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Nothing but nothing can strain a marriage faster than dysfunctional in-laws.

I’ll never forget the first year I was with my husband: The week before Pesach he disappeared for two days to go and help my healthy, 50-something mother-in-law clean her house for the upcoming festival.

To say I was upset is something of an understatement. We were both working full-time jobs at the time, I couldn’t afford cleaning help, and instead of rolling up his sleeves to help me – he scarpered for 48 hours to go and clean another woman’s house! I didn’t realise it then, but I’d been struck by the 11th plague of Pesach, aka, dealing with the in-laws.

I’ve been married now for 20 years, and as my own children start to grow up I can see how this sort of situation can develop so easily, if the parents don’t keep reminding themselves that what’s best for them is not always and absolutely what’s best for their children.

The Torah makes it very clear when it tells the man that he should leave his parents and ‘cleave to his wife’.

His wife is the other part of his soul, and vice-versa. Happy marriages are built on the strong foundation of mutual respect and always putting what’s best for your spouse ahead of what’s best for your parents and other extended family members.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to make this point so strongly. In a perfect world, parents and in-laws would be telling their married children this themselves. They’d say things like: ‘We’d love to have you come to us for seder this year, but only if that’s what you and your wife would really like to do, too.”

Or, they’d phone up and tell their married children: ‘Please check this with your spouse before agreeing anything with me, but would it be OK if we joined you for Pesach this year? And be completely honest, I won’t be upset if you say no. I know how much you both have going on in your lives at the moment.”

In that sort of healthy, open environment where free choice is allowed, and the spouse of the married child feels seen, respected and heard by their in-laws, the friction on the marriage will be kept to a barely-there minimum.

Sadly, that’s not how so many families operate today.

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Today, many people are having to deal with selfish, egotistical and home-wrecking in-laws who treat their children (and their children’s spouse….) as an extension of themselves, and therefore people who can be bossed around, guilt-tripped, taken advantage of and stressed-out whenever they feel like it.

And there are few festivals that bring their destructive behaviour and attitudes out more than Pesach.

There’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, seder is a big production. Controlling parents who insist on everything being about them usually take it extremely hard when their married children actually want to live a little independently, and run a seder their own way. I know people in their 40s with many children of their own who have NEVER conducted a seder in their life.

Why not?

Because their parents wouldn’t hear of it.

Each year, the seder has to be with family, and of course, that means with their family, according to their rules and whims. Do you know how emasculating it is for a 40-something year old man to sit at the table like a little kid, unable to ever be the ‘head’ of his own seder table?

Pesach is the time of kingship, or Malchut. Seder night is when that measure of ‘malchut’ or rulership descends to each man’s table, and each man’s home for the coming year. If your father or father-in-law keeps happing your husband’s ‘rulership’, that has enormous consequences for his self-esteem, ability to make money, and the peace in your home.

Another flash point can be when parents get on a bit, and then start inviting themselves to your home for the whole of the holiday because organising everything is so stressful, expensive and time-consuming, and they’ve run out of energy.

Again, if you’re OFFERING to have them stay with you, out of 100% free choice and not because you’ve been guilted into doing it, or are worrying about the consequences of saying no, nothing could be more wonderful.

But if that’s not the case – and with the sort of difficult in-laws I’m talking about, that’s really NOT the case – then seder night and the holiday becomes a powder keg placed under your shalom bayit, just waiting for ‘Bubbe’ to show up and light the fuse.

Because ‘Bubbe’ will expect things done her way, and food served that she’s used to, and the same songs sung in the same order as she always did it by her own table. Also, ‘Bubbe’ will go to great pains to invite as many of her extended family and friends to your home, too, to share seder with her. And again, she’ll just expect you to agree to that, regardless of how much additional stress it causes you.

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When you live in Israel and your in-laws come from abroad, there can be the added issue of your in-laws deciding to stay with you for the whole of the holiday to:

  1. Save them having to clean their own homes or buy Pesach food;

and

  1. Save them having to go to a hotel (which is what they’ve effectively turned you into).

Again, if you WANT to have your in-laws living with you for a whole nine days, great! But if you don’t? And they start playing your spouse off against you, and getting them to agree to have the come against your wishes? They just ignited World War III in your marriage.

