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Again, let me state for the record: I’m not ‘anti’ vaccines, per se, not least because Rebbe Nachman was pro the smallpox vaccine, and he for sure knew what he was talking about.

At the same time, Rebbe Nachman was also – vehemently – anti doctor, and anti the medical establishment, and again, he for sure knew what he was talking about.

And in the middle of this paradox, we try to figure out what was really going on then, and how that really applies to us all today.

Personally, I am lukewarm to sceptical on vaccines. Both my kids are vaccinated, but we didn’t have to follow the draconian schedule imposed in places like the US, where there is a ‘pill for every ill’, including anti-depressants and other examples of outright medical fraud and quackery by people who depend on the pharmaceutical industry to pay their mortgages.

Also, both my kids are now young ladies. If they were younger, I would research this issue much more, and undoubtedly have a much firmer view on it.

At the same time, I think sometimes the anti-vaccine people go a bit OTT. Whenever I read screeds with “pHARMaceuticals!!!!” littered all over the place, my eyes start to roll back in my head all by themselves. I can’t help it.

The human body can take a lot of wear and tear, and repair itself.

We eat poisonous food, we breathe poisonous air, we’re surrounding by, and ingesting, poisonous toxins all the time. As long as the human body isn’t overwhelmed, God has given it amazing regenerational abilities.

If a kid grows up in an emotionally-healthy environment, where the parents don’t have obvious personality disorders, and there isn’t 3 million percent stress going on all the time, and everyone isn’t plugged into energy and soul-sapping technology 24/7 – then it’s possible that vaccines will still cause some serious damage, if the child’s system is weak, if they are stressed / ill, and / or if they are being bombarded with three major illnesses at once in one deceptively small ‘shot’.

Very possible.

But, the less ‘negativity’ and ‘toxicity’ a kid has to try to deal with on a daily basis, both from the physical environment, but particularly from the emotional and spiritual environments, too, the less they have to worry about serious danger resulting from being vaccinated – as long as it’s one shot in a long while, and the kid is basically healthy when the shot is happening.

That’s my (uneducated…) view.

At the same time, I am a huge believer in people educating themselves about what’s really going on with the corrupt Western medical model, that is far more based on keeping people dependent on paying for doctors and drugs than encouraging them to turn to Hashem and / or making teshuva for the awful behaviors and bad middot that are literally making them sick.

So, when I came across this article on vaccines – that is actually balanced, and reasonable, and gives evidence and facts and not angry hyperbole and accusations for and against – I was thrilled. And I wanted to share it, so here’s the link:

This is also a great video – tons of facts and information from real, live medical doctors who do understand the science, and who believe that every person should be able to choose to vaccinate, or not.

If you’ve been reading this blog this week, you’ll know that I’ve been in a pretty bad mood where life has seemed pretty meaningless, and everything I do pointless.

I’ve just had this feeling for a few days that nothing I do counts, or matters, and that I’m adrift in the universe without really knowing what I’m actually meant to be doing here.

I thought it was just me, but then one of my kids started telling me how she’s feeling life, and school, is so heavy and meaningless at the moment… and then one of my friends called me and told me: ‘Rivka, I’m going crazy! I just feel so frustrated, and that my life is so empty and pointless, and all these bad middot are pouring out that I never even knew were there!”

The person saying this is objectively one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, a busy mother, and constantly trying to do kindnesses and to work on herself, spiritually. My daughter is also a mitzvah machine, and is constantly engaged in big and small attempts at fixing the world.

And me?

Well, I actually write a lot of useful stuff (mostly behind the scenes, for other people…) so intellectually, I know I’m not wasting my life as much as I could be. And yet, that ‘life is meaningless vibe’ also blew me off my feet this week.

Yesterday, I bundled my sourpuss self into my car, and drove up to my youngest daughter’s new high-school, or Ulpana, where they were having ‘a night for mothers and daughters’.

In the past, these nights have almost always been a peculiar form of torture, where I had to follow instructions in Hebrew I couldn’t understand, to say or do things that were mortifyingly embarrassing even if it was all in English, and where I’d just kind of space out and dissociate to get through.

(I have a huge amount of C-PTSD from attending 12 years’ of these ‘events’ in Israel.)

So, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

I get there (20 minutes late, to try to minimize the torture…), and my kid whisked me straight into the (packed…) classroom. Sigh. Gulp. Unveil the thumbscrews. The young, very pregnant teacher smiled sweetly, handed me a whole big sheet (in close typeset Hebrew….) and started to discuss – Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Lost Princess!

