Posts

Every few weeks, I interview another talented orthodox Jewish author for Sasson’s Jewish Book Review Podcast.

These are the authors interviewed to date:

(Click the name to go through to their Podcast):

Yael Shahar – Author of Returning

Esther Cameron – Author of Soul’s Evidence

Nathan Wolff – Author of Outdated

Joseph Cox – Author of City on the Heights

Libi Astaire – Author of the Jewish Regency Mystery Series

Click HERE to hear the latest interviews.

As you might have gathered if you read The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara has figured big indeed, over the last 4 ½ years of my life in Israel.

Musrara has a crazy, eclectic energy which makes the place hard to describe, and hard to forget. When I lived there, I thought that maybe this was because it was a place where so many extremes met: on the edge of Meah Shearim, on the edge of the Russian compound and Yaffo St, on the edge of the Old City, on the edge of East Jerusalem.

“On the edge” sums up so much of how I felt for a lot of the time I was living there. Like “on the edge of a nervous breakdown” (repeatedly); “on the edge” of giving up, a million times already. “On the edge” of something amazing, stupendous, amazing that always seemed to be retreating off another step into the distance the more I chased after it.

I had a real love / hate relationship with Musrara, and I still do.

In terms of sheer drama and street entertainment, it was unparalleled. Cops were constantly being called, neighbors were yelling their lungs out every two minutes, the renegade ‘Nachmans’ were always in the middle of mischief. Every time I turned around, there’d be another 9 year old trying to learn how to vape.

And let’s not talk about all the stabbings and people getting run over in the neighborhood which makes for interesting copy (hey, that’s what sells newspapers!) – but not for great living.

So, when Annette Gendler, a writer friend of mine, gave me a copy of a book called “House of Windows”, which was a collection of essays written about Musrara, I approached it cautiously. Musrara is so colorful, so intense, was it really possible to capture some of that energy accurately in plain old black-and-white?

The book is written by Adina Hoffman, an American writer who moved into Musrara a good 25 years before I hit the neighborhood in 2015. Some of the props and costumes have changed, but so much of what she describes was so familiar, I had the weird experience of looking in on my life through someone else’s window.

Like, some of the barmy locals trying to illegally chain-saw one of the old big trees in the communal space, and only stopping when the cops were called.

Something similar was still happening in my day, except now, the trees were being chopped down by the Arab gardeners hired by the locals to turn the communal space into a concrete temple, replete with its own idolatrous idol.

But her descriptions of popping into the local corner shop for some friendly human interaction after a full day spent alone, tapping away at the keyboard, was something I could so relate to. I could also really relate to Hoffman’s descriptions of feeling alien, and yet so completely connected to all these strange people in Musrara, although like I said, a lot of the props and costumes had changed.

Most of the surly Moroccans she described have either moved out of the neighborhood, got frum, in various ways, or have cashed-in on Musrara’s sky-rocketing house prices and become almost ‘respectable’.

But I was still shocked to learn that Musrara was home to Israel’s infamous ‘Black Panthers’; and that the first street I lived on there had a reputation amongst the locals for being cursed, as so many people had committed suicide on it.

That explained a lot.

The four months I spent in that house were indisputably the most miserable of my life. If living on that street made people feel as bad as I felt, I can only say it’s amazing there weren’t more people putting in for monster prescriptions of sleeping pills at the local pharmacy.

But what shone through the pages is that Musrara has always been somewhere that’s somehow larger than life – both for the good, and for the bad.

Since my failed house purchase (which now that I’ve read this book, I can see is just another ‘typical Musrara’ story), I’ve been living in a much quieter, much more ‘normal’ part of town. In Baka, most of the neighbors keep a polite distance from each other. The police are rarely called. The juvenile delinquents go about the business of trying to set fire to things, and trying to learn how to smoke, in a much quieter, more covert way.

The streets of Baka are way cleaner, much quieter, and (especially now they paved over the communal garden) greener.

And mostly, I like it.

But every now and then, I think about Musrara, that place of high windows, Moroccan mafia and Breslov chassidim, that village on the edge and simultaneously in the middle of everything.

And I miss it.

So, what’s the ‘big idea’ behind 49 Days?

Well, it’s like this: God created the world via 10 ‘worlds’ or spheres of energy, that are commonly referred to in the Jewish mystical tradition, (a.k.a. Kabbalah) as Sefirot.

According to the Kabbalah, these 10 sefirot are split into three higher ones, and seven lower ones – and the seven lower ones are associated with a whole bunch of different things, including the main ‘attributes’, or character traits, that us human beings are meant to work on and perfect.

There are different ideas as to what each of these seven Sefirot are actually referring to.

In the Hebrew, they are listed as:

Chesed

Gevurah

Tiferet

Netzach

Hod

Yesod

Malkhut

(Btw, if you want more of a deeper understanding about the different Sefirot, I highly recommend the book Sefirot (what else?), by Rabbi Haber. Click HERE to take a look at it on Amazon.)

My take on what these seven attributes are telling us to work on is as follows:

  • Love & relationships
  • Self-improvement
  • Truth
  • Seeing the good / specialness
  • Gratitude
  • Sense of Purpose
  • The Spiritual Dimension

 

Now, the best time to work on perfecting these seven attributes / worlds / character traits is considered to be the 49 days between Passover, and the Jewish festival of Shavuot, that occurs exactly seven weeks’ later.

Now, this is where the 49 Days interactive journal can come in, because each day it will spell out what particular character traits need some work, and give you an exercise to do that will really tap-in to the spiritual energy of that day, to get things moving.

  • You can buy 49 Days on Amazon HERE, and on the Book Depository HERE.

So, about three months ago, I wrote the draft of a book about how to talk to God and fix your mental and physical health.

I tweaked it, rewrote it, tweaked it some more, then started contacting literary agents to see if anyone might be interested in helping me get a book deal. I mean, I have a blog… I’ve been writing for years… How hard could it be to get published?

The answer is: pretty darned hard.

Apparently, I need 25k followers on Twitter and 100k readers (minimum…) before anyone will touch my book with a bargepole.

The good news is: I’m 2% of the way there.

But I realised, I need some help. I bit the bullet and signed up for Twitter (which I still so don’t get, btw) – but I can’t bring myself to do Facebook. Even the thought of befriending 4000 people online gives me heebie-jeebies.

So now, I’m back to the same question I’ve been wrestling with for years, already: does God want more prayer to get me bumped up to a big readership, or more effort?

Let’s be clear that before I started my blogs and new business, I’d spent approximately the last seven years ONLY praying. I had a huge reaction to my first business going down the toilet (with very little prayer and huge amounts of effort), and I felt like ‘prayer is the only way to go’.

It worked OK until my husband quit his job to join me in that approach a couple of years’ ago – and we ended up going completely bankrupt and having to sell our house just to buy groceries.

I’m still in the process of picking through the aftermath of being hit by that spiritual tsunami, and I still haven’t been able to draw any fast and hard conclusions, except maybe for one: I’m clearly not at the level where I can just sit on my couch and still be able to buy my cheerios.

So I at least got that message, and I reacted by trying my best to ‘do’ more.

But I seem to have come full-circle now, facing that same problem that’s dogged me for years. If ‘all work’ wasn’t the way to go, and ‘all prayer’ apparently wasn’t the way to go, what does that leave me with?

I know, you’re going to say ‘the balanced, middle way’, but as we’ve already discussed, balance is SO not me. But apparently, it’s going to have to be. I guess I’ll have to carry on doing the odd six hour prayer session, and then carry on finding random people on Twitter to connect to.

I think.

Unless you have any better ideas?