(I won’t even get into the problems that can crop up when you’re more observant than your parents in this post, which is a whole other can of worms. Basically, just times all the difficulties and potential flashpoints by 500…)

So, what can you do to keep your marriage intact, and your in-laws under control this Pesach?

Here’s a few guidelines that will help, if you can actually implement them:

1) Maintain a united front

No decisions should be made unilaterally by either spouse. Everything has to be discussed upfront and agreed by both parties well in advance of seder night.

2) Set down firm boundaries, and stick to them

If you can manage seder night (just about…) but you can’t manage a whole eight days of the in-laws in your home, make that very clear to your spouse and to them – and don’t be guilted or shamed out of doing what’s best for yourself and your own family.

3) Be honest about what’s really going on

Often, it takes us and our spouses many years to realise that our in-laws don’t always have our best interests at heart. Remember, a husband and wife are one soul. If your spouse doesn’t like your parents, it’s usually because your parents aren’t treating them (or you….) very nicely.

You don’t notice that, you’re not aware of it, because that’s how it’s been since you were born. But an outsider can spot the issues much more easily. So if your spouse doesn’t like your parents, carefully consider WHY that is, and what your parents might need to explore in order to improve the relationship.

4) Move to a different country

Sometimes, some in-laws are so impossible to deal with that moving far, far away from them is the only option to protect your marriage and mental health. This isn’t always a cast-iron solution – especially if they can easily afford air-fare and you have a big home – but it’s still a good start.

Pesach is the festival of freedom and redemption. It’s a time when a man should be a ‘king’ in his own home (serving Hashem…) and his wife his ‘queen’. It’s a night of royalty, not slavery.

So if you have difficult in-laws, emancipate yourself from their unreasonable demands and selfish behaviour, and this year ask God to help celebrate the holiday the way He truly intended.

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The surrendered husband

Please put your spouse first

 

There was once a man who was down on his luck. He came to a town, and asked the locals if there was a soup kitchen in the vicinity, where he could eat something for free. They directed him to a street with large houses, and the poor man happened to knock on the wrong door.

“’I’m starving, please, I need something to eat,” he told the homeowner who opened the door. The homeowner realised that his visitor was looking for the soup kitchen, but decided to make the most of him in the meantime.

“I have a pile of wood that needs chopping first,” he told the poor man. “Chop the wood, then I’ll give you something to eat.”

The poor man worked for hours chopping the wood with his last bit of strength. Finally, feeling half dead, he returned to the homeowner and asked for some food and drink.

“Go down the road, to the soup kitchen there,” the homeowner told him. “They’ll feed you whatever you want.”

The poor man staggered down the road, stumbled into the soup kitchen and started loudly demanding that they give him some food and drink. The proprietor came over to the poor man, to find out why he was being so aggressive, and when he’d heard the whole story, he told the poor man:

“Over there, you worked for free.

“Here, you eat for free.”

This is one of Rebbe Nachman’s parables.

WORKING FOR FREE

For years, I wasted so much of my life ‘working for free’. I used to have projects with the most ridiculous, stress-inducing deadlines, high-stakes work writing communications and press releases for high-profile people in the British Government, writing for papers with circulations in the high millions.

(That was then, things are very different these days.)

So many times before I moved to Israel, I wanted to get off the rat wheel, slow things down, stop pouring my life, blood, and soul into work, work, work – but I couldn’t see a way out. I really thought my working all the hours God sends was what was going to give me a good standard of living, and happiness, and financial security.

Really?

It didn’t do any of those things. Whatever I earned, I more than spent trying to make myself feel better about how miserable I was stuck in that awful, stressful, workaholic lifestyle.

But if I didn’t work, I just would never get anywhere….

That’s what we’re all taught in the West, that’s what we all believe.

Money makes the world go round.

EATING FOR FREE

Then, I moved to Israel, and the second part of the story began.