My spirits rose, because I already knew this story really well, so maybe I could actually fake participating in the group exercises, this time around! The teacher was not at all bossy (what a relief!) not at all insisting that I read out all the personal stuff I’d discussed with my daughter in my terrible spoken Hebrew (thanks, Hashem!) and also, unusually insightful about the story.

“It’s about the process, not the goal!” She told the class. “Don’t get so hung up on the outcome, or the exam! It’s all just about the journey!”

Hmmm.

The next stage of mental torture began.

I had to mill around with the other mums, feeling completely like I don’t belong and having intermittent bouts of ‘mitpachat envy’ when another toweringly colorful creation entered the room.

My hair is at a really awkward length at the mo, so anything I try to put on my head looks awful. The best I can do is try to smother it in a tea-cosy type hat which isn’t so ‘cool’, but at least keeps most of my hair under wraps.

Luckily, this awkward stage was also cut short by my kid finding us a deserted spot on the swinging bench outside, where we could eat our soup in peace and gaze at the stars spotting the Shomron sky.

Then it was time for the main event, the hatzega, or show. I usually try to park myself as close to the aisle as possible, so I can feign going to the toilet five times, if required for mental health purposes. This time, my kid made me sit right at the end of the row, right at the top of the benchers.

Kid, are you crazy?! Don’t you know this stuff makes me claustrophobic?!

But as I sat down, I could feel a reassuring vibe in the air.

As I was about to discover, Rabbenu was in the building.

We got through the standard menahelet’s opening speech OK. Not too long, not too boring, not too self-righteous, preachy and subtly menacing – and then it was time for the main event, which turned out to be a half-acted / half-filmed rendition of The Lost Princess!

To cut a long story short, while three young Israeli women acted out the story onstage, the narrative was spliced together with interviews on screen with four Israelis who were living the story of the Lost Princess (as indeed, we all actually are.)

One had been abused by a step-father, and left home as a young teen to live on the streets for a couple of years. One had a bad accident at age two that left him blind and almost deaf. Another, Miriam Peretz, had two sons killed in action in the IDF. And a fourth was a famous Israeli entertainer who’d felt so soul-dead and empty in the midst of all her success, she’d lost the will to live and the ability to get up in the morning.

That was how the story began, with the Lost Princess being banished to the place of ‘no good’, a place where the outside all looked so shiny and amazing, but where the inside was painful, empty misery.

These four people on screen explained how the ‘no good’ had played out in their own lives. The homeless teen had done parties and drugs; the entertainer had done more songs, more shows, more ‘celeb’ stuff, etc.

But then, came the point when they realized that wasn’t the answer – that all the escapism and superficiality was killing them – and the quest to reclaim the Lost Princess really began. They tried to pull themselves up by their boot straps, and to move on.

The blind guy learnt how to shoot hoops and started working out, and became the Tanach champion of the year; the homeless girl decided to start dreaming of a future where she’d be married, a mother, in her own warm, loving home. Miriam Peretz decided to reclaim life and to start enjoying cake again, after the death of her first son.

But at the last minute, the quest failed.

They ate the apple and fell asleep just at the moment they could rescue the Lost Princess. She reappeared, distraught but encouraging, and told them to try again, to spend another year trying again.

So they did.

And again, at the last moment the ‘success’ was snatched away from them, and they fell very, very badly.

They gave up hope. They didn’t want to continue. They didn’t want to be alive anymore. They couldn’t take the endless struggle, the endless knock backs, the endless reminders of their issues, lacks and problems. They couldn’t escape the feeling that their life was completely meaningless, and that they were stuck in awful circumstances that they couldn’t get out of.

But the story continued.

At some point, they woke up, and quest began again.

Miriam Peretz decided to use her grief to inspire others, and to do good in the world in the memory of her two dead sons. To remember her pain, but also to remember her ongoing joy in life, too.

The homeless teen got herself off the streets, and found a caring, frum midrasha to go to. The blind guy taught himself computers, and started making a fortune in hi-tech. The entertainer finally got married, had children, got frum – and experienced inner peace for the first time in her life.

In short: they came a huge step closer to finding the lost princess.

Rebbe Nachman’s story doesn’t actually end, because life doesn’t ‘end’, until it inevitably does.

It’s the journey that matters, not the destination, which is fixed for every single one of us.

I sat there transfixed throughout this show. I had chills down my back in parts, I cried my eyes out in others, and above all, I had an abiding sense of gratitude and hope that this is where I live, this is what I’m part of, these are the messages that my children are getting in school.

