories again next year, as soon as we get past Pesach.)

As I lay there, looking at the sky, I realized G-d was given me a mashaal, or an allegory for life, especially life in Israel, and especially, my life at the moment.

I’ve hit every ‘grey’ extreme going the last few months. I’ve had days when I literally felt like I couldn’t take ‘it’ any more, and I felt like I was going to explode, or break into pieces, if something didn’t change, pronto.

And then, the clouds parted, and I’d feel so much better, and calmer, and even a little bit happy again. I was back in my ‘blue sky’ mindset. And then 10 minutes later, the freezing wind and hail and snow showed up again, figuratively speaking.

The other day, I was trying to work out what’s been the most difficult thing to deal with, emotionally-speaking, and after I did a mind-map on the subject, what came through loud and clear was ‘uncertainty’. Nothing is certain. Not only that, my life, my attitude, my outlook, can flip from stormiest grey to sunniest blue in a second – and then flip back again in another second.

It’s enough to drive you bonkers.

But then, I looked at the sky on Shabbat, and I saw that this uncertainty is actually a blessing, in many ways, because it’s hiding the certainty of G-d, and His kindness, and the way He’s directing the world and my life.

After half an hour, I really got that G-d is controlling the extreme weather; G-d is flipping the switch; G-d is tipping things from grey to blue, and back again. When I need grey, I’ll get it. When I need blue, I’ll get it – and things will change according to what G-d decides is best for me.

And that’s for certain.

So like I said, even the weather in Israel is holy, and can teach us some profound lessons about how G-d is in charge of everything. We just have to take that half an hour, or five minutes, or 2 seconds to stay still, sit quiet, and try to work out the message He’s hiding in everything, even the freak weather.

When my family got ‘frum’, when I was around 16, I started reading a whole lot of biographies and stories by interesting Baal Teshuvas. In nearly every case, Jerusalem had a starring role. People would be surfing, studying for university, back-packing in some 3rd world country, and somehow, the call of Jerusalem would reach them, and they’d stop everything to come and answer it.

If they were writing a book for Baal Teshuvas, it always meant that they’d got hooked on Jerusalem, on holiness, on G-d, on yiddishkeit, and that now they were here to stay.

I used to get very starry-eyed about the Holy City portrayed in those books: a place of quiet simplicity, homemade challot, tzaddikim on every corner, and colourful, real people who’d sacrificed every aspect of ‘normal’ and ‘comfortable’ to follow their souls towards G-d.

Of course, after living in Israel for 9 1/2 years, I kind of forgot all that starry-eyed stuff, and Jerusalem became much more a place where I could find long skirts, kosher ‘mehadrin’ falafel and a great zoo.

When we moved here in the Summer, that vision of ‘Jerusalem, past’ got even more blown to smithereens. My neighbours were dutch goyim; the Old City was a war zone; and my own striving for spirituality got so severely curtailed it almost evaporated.

A few days’ back, someone lent me a book to read called ‘I remembered in the night your name’, by Varda Branfman. It was a collection of short stories and poems, based around the author’s experience of making teshuva in the 70s, and coming to live – where else? – in Jerusalem.

There were a couple of things that caught my attention in the book; the main one for this post is that she was describing the holiness and simplicity of the Jerusalem neighbourhood called Geula.

I nearly fell off my chair.

Geula is a 10 minute walk from me, via Meah Shearim, and ‘holy’ and ‘simple’ are not the first words that spring to mind. Try: ‘glatt pizza’; ‘clothing stores’; ‘hustle and bustle’; ‘trendy opticians’; and ‘Brooklyn Bake Shop’.

I go to Geula to spend money, and that’s about it. It’s always been one of the least spiritually inspiring neighbourhoods in Jerusalem.

So I was stunned by the author’s description of it. Was I just not seeing all the holiness there, or has it changed beyond all recognition in the last two decades?

Varda’s book reminded me of all those ‘BT biographies’ I used to read, and I suddenly got a lump in my throat about ‘Jerusalem, past’. I remembered how I yearned to be here, 25 years’ ago, and how I was sure it was full of holy, crazy, friendly, amazing people, that would invite anyone and anything for Shabbat, and literally exude ‘connection to G-d’ and spiritual inspiration.

Now I actually live here, and I wonder what happened?

Does that place still exist, and I just haven’t found it yet? Or did it disappear under all the ‘gashmius’ and 5 star apartment complexes?

I don’t know what the answer is. But it gave me renewed strength to start searching again. Jerusalem IS the holy city; even with all the face-lifts, and all the xtians, and all the politics and all the pizza, somewhere underneath all that, is a city of spiritual gold.

And now, I’m on a mission to rediscover it.

Have you ever had one of those days when you kind of feel like G-d forgot about you? Yes, He made you, He gave you life, and maybe even a husband and kids and a mortgage – but now He’s busy with the civil war in Syria, or ISIS in Iraq, or the Israeli elections, and you’ve just kind of fallen through the gap…

I was feeling that way yesterday. I’ve been praying for things to turn around for ages, and they haven’t (as far as I can tell) and yesterday, I was convinced that G-d had forgotten about me.

Where’s my book deal, G-d? Where’s my parnassa? Where’s my ‘success’, my new house, my new car, my new outlook on life?!?!

I was really dejected, but I’d already made an arrangement to meet a friend at a Tu B’Shvat event, and I didn’t want to let her down.

I got there, and it’s a larger than life Temani grandma running the show, making millions of pitas and telling us all about G-d and emuna.

Within the first five minutes, she’d already covered talking to G-d, doing six hours, how G-d answers every prayer, and the stupidity of worrying about tomorrow instead of living for today.

More was still to come: she moved on to the topic of liking ourselves, and how when we don’t like ourselves, we’re always looking for acknowledgement and recognition and praise from outside, and how unhealthy that is.

I sat straight up in my chair.

“Don’t keep whining that no-one’s praising your cookies!” she said. “If the plate’s empty, it’s a sign they like them. Give yourself a pat on the back, and be happy!”

As if I hadn’t already realised that she’d been scripted by G-d to tell me exactly what I needed to hear, the Temani grandma then started listing all the weird physical symptoms she’d developed a few years’ back, by getting too stressed about things instead of trusting Hashem to come through for her:

Funny eyes; weakness on one side of her body; extreme exhaustion, etc (IE, all the weird physical symptoms I’ve had, the past few years.)

OK, OK, I got it!

G-d is aware of what’s going on with me. He’s noticing everything. The prayers are all being heard, and they’ll be answered in due course.

Ein Od Milvado! The Temani grandma yelled out, and winked at me.

I don’t know if Eliyahu Hanavi ever comes back as a woman, but if yes, I think I may have seen him in action yesterday. And let me tell you, he cooks a mean pita.