For the first couple of years that I lived here, I continued thinking that my ‘chopping wood’ was what was going to put food on the table. But then, I chopped, and chopped and chopped some more – and we still went bust and had to sell our first house because we ran out of money.

At that point, I got very demanding with God.

“God, where’s my parnassa?!?!?’ I scolded angrily.

Couldn’t He see all the effort I was making, all the schemes I was trying, all the leads I was chasing? And nothing, nothing, nothing got anywhere or made the blindest bit of difference.

So in the end, I gave up trying to chop wood, and I resigned myself to living like a pauper for the rest of my life.

This scenario kind of replayed itself, and continued, for a decade.

Then I realised a funny thing: Even though me and my husband had been through some terrible, awful financial problems for many years, we’d never actually had a day without a roof over our heads, or some sort of food on the table.

Even when my husband couldn’t work for two years, and I had my hands full trying to keep my family together, let alone trying to find a gig chopping wood – we still had a roof over our head and food on the table.

The thought began to dawn that maybe, just maybe, money didn’t make the world go round after all.

A couple of years’ ago, BH, things started to improve financially.

But I still know that regardless of how much wood we chop – or not – we’re really still eating for free.

And that’s such a reassuring thought.

Instead of talking about ‘surrendered wives’, we should focus on the ‘surrendered husband’.

I don’t really follow trends in the secular world so much these days, but even so, it’s come across my radar that there’s a new approach to making your marriage work which is called: ‘The surrendered wife’.

I haven’t read the book (or done the course… or watched the film…) but it seems that the idea is that instead of nagging and finding fault, the ‘surrendered wife’ quietly sits there smiling demurely while her husband continues to indulge his rage fits, lack of emuna, emotional disconnect, other bad middot and drug and / or alcohol abuse.

(Of course I’m exaggerating to make a point – I hope! – because that’s what writers do.)

But that’s the basic idea of the ‘surrendered wife’. There’s just one problem with this: It’s completely and utterly backwards, according to the authentic Jewish teachings of how a marriage should really work.

Rav Shalom Arush brings down in his many books on shalom bayit (All of which have approbations from some of the biggest Gedolei Dor of the generation, including the late Rv Ovadia Yosef, z”tl) that when there are problems in the marriage, they are down to one thing, and one thing only:

THE HUSBAND’S BAD MIDDOT AND LACK OF EMUNA.

I know that doesn’t sit well with all the Western, feminist brainwashing we’ve all been bombarded with since birth, but that’s how the world works, and that’s how God created the situation.

If we don’t accept that THAT is really how marriage works, we’ll never be able to stem the disastrous tide of couples getting divorced.

To put it another way, instead of talking about the ‘surrendered wife’, we need to be talking about the ‘surrendered husband’.

Which is where we hit the first objection: So many of our men are struggling so hard with such enormously bad middot at the moment, that getting them to surrender anything today – like their obsessive TV watching, or their worries about money, or their three nightly beers- is already akin to an open miracle.

Again, let’s be clear what’s going on today: we are one of the last, if not the last generation before Moshiach comes. All of the difficult souls that haven’t been rectified over the last 5778 years are back again now, in this generation, to have one last shot at being fixed.

When someone has been letting their anger problem ride for 5,000 years already, or their spiteful, vengeful and critical tendencies grow unchecked for five millennia, that adds up to an awful lot of hard spiritual work to try to do in just one lifetime.

That’s a big part of the reason that modern life, and modern marriage, is just so hard today.

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Here’s another crucial part of the puzzle, that we can’t ignore if we want to understand how marriages REALLY work: husband and wife are two parts of the same soul. Whatever good you have in yourself, is there – often latent – in him. And whatever bad you see in yourself is somehow there – often latent – in you. And also vice versa.

On some very profound level, husbands and wives are just mirroring each other.

But here’s the thing to remember: authentic Judaism teaches that the MAN is the giver, and the woman is the receiver. Whatever the MAN gives out, gives over, gives across into his marriage and home, that’s what he’s going to get back.