Not that they have to be perfect, soul-less, frum robots. Not that they have to pretend that they never fall, or struggle, or have huge crises of faith. But that falling down, and getting up again, are part of the journey, part of the quest.

And it’s the journey that really counts.

——–

I just want to add one more thing, here, about living in Israel.

I know it’s such a controversial topic for so many reasons, but I can see that so many of the things that are so wrong about the Jewish world, orthodox and otherwise, in chutz l’aretz stem from this need to keep sweeping the real issues we all face under the rug, and to pretend all is well, and that the Jewish community doesn’t have any problems.

Nobody’s falling around here!!! Nobody’s sick to death of all the materialism, competition and superficiality engulfing their lives!!! Nobody hates their job so much it’s literally making them physically ill!!! Nobody’s got issues to work on!!! Nobody feels so lost and lonely they literally don’t want be alive anymore!!!

Except of course, when they do, and that’s when they’re summarily bundled onto Prozac or some other ‘mood stabilising’ narcotic.

In Israel, life is dealt with square on. You can still be an orthodox Jew and express pain, and disappointment, and admit to having flaws and faults, and hating kugel recipes.

This basic level of ‘realness’ is so missing, so lacking, in the Anglo-Jewish world, regardless of religious observance.

The streets of chutz l’aretz are paved with gold, I know. But maybe, the real you doesn’t want that, doesn’t like it, and knows how much it’s really killing you?

I’m not saying that Israel is the only place you can find your Lost Princess, but I am saying that increasingly, Israel is the only place where frum Jews are encouraged to be real, and to be truthful about who they really are and what they really feel.

And when people can’t be real, really them, warts n’all, they’re never going to even start looking for the Lost Princess, let alone finding her.

Pheyew, it’s hard to believe how crazy the pace has been the last couple of weeks.

I thought it was just because my kids were both starting new schools, and it was the usual end of Summer rush to get bags, bits and books, but now they’ve both been in school for three days already, and if anything I’m even busier.

From the moment I open my eyes, I’m rushing, rushing, rushing – and I can’t get it to stop. Today, I got up, tried to exercise while fielding three phone calls, wrote some stuff, tried to get some more text books (! – yes, the torture continues) – but the queue was too big to deal with, went to visit a friend who just moved out of town, then drove on to my ‘one brain’ lady to fix some more subconscious trauma and bad middot, then went to deliver all my husband’s paperwork to the accountant that lives in my old village, then fielded another long and pretty intense phone call, then went off to the other book shop in Geula to try to get the text books (! – yes, the torture still continues, one was out of stock…)

And now, after all that, I’m sitting down for the first time all day trying to work up the energy to make supper. And it’s already 7.30.

I simply don’t know how people who have more than two kids, or who have to work, do it.

How do you do it? Without drugs? I can barely move.

All I can do it type, but my brain also feels like it’s got zapped the last couple of weeks, so I have no idea what I’m actually writing.

There’s so much going on for everyone at the moment, isn’t there? If it’s not floods, hurricanes and forest fires, its potential divorce, difficult children, financial problems and crazy relatives.

Two days ago, I had to take my oldest to the Beit Din in Jerusalem to get her formal exemption papers for the army.

Even though she’s only 16 ½, they’re already sending her the sign up forms, so we had to get her officially certified as ‘religious’.

So we get there, and we’re sat in the waiting room next to a very edgy couple + friend who are clearly about to get their religious divorce, or get, finalized. Man, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, it was so tense and yucky.

The only thing that broke it was a very loud conversation, in English, from another woman clearly also on the way to a get, God forbid, loudly cursing out her husband on the phone for being such a loser and not having a job and only jogging all day and leaving her in a situation where she’s going to end up on the street with her kids.

The phone call was extremely personal, extremely loud, and extremely traumatic to listen to, at least for me. I started spacing out and developing more C-PTSD, so my daughter kind of slapped my face, told me to focus on her, and tried to distract me.

Thank God, we got her papers and left pronto, but it was a sobering glimpse into just how much human misery is abounding at the moment.

The Gemara says that before Moshiach comes, a new trouble appears before the old trouble is even done, and it certainly looks like that’s happening all over the place.

Nuclear Iran….Brexit….President Trump….the ‘fire intifada’….Islamic Terrorism….Syria’s civil war….rockets from Gaza….killer heatwaves that last three months….nuclear North Korea….hurricane Harvey….the queue for text books at Moshe Hai….unprecedented forest fires.…hurricane Irma….