Rav Arush teaches in all of his shalom bayit books that when it comes to marriage, the man is like the sun and the woman is like the moon.

If the wife isn’t getting much (or any….) light from her husband, then she has NOTHING to reflect back at him except annoyance, coldness, anger and criticism.

But if she’s getting acceptance, love and light from her husband, not only will she reflect it back at him, she’ll amplify it.

This is important to grasp, because wherever the ‘problem’ manifests in the marriage, it’s ALWAYS somehow rooted in the man, and his lack of emuna and bad middot.

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So now, what’s the woman’s part in this?

(I have two teenagers with feminist sympathies at home, so we’ve gone through this debate quite a few times already.)

Simply put: to pray on her husband, and to ask God to help him fix his lack of emuna and bad middot.

Because yes, nagging, whining and complaining doesn’t work.

But neither does just lying there like a doormat whilst your husband continues to pretend that all HIS issues are really just yours (and your mother’s….).

If I could tell new brides one thing, it would be this: don’t look away and pretend you can’t see your husband’s faults and issues and struggles, because over time they are only going to get worse!

Don’t make excuses for his critical nature, selfishness, alcoholism, complete lack of emuna, anger fits or dishonest business dealings, because whatever you don’t recognize and get to work on ASAP could really end up sinking your marriage, and your family, another 15 years down the road.

If you see your husband isn’t treating you nicely, or isn’t acting the way he should be in other areas, ask God to help you! Pray on it! Start doing an hour of hitbodedut every single day to work out what you can and should be doing with and for your husband to get these problems resolved.

Send him to Uman for Rosh Hashana! Every single year!

THIS is the wife’s part of the marriage equation, to pray her socks off and courageously look at the challenges facing her husband while still showing him a great deal of love and compassion.

After 20 years of being yelled at, criticized, mocked, frightened, ‘punished’ and mistreated, it’s very hard to do anything with love and compassion. It’s very hard to find the strength required to get God involved in turning things around. So don’t leave it until then!

Start ASAP, while your love for him and his for you is still strong enough to weather the really tough patches that are inevitably going to come, even with all your praying and all his sincere efforts to improve.

And enough, already, with all this ‘surrendered wife’ rubbish: it’s the husbands who need to ‘surrender’ their bad middot and other negative character traits, and the sooner, the better.

Sigh.

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I heard three ‘we’re getting divorced’ stories in two days last week. Am Yisrael is cracking at the seams.

Enough making excuses! Enough pretending that the goyim and all their funny ideas about women’s lib and marriage are really doing anything to help anyone’s relationship stay the course!

Go back to the authentic Jewish way, to the ‘surrendered husband’ model, and if you’re a wife, start praying your socks off for your husband to learn more emuna, and to get God more involved in the picture

Because THAT IS THE ONLY WAY THAT REALLY WORKS.

Photo by Schesco Nyarwaya on Unsplash

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If you want your marriage to last the distance, put your spouse first.

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.

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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.

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.

The last few years, I’ve really dreaded Rosh Hashana.

Now, before you start jumping up and down and blaming that on the fact that my husband goes to Uman, let’s be clear that the last few years I’ve had massive issues on pretty much every religious holiday, not just Rosh Hashana – and the bloke’s been home for the other ones.

A big part of it is that I still have no-where to daven where I feel I’m really part of something, which is usually really only an issue on Rosh Hashana. Yom Kippur I fast (badly…) so I generally always just spend most of the day in bed, and daven at home.

But Rosh Hashana is different.

Rosh Hashana, we’re meant to listen to 30 shofar blasts (minimum), and preferably 100, together with our community. And that’s a huge bone of contention for me, because I still don’t belong anywhere.

The first year I was in Jerusalem, I dragged my two kids off to try and find a synagogue to pray in, in the Old City. I went to what I thought was an ‘Anglo hotspot’ – except all the Anglos had gone back to the US for the high-holy days, and the three women left behind all had bullet-proof tights and stern expressions. The Yom HaDin made flesh.

Also, the air-conditioning had packed up, so one of my kids started to feel hot and flustered, and then pulled out her ‘I’m about to have an asthma attack’ get out of jail free card, which gave us all the excuse we needed to leave in a hurry and try to find somewhere less suffocating.

So then I tried the Kotel, but I couldn’t find anyone to daven with, and I couldn’t hear anyone actually blowing the shofar, so I said the Amidah service by myself, standing at the holiest site in the world and surrounded by hundreds and thousands of Jews, but feeling so cut off and disconnected from everything and everyone.

The next Rosh Hashana, I tried a different tack.

I told my kids that they could pick the shul, and I’d tag along. At that point, they were both in school in the Old City of Jerusalem, so they went where most of their friends went, to a gorgeous newly-built synagogue tucked just behind the Wailing Wall in the Muslim Section.

As I tripped down the stairs of the Arab Shuk on the first day of Rosh Hashana, taking the short-cut that only fool-hardy tourists or Arab-inured residents use, I suddenly stopped in my tracks as a squad of Israeli riot police blocked the path in front of me.

Clearly, some sort of fight was going on, and as the Arabs all nipped upstairs to get their CNN-quality video cameras shouldered to record yet another ‘injustice’, I looked around and realized that I was the only civilian Jew there, standing in a sea of smouldering Arab hostility.

After five minutes, I was allowed to pass on, but the violence continued over the next two days. While the shul was gorgeous, the davening nice enough and the people friendly, I had to stand up in the middle of the service on the second day to shut the windows to try to drown out the guttural Arabic chant of ‘Kill the Jews!’ coming from outside.

What a way to start the year.

There’s an idea in Judaism that once something happens three times in a row, that’s a very strong portent that it’s somehow got ‘stuck’ or ‘fixed’ in your life. God forbid, that I should have such drecky, awful, lonely, horrible Rosh Hashanas until I croaked!

So last year, the third year, I got so terrified about how bad, miserable and lonely I was probably going to feel on Rosh Hashana – the beginning of the new year!!! When you’re setting the pattern for the whole rest of the year!!! When your whole life is hanging in the balance, being decided!!! – that I tried to run away from my life and go to a hotel in Tiberius with my children.

The upside of doing that was:

1) I didn’t have to cook (another bone of contention…).

2) We could spend the chag with other people who also clearly didn’t feel like they belonged anywhere else.

3) I could join the hotel minyan for davening, which suited me just fine and also was very easy for my two kids, when they were ready to put in an appearance for shofar blowing.

The downside of doing that was:

1) It was REALLY expensive.

2) I set the tone of being kind of ‘absent’ from my real life for the whole rest of the year.

I only realized that last one a few weeks’ back when I was pondering on 5777 and I realized that I was kind of AWOL in my own existence the last few months. Life’s been passing me by like a blur, and I haven’t been able to grab hold of any of it.

Why?

Because I ran away from my real life on Rosh Hashana, and I’ve been doing that all year.

And I thought I’d got away with it, mostly, except today we’re three weeks away from Rosh Hashana, and that familiar sensation of feeling incredibly miserable, and alone and out of place has descended upon me again.

God, not another year going into Rosh Hashana like this!

I really thought I’d vanquished most of these poor me, sad feelings, but hey, at least today they’ve come flooding back again as I try to figure out what’s going to be with Rosh Hashana.

I have a ray of hope. Rav Berland is here for Rosh Hashana, barely two minutes’ walk away, and I have a feeling there’ll be an Uman-esque vibe around Musrara, where I live, for the Chag – but what that actually means in practice, I have no idea.

Only, that things will be different this year, somehow.

Because they have to be.

Recently, I went back to the UK for a three day ‘whirlwind visit’ to stay with my husband’s family, in the North of the country.

The trip was pretty uneventful, even sometimes nice – which is why I really couldn’t understand why I came back feeling so awful.

The day we landed back in the Holy Land, I got into an extremely blue funk and found myself sniffling and feeling very sorry for myself a lot of the time. OKAYYYY, so I don’t own a house anymore; OKAYYY, I don’t really have a career (although I do have a full-time, mostly unpaid job writing all this stuff on my blogs and putting together amazing, useful books that really don’t sell very well…)

OKAYYY, life can still be a little challenging.