So, is Moshiach really coming, or what?

It certainly looks that way.

But whether or not that’s really what we’re all seeing unfolding right now is anyone’s guess.

A couple of weeks back, we got a letter through from the IDF telling my 16 ½ year old daughter that she had to report to the IDF recruiting office in Jerusalem, to discuss joining the army in another year and a half.

Lest you think these letters are only sent to secular / dati-leumi girls, you should know that we met up with a large handful of Beis Yaacov girls in the Jerusalem Beit Din’s offices, where we had to go to start the process of getting my daughter formerly exempted on religious grounds.

But while the Beis Yaacov schools then deals with the process of actually submitting the documents proving a girl is ‘religious’ to the army, we had to actually go down there ourselves to hand in the papers.

As I got to the gate of the recruiting office with my daughter, a youngish chareidi guy suddenly popped up out of nowhere and asked us if we were going to try to get my kid out of the army. The word try kind of bothered me a little, as I thought these things were routine, very simple, a done deal.

Apparently not.

The chareidi guy explained it would be much easier if I left my daughter outside, a little way off, while I handed in her documents from the Beit Din and asked for a receipt. “It’s better that way for you,” he told me, and as he was clearly on a mission to help religious girls avoid being drafted, I believed him.

Thank God, the soldier on the gate had braces and a kippa, so he wasn’t exactly intimidating. There was a big mix-up for five minutes when he thought that I was the one trying to get out of the army, but the female soldier who was on duty with him, Etti, took one look at my wrinkles and burst out with a ma pitom!!! that cleared that small misunderstanding up immediately.

Eventually, I managed to hand in the form from the Beit Din, and I got back a square piece of paper telling me that the IDF had formally received the paperwork, and would come back with a decision in two weeks.

In the car coming home, I was discussing the army with my kid, who is extremely idealistic and ‘zionistic’ in the classical sense of loving Israel, loving Jews, and being prepared to sacrifice a lot to help her people.

But not in the army.

This is the kid who went to protest Amona, and whose friends are in in Yad L’Achim, and who has big plans to make a lot of money – just so she can give it away to charity.

But after Elor Azaria, and after Shaul Goldin, H’yd, and after Amona, and after all the ridiculous political correctness about having women serving in combat positions – the IDF is looking less and less like the place that idealistic, Zionistic young Jews should be even if they were men.

The people running the country and controlling the army don’t fear Hashem. They don’t consult daat Torah before making their decisions about sending Jews into battle. They don’t have siyatta di shmaya (Heavenly help) – and very often they issue orders that go directly contrary to the Torah.

For idealistic mothers of idealistic young Jewish men, serving in the IDF presents a fearsome moral dilemma in 2017.

Thank God, I don’t have sons, so I don’t have to wrestle with that particular question in the deepest recesses of my soul. But what’s clear is that the IDF is certainly no place for Jewish women, religious or not.

When you teach a woman to kill, even in self-defense, you are cutting her off from that loving, feminine, caring, mothering, compassionate part of herself. Woe to the children of such a Rambo-mom, and woe to her husband.

In this violence filled world, we need more of that feminine vibe of unconditional love, kindness, compassion and yes, fragility. Fragile people know they need God to get by in the world, not just an Uzi to protect them.

So I breathed a huge sigh of relief that, b’ezrat Hashem, my daughter got out of the army. I know there are no simple answers here, in terms of how we protect ourselves, tachlis.

But yet, the answer is the same as it’s ever been: put God in the picture, keep His commandments, respect daat Torah – and then watch our enemies melt away by themselves.

‘Quiet’ in Israel is a relative term.

If the only people being stabbed and shot at are soldiers / border police, then for most people in the country that’s considered to be pretty quiet. That’s how the human brain works to try to distance the self from the surrounding danger and the rising feelings of panic that can accompany it.

“It’s only border police / soldiers that the Arabs are targeting, so I don’t have to worry too much…”

When I was writing The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife (which you can get on Amazon HERE and on the Book Depository HERE), it definitely wasn’t ‘quiet’, even according to this crazy definition of ‘quiet’.

At that point two years’ ago, everyone felt like they were a potential target, and that a crazy Arab could try and stab them – with a variety of sharp weapons – or try and run them over anywhere and everywhere.

That was such a stressful time.

Both my children were in school in the Old City, and were frequently walking past all these places where just yesterday someone else had got stabbed to death, God forbid.

So, compared to how it was two years’ ago, even with all the ongoing attacks on the border police that have been happening five minutes away from where I live, it’s still felt relatively ‘quiet’, relatively safe.

But now, I’m starting to feel that the ‘quiet’ is vanishing again.

There’s a lot of sirens going on, there’s a lot of police. My kids are starting to tell me scary stories again, like for example:

One of my kid’s 14 year old friends lives in Ir David, just outside the Old City walls on the slope down to Silwan village. A couple of days’ ago, this friend was surrounded by a gang of Arab teenagers, just a few metres away from her home, and one of them pulled out a gun.

The girl screamed, made a mad dash for home and somehow broke through the circle. The police were called, and the Arab was arrested.

Baruch Hashem, the only thing that happened is that my kid’s friend has probably now got a severe case of PTSD that’s going to need some urgent attention….

The same kid told me how the Old City is now full of ‘yassamnikim’. When I asked her what that actually was, she told me:

“It’s a type of police that only have men, and they can kill you with one punch.”

Or something like that. I.e. the toughest guys the police have.

Usually, the Jews in the Old City are policed by magavnikim, who still carry guns, but have a much more peaceful, quiet reputation locally.

As these stories start to pile up again, my inner sense of peace and quiet starts to dissolve.

In September, neither of my kids will be learning in the Old City anymore. They are both at the stage of going to Ulpana. But my husband is now there every day – learning in the Shuvu Banim yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, just behind the Kotel.

And it’s not like Jerusalem is the only place starting to feel the heat again. One of my kid’s best friends is going to Ulpana in Neve Tzuf (aka Halamish). Yes, that Halamish where three Jews were just brutally stabbed to death during their Shabbat meal on Friday night…

It could be this is just another temporary flare up, connected to the very inauspicious time of the year we’re currently in. I hope so.

But it seems to me that things have been building up to a head for three years’ now, and that despite all the Government’s loud announcements that ‘they aren’t changing the status quo on the Temple Mount’, God actually may have other plans.

In fact, it’s almost a cast-iron rule that whatever the Israeli Government loudly and confidently announces about matters of security, the truth is usually the exact opposite. So, it seems to me the ‘status quo’ in Jerusalem is changing, despite the Government.

Things are heating up again.

The relative quiet is fast disappearing.

This morning, I was talking to God about the new, low-level panic I’m feeling again (amongst other classic PTSD symptoms…) and I was explaining to Him:

“God, I know this stuff is all leading to a good place. But You know what? I have zero energy, zero tolerance for anymore craziness in my life, or in Jerusalem. I’ve been dealing with stabbings, shootings, running-overs for three whole years, and I feel like I have no reserves left to deal with any more stuff like that.

“Please God, if You are changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, let it come the sweet way, without more Jews being murdered, and without me spending any more time half-panicked that my family is out on the streets when another cacophony of sirens explode…”

Things have been teetering on the edge of utter madness in Jerusalem for years, already, When God is ready to shove it over the cliff, we’ll have the geula. But I hope these last pangs before the birth of Moshiach aren’t going to be too difficult to bear.

I mean, 1948 years of labor is a lot for any mother to go through, even if they do have a lot of emuna…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

==

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

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

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

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

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

Who is like this people of Yours, Hashem?

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

Last week, I was in Ikea with my kids in the badatz kosher cafeteria there.

(Even though I’ve lived in Israel for more than 11 years’ now, I still find kosher Ikea wildly exciting.)

It was the last days of Summer, and the cafeteria was packed with all sorts of people and their kids. Ahead of me in the queue was a cute-looking frum woman with a long skirt, long sleeves and regal head covering, who had a handful of younger kids holding on to her by her skirt.

Every two minutes, this woman took her massive i-Phone out of her bag, and started obsessively checking the headlines on Arutz 7. She’d scroll down for a couple of minutes, go over and check her emails, put the phone back in her bag (usually because some kid was tugging at her pretty aggressively, to get her attention) – and then two minutes’ later, repeat the whole ritual again.

I stood behind her for 15 minutes, and I saw her do this at least six times.

There are many things to be said about why i-phones are bad – like how easy they make it to access all the smut and degradation on the internet, especially for men; or how they chain people to work and checking their emails all the time, even when they’re meant to be hiking in nature with their families and relaxing; or how they suck people into a self-absorbed, pretty immodest culture of taking selfies and checking their appearance every 10 seconds.