They’re still stabbing Jews to death, and shooting Jews up, in my Jerusalem neighbourhood right next to the Old City. But really? Why so down and glum for days and days?

If I’ve learnt one thing over the last few years, it’s that when these weird moods descend on me they are usually some sort of ‘blast from the past’ – either it’s something from childhood, or some sort of spiritual ‘tikkun’ or rectification that’s left over from a previous lifetime (or even, a previous relative) that God is now giving me the job of sorting out.

So I booked an appointment with my ‘One Brain’ lady, and a couple of days’ ago, I found out what was really underneath my massive attack of the blahs.

When I was nearly six years old, my mother was expecting one of my brothers and the pregnancy had been difficult, so she was put on strict bedrest. Me and my four year old brother were sent up to the North of the UK to stay with my grandparents for a few weeks, until after the birth.

Clearly, I must have found the whole thing incredibly traumatic, because until it came up in One Brain as the reason why I was feeling so yucky – like I was completely lost in the world, and didn’t have a ‘place’ anywhere, or anyone or anything I belonged to – I’d totally blanked it.

All I remembered about that stay with my grandparents is that I ate a lot of crisps.

But the barely six year-old me had been completely petrified that I’d somehow been ‘abandoned’ with my strict grandparents, and stuck in a strange new school where no-one spoke to me or gave me any sign that I even still existed.

If someone told me it was only going to be for three weeks, I didn’t remember that. It seemed to me I was going to be stuck in that horrible unfriendly school, with my cold, strict grandmother, for the rest of my six-year-old life.

All I remember is eating my bag of crisps in the playground, and feeling completely alone in the world.

That’s exactly the feeling I had when I returned from my three day trip staying in the North of the UK at my kids’ grandparents, where I’d also been eating a lot of crisps and doing particularly ‘British’ day out type things in the Summer drizzle.

Clearly, it triggered that whole lost memory from when I was six, and for a week I was an inconsolable basket case.

Thank God for One Brain!

I arrived at my session feeling SO down, and I left an hour later feeling put back together again, having been rescued from that 37 year old trauma that I’d somehow fallen back into.

But it really got me thinking: if something so short-lived, and relatively innocuous could still be exerting such an impact on me as a 43 year old woman, just imagine how many of us are suffering from our unresolved childhood traumas!

No-one was to ‘blame’ for what happened – my mother couldn’t look after us and follow doctor’s orders, and my elderly grandparents had to stick us in the local school to preserve their own sanity.

Yet the echo of what I felt then, at six, still managed to drag me straight down to the bottom of the emotional pit almost four decades later. It’s a bit mind-boggling, isn’t it?

The other thing I thought is that God clearly wants all these things addressed and sorted out now, which is He’s put things like ‘One Brain’ into the world. I do an hour of talking to God every day, BH, and that’s helped me get on top of so many of my bad middot and issues.

But sometimes, things are ‘under the radar’, and I just can’t get to them with my conscious mind, because either they happened to someone else, or I blanked them because they were too traumatic to deal with.

And that’s where One Brain comes in very nicely.

I’m not saying everyone needs to go find a One Brain person ASAP. Another thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that when God is in the picture, a whole variety of different therapies and approaches can help us cure our problems. There’s no ‘one correct way’ of doing anything, health-wise, and as long as we’re regularly talking to God and taking His cues about what areas we need to work on next, He’ll send us the right help, the right people, the right book, at the right time.

What I AM saying, though, is please just know that if you feel like you’re going crazy, or you got super emotional or down for no obvious reason (i.e. not just because you’re hanging out with obnoxious, abusive narcissists or you’re doing things that are mamash killing your soul) – then there could be a whole bunch of reasons why that’s happening.

Like, maybe you just got tripped into a traumatic ‘flashback’ from the past, that God now wants you to deal with.

I’m just saying.

And in the meantime, I’m off British-style ready salted crisps for a while.