But today, I just want to focus on one aspect of why i-Phones are so bad, which this one, average frum woman in Ikea really encapsulates: i-Phones give us no time to really ‘be’ with ourselves. I-Phones are addictive, because surfing the internet is addictive, and it fills the ‘space’ and the time that we’d otherwise be left alone with our thoughts.

People are so miserable today, and so uncomfortable with themselves, and so uncomfortable about the notion of exploring what they really think and feel about their lives and their relationships, that escapism has become the Number 1 ‘self-soothing’ activity of our generation.

The equation goes something like this:

Time to think = an opportunity to recognize what’s not going so well in my life, or what is maybe not so healthy or helpful = an impetus to change or improve = a push to actually do something different = SCARY AND DANGEROUS!!! = stay away from thinking at all costs.

i-Phone = escape into news, facebook and fantasy = no time to think = can keep busy at all costs = COMFORT ZONE = go back to sleep, everything’s fine (and don’t forget to take your anti-anxiety medication…)

i-Phones cut us off from thinking and being, and as a result, they distance us from our own souls.

They waste our time on addictive behaviors like obsessively checking emails, Facebook or Arutz 7. They suck us into a fake, plastic, superficial world that’s full of spiritually-dead, emotionally-ill people who spend so much time online because they also can’t just ‘be’. They prevent us from really interacting with the people standing right in front of our faces, because we’re too busy scrolling through old email conversations and sharing new stuff we just found out about.

And that’s if we’re ‘only’ using them for ostensibly kosher reasons.

If the sites we happen to visit are morally corrupting in anyway (which is like, er, 99.9% of the internet…) then the spiritual problems connected with i-Phones only continue to grow.

Do you really want to be immersed in a world where God is absent, people descended by chance from monkeys and where anything goes, morally and socially? And if by chance you really want that for yourself, is that what you really want for your children?

No-one needs an i-Phone.

(I know there are supposedly haredi ‘rabbis’ who are carrying around their i-Phones and claiming they need them to serve the community, but it’s all just fluff and excuses put around by people who forget that God is running the world, and that emails don’t have to be answered within 20 seconds of being received. Can you imagine Rav Ovadia using an i-phone? Or Rav Kanievsky? I rest my case.)

We don’t need to carry-on buying into a culture that has made ‘escapism’ and ‘keeping busy’ it’s bywords, because it’s dead from the soul-down and is trying to run away from all the human misery it’s created with its God-less, heretical and materialistic approach to life.

Take a moment and imagine how different that woman’s trip to Ikea could have been without her i-Phone.

Maybe, she’d have started a conversation up with one of her kids, and learnt something very helpful. Maybe, she’d have given another kid a hug, or a back tickle, to alleviate the boredom of waiting in line. Maybe, she’d have noticed that she has nothing to say to her family, and that would have made her wonder why that was the case, and what needed to change to get her back in touch with herself and with them, more?

Instead, she checked her emails and Arutz 7 six times, until it was her turn to order the schnitzels and fries.

Life is so, so precious. Every moment can be used to reach out to others, reach up to God, or to reach inwards, to our own souls.

But when we’re carrying an i-Phone around, it’s so much easier to turn on to the emptiness of the internet, than to tune in to our own lives and loved ones.

I’ve been going to Uman for something like seven or eight years’ now, and in that time, I’ve seen it blossom from the worst sort of primitive, third-world country shtetl into a place with wifi, porsches and more kosher restaurants and hotels than many parts of Tel Aviv.

Mostly, it’s a good thing. But sometimes, I yearn a little for the utter simplicity of Uman even eight years’ ago. When I went back then, there was no cell phone access, and you’d be lucky if the electricity supply would hold out for a whole five days. Back then, I was still passing elderly Russian ladies taking their sleds down to the local water pump to get their H2O for the day.

The first place I stayed had two showers for 50 women – both of which opened straight onto the front door – and to say it wasn’t luxurious is kind of the understatement of the year. I had to bring my own toilet paper. I had to bring my own snacks (although breakfast and supper was catered on my trip.)

The snow was piled so high, that February, and the Ukrainian taxi and coach drivers were still palpably anti-semitic, but as they were the only people who actually had a van / car / coach at that time, you just had to put up with it or walk all the way back to Kiev.

Physically, it was really hard going. Spiritually? It was probably the most intense trip I ever had.

Not easy – really not easy – but powerfully transformational in a whole bunch of ways. That first trip was the only time that I ever had the Kever to myself for a little while, because going to Uman was still something a little ‘fringe’ that only hard-core crazies would do.

Not any more.

Uman has literally exploded over the last year or so.

Just now when I went, I saw at least three new hotels, and least three new kosher restaurants, plus big signs for people to come buy a luxury flat in a new development being built right up the road from Rabbenu on Pushkina Street.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t so happy that the commercialization of Uman is roaring ahead. Uman was the one place I didn’t have to worry about my usual inability to buy luxury properties, and where I could just disappear into my soul for a few days without any materialistic distractions.

This time, I went for a couple of days with my kids and husband and I struggled mightily to tap into the spirituality in Uman that usually just blows me away from the second I step off the coach there. I know it’s always different when you go with your kids, especially teenagers. From previous experience, I knew we’d have to budget more for food and souvenirs than we did for tzedakah (which is not the usual way of things, when me and my husband go there by ourselves.)

They wanted to eat pizza and chips, and go to Gan Tzofia, and buy all the cute Ukrainian handicrafts that I usually don’t touch with a bargepole because hey, I really don’t like giving those people any more of my money than I have to. But kids are kids. And one of the lessons I’ve been trying to learn recently is that God wants balance in the world, even when it comes to spiritual matters.

If Uman was minus the chips, and the ‘fun’ and the nicer accommodations, my kids wouldn’t want to keep going back every year.

That’s the reality. It’s the reality for a bunch of other people from the West, too, who really wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the Uman from 10 years’ back.

But I still felt pretty out of place in comfortable Uman. I still had to leave the Kever – which had been taken over by yet another rock-star Rabbanit doing a very loud ‘Amen’ festival for two hours, where her followers basically just chanted ‘Amen’ to everything she said – and go for a long walk round to the lake.

I sat there for half an hour, looked at the gorgeous trees, the beautiful water, did my best to avoid the big disgusting crucifix thing on the opposite bank of the lake (hey, it’s still GALUT after all) and tried to figure out what was bothering me so much.

After a while, I got it: normally, Uman is the only place in the world where I feel like really belong, in some weird way. Not that I want to live in the Ukraine, or even stay there for more than a couple of days, but normally, the spiritual vibe is so strong in Uman that everyone is talking about God, and being pretty real and honest, and you feel connected to yourself, and to God, and to your fellow Jew so much more.

This time, that seemed to be missing for me, and I felt its loss keenly.

Sure, I had a great plate of chips and chicken thighs instead, but for the first time ever, my soul felt more in exile in Uman than in Jerusalem.

Probably, this is a good thing. If Uman – one of the weirdest, most spiritually-intense places in the world – is finally going mainstream, then maybe the intense soul-connection that is Rebbe Nachman’s hallmark is finally making it out to the masses of Am Yisrael. Or, maybe God is showing me that just like Am Yisrael had to knuckle-down and get more ‘gashmius’ when they finally got out of the Desert and entered Eretz Yisrael, that now it’s also time for me to get a little more grounded and gashmius-minded again.

Maybe.

Truth is, I wouldn’t mind a luxury flat in Jerusalem. Or even, not such a luxury flat in Jerusalem….

Maybe that’s the lesson that I went to learn this time in Uman: that while it’s very important to pray, and to work on the spiritual side of things, sometimes, you also need to take a break from your devotions to eat a yummy plate of chips, sightsee and buy chatchkees for your kids, and in its own small way, that’s also somehow serving Hashem.

I haven’t been doing as much ‘Sefirat HaOmer’ stuff as I hoped on the blog this year, partially because it took a lot of effort to get ’49 Days’ out, before the Omer, and partially because I’ve had a heck of a lot of stuff going on since Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

But in this, the last week of counting the Omer, and heading into the last days, I have a story to share with you that sums up very nicely the power of today, ‘The spiritual dimension focusing on gratitude.’

As you may or may not know, my eldest started Ulpana (religious girls’ boarding school) last year, and really has been hating every minute.

The school she ended up in as miles away from civilization, surrounded by desert, and has a bus that gets to it precisely once a week from Jerusalem.

If she misses that bus (as does occasionally happen…) it’s a 5 hour round trip for me or my husband to drop her off.

But that’s not all: the school itself is well-meaning but SOOOO boring. There is no library, two extra-curricular classes (either pottery, or drama), no sports (they didn’t even have a sports teacher, the first two months) – and absolutely nothing to do to keep the girls occupied after classes are finished.

My daughter has been going slowly bonkers there for months, but decided to stick it out because she persuaded her best friend to go to that school too, and she felt super-guilty about leaving her in the lurch.