17 years’ ago, I was on holiday in the south western coastal town of St Ives, Cornwall, when we happened to go down a road called ‘Market Jew Street’.

Now, the last Jews in Cornwall left a few hundred years ago, but one of the weird things about the UK is that you often trip over these remnants of Jewish life from the Middle Ages in some unexpected ways.

So, we were walking down ‘Market Jew Street’, looking around, when my husband spotted a table and chairs that he really liked. My husband is not a big furniture person in any way, shape or form, but we’d just moved into a new house, we were expecting our first child, and we needed a new table and chairs.

The table was massive, made of reclaimed wood and old wagon wheels that were a few hundred years’ old, and was quite a ‘conversation piece’, in its own right. So we bought it, and got it delivered back to London, where we lived.

That table and chairs has been with us on all of our journeys since, and has moved around six times (not counting a year it spent in storage).

When we were living in big, spacious houses, I absolutely loved it to bits.

But when we moved into our small flat in Jerusalem three years’ ago, in somewhat traumatic circumstances, it quickly became clear that the massive table took up nearly all the floor space in the living room.

That first year, I was so shell-shocked I barely noticed anything. By the second year – last year – I had the increasingly niggling thought that the table and our current living arrangements really didn’t go together too well. But I thought to myself hopefully, ‘things will turn around for my family soon on the financial front, my husband’s new business idea will take off, and we’ll be able to move to somewhere bigger again, where the table won’t be such a pain in the bottom.’

Dear reader, that didn’t exactly happen.

At this point, I’m starting to stare reality straight in the face, and I told my kids and husband a couple of months’ back that we need to stop living in denial, and to get a smaller table that will let me do other things in the living room, too (like exercise…breathe out….walk around without smashing into the corner of the table all the time…)

That didn’t go down at all well. My kids complained that the table feels like ‘home’ to them – instantly triggering off all the guilt buttons about how much we’ve moved them around. And my husband also had a very strong ‘keep the table’ moment going on, which brooked no argument.

So, the table stayed.

Two weeks’ ago, I came back from the UK feeling like I really need to start exercising more. I have a couple of ‘kosher’ exercise videos that I can watch on my PC, and in my last (massive…) house, that’s how I kept fit.

Here, I have a space of 1 x 2 metres to exercise in, plus a low beam that I keep smashing my hand into if I get too excited, plus that space is only clear anyway because it happens to be right next to the door, which can be a bit tricky if someone comes in or out when I’m in the middle of my mat work.

So long story short… I exercise about once a month.

I came home from the UK, realized why I’m finding it so hard to exercise at home (again…) and decided to broach the table with my husband again.

“My love, we’ve been in this flat for three years now.”

He nodded.

“My love, as far as I can tell, our plans to save some money / move / find somewhere a bit bigger to rent really aren’t getting anywhere, fast.”

He grunted.

“We’re in ‘waiting for an open miracle’ territory, you know that?”

He froze. He could see where this was going.

“…And in the meantime, I’m going to get fat if we don’t ditch the table and get something from IKEA that I can fold up and shove in the corner.”

My husband is so mild-mannered, so sweet, that whenever he has a ‘strong emotion’ moment, it’s always a sign of something much deeper going on.

“We are keeping the table!” he growled, and shot me a dirty look.

Hmmm.

God clued me in about what was going on, here.

If we get rid of the table, it’s admitting defeat. It’s admitting that we’re stuck renting a shoebox for the rest of our lives, and that we’re probably never going to own our own home again, or move to something nicer.

While that is probably the reality of the situation, it’s pretty hard to accept. It’s pretty humiliating, especially for a husband who really is doing his best to provide financially for his family. It’s pretty upsetting, to put it mildly.

But what if we have to let go of the table that is really our last remaining ‘status symbol’, and accept that last, humiliating blow to our egos, before God will change things around for us, on the house front?

That’s the question.

And right now, I don’t have an answer.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve seen the aliya process chew up a whole bunch of well-meaning people who didn’t realise what the point of being a Jew really is.

In the ‘frum Disney’ version of life that’s still so popular in chutz l’aretz, ‘Jewish life’ is about devoting your externals – your house, your money, your family, your learning and social interactions – to Hashem.

When we live in frum Disney, that means we pay our 10% charity to ensure we’ll always have money, that we buy a house in a Jewish neighbourhood near the kosher delis, that we send our kids to Jewish schools, that we have a good shul within walking distance, and maybe even that we learn a blatt of Gemara, or a couple Halachot of shmirat halashon every day.

What else is there to do, in frum Disney Land? Life is portrayed there as so simple, so black-and-white: do your best to follow Hashem’s Torah and keep His mitzvot, and you’ll only get blessings.

But then, we move to Israel and the ‘frum Disney’ version of Yiddishkeit quickly crumbles.

All of that wrenching effort we made to relocate to the Holy Land, all of the hits to our wallet, our family life, our social standing, our self-esteem, our feeling of belonging… It seems very clear that God should repay this tremendous self-sacrifice with a life of tremendous obvious bracha and ease.

But so often, something that appears to be the opposite occurs.

The money is one thing, the inability to speak the language properly, or figure things out financially and professionally is very, very difficult for a lot of new olim.

But the hardest thing is the isolation.

We move here to be part of the Jewish people, to have our kids grow up in the Jewish homeland, and to see our descendants BH flourish in the land of their forefathers, but so many of us first generation olim never actually find our own place in this huge tapestry that’s unfurling around us.

I’ve been here 12 years, and while on most levels I feel I ‘belong’ here more than I ever felt I belonged in the UK, there is still a big chunk of me that feels like a permanent stranger, a permanent outsider.

Socially, I’m still trudging though the desert, waiting for the Promised Land to appear.

I miss the Shabbat socialising I used to do (every week….)

I miss feeling like I could make things happen, and achieve things, and set goals that would materialise. I haven’t felt like that – about anything – for years, now.

Because in Israel, you don’t serve Hashem with your money, and your wardrobe full of tznius clothes, and your huge salon where you entertain 30 people every week for Shabbos.

You serve God with your kishkes, with your soul, with all the hopes and dreams you have for yourself that may, or may not accord with the Almighty’s plan for your life.

And that difference is enormous.

Most people don’t know this. They don’t understand that the experience of serving Hashem in Israel, in the Holy Land, is qualitatively different from the ‘frum Disney’ experience you get everywhere else.

They think they’ll be able to land, and to keep their self-esteem, and their arrogance, and their comfort zone, and their bank accounts 100% intact, and to carry on serving God with glatt kosher schnitzels and a blatt Gemora.

But it’s not like that. Every day, you wake up and God squeezes a bit more emuna out of you, a bit more tefilah that at some point things will calm down and work out, a few more tears about the matzav, a bit more yearning for Moshiach and geula and the Temple, when we’ll finally be reunited with all the people, the family, the friends, we left ‘back home’.

Israel is a very real place.

It’s a place of the inner dimension, the soul. I’ve seen so many people get mangled by the aliya process, because they didn’t take that into account, and they didn’t understand that what’s on the table here is spiritual rectification, not frum Disney Land.

The last time I went to the UK, I came back with a profound sense of sadness that lasted for many, many months. Today, I woke up tearful and I realised that even though I only spent 2 ½ days in frum Disney Land, it’s still taking a spiritual toll on me.

Part of me can’t understand why I’m living this life now where I get one Shabbat invitation a year (sometimes…) Why I have no community, and no real chance of that changing. Why someone who was so successful, externally, in frum Disney Land should be such an embarrassing failure here.

I know the answer.

I look at my kids who smile genuine smiles, and who feel real emotions, and who relish being alive, and I know the answer.

I look at my husband, who I still love profoundly after 20 years of marriage, who I still have big chats with, who I still like to spend time with, and I know the answer.

Here, I serve Hashem with my kishkes and my tears and my prayers, not with my nice house and my Shabbos hospitality.

But I still hope that sometime soon, the path is going to get smoother, and a bunch less lonely.