Then three months’ ago, Hashem did a miracle: The best friend flunked out of school, and her parents yanked her out and put in the local high school. With that problem resolved, my daughter was free to find another place.

Just one difficulty: every single school we applied to, that she was even remotely interested in, told us that they were full. By last week, with just two weeks’ to go, things were looking pretty desperate, and I had no idea where else to try.

Cue: the unexpected phone call from a new ulpana who mistakenly thought I’d tried to contact them. On the face of things, it didn’t sound so promising: The girls get up at 5.30am to go and work in the fields for a couple of hours before really starting the rest of their day.

Hmmmm.

My daughter is NOT a morning person. Still, the headmistress sounded so darned enthusiastic and plain nice, that I asked my daughter if she’d attend the open day, just to see. “Look, God arranged for them to phone me out of the blue,” I explained to her. “So maybe, this is the place!”

Silence.

But she agreed to go along to the open day that happened to be last Thursday. I risked a text mid-day, to ask her how it was going.

‘Good!’ came back the reply.

For the first time in months, I started to hope that maybe, just maybe, we’d found my daughter a school she could be happy in.

Long story short, my daughter came back glowing, so happy to have met girls on her wavelength, and willing to try crazy ideas like getting up at 5.30am to pick tomatoes…

The school accepted her formally this week, and for the first time in a year, I heard my daughter giggle again.

She hasn’t giggled for ages.

In the past, I’ve tried marathon prayer sessions to get things to move, school-wise , for my kids, and sometimes they’ve worked a treat. This time round, I didn’t have the energy to do that. But God showed me that He still cares, He was still looking out for my daughter, and He loves us anyway.

Even without a six hour hitbodedut, God still pulled the right string, to get my daughter into the right school, at the right time.

But if I want her to get up at 5.30am in the morning, something tells me that a bit more praying may still be in order.

😉

> You can buy 49 Days: An Interactive Journal of Self-development on Amazon and on the Book Depository

Since a few weeks’ before Pesach, I’ve been feeling pretty strange.

Yes, Pesach was very hectic this year, with lots of family coming out to Israel. Yes, I got hit with the ‘mystery’ illness that kept me feeling exhausted and out of it for around a month. Yes, my kids are both pretty unsettled in their schools, my husband is still pretty unsettled in his career, and I’m still trying to work out what I want to do when I grow up.

All these things are really just variations on a theme that has been reoccurring periodically in my life for decades: that feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing with myself, and that my life feels a bit empty and purposeless.

I’ve tried to fill that space with writing, with books, with classes, with praying, with working like a dog, with holidays, with exercising like a crazy person (many years’ ago, now…) and occasionally, even with cleaning my toilet.

Sometimes they work, more as a distraction than anything else. Usually, I have to go and do some big prayer-a-thon to get underneath the icky feeling and just reconnect back to myself, and then back to God. And THAT’s when I get some relief and some clarity and some inner peace.

(If you’re wondering, I often have to do a longer hitbodedut every week, to keep on top of the empty, pointless feeling that can swirl around me not infrequently.)

But given all that, this period of time still feels different from the usual meaningless / pointless / confused / frustrated feelings I get.

I don’t know about you, but this period of counting the Omer has been pretty intense so far. Every day seems to bring its fair share of deep, introspective work, and insights. I’ve been getting intense dreams, experiencing some weird things, and God has sent me some huge messages about what I need to work on and fix, still.

Like, I had one dream involving people I hadn’t spoken to for years, already, which made me realize I was still pretty upset at them and harbouring a huge grudge. Who knew?

Or, I had a conversation with one of my kids that left me literally gasping for breath. She mentioned something nonchalantly, like kids do, and I suddenly lost my voice and couldn’t breathe for a few seconds.

Gosh, clearly some deep, internal button had been pressed.

Who knew that stuff was still so tightly-wired up inside, and reactive?

So since Pesach has ended (and really, even before it began) I’ve been caught up in a bit of an internal maelstrom, where I know God is expecting big things of me, but I’m still finding it hard to really identify them, or give Him what I think He wants.

And it’s intense.

Do you know that Rav Eliezer Berland is in prison in South Africa, and has been kept there for over a month, already? Do you know what terrible trials and difficulties he’s going through?

Part of me feels that it’s only right that my life should feel so intense and unstable at the moment, because how can a huge Tzaddik like this be suffering so much, and we just sit here carrying on, business as usual?

In fact, the situation with Rav Berland is what makes me think, more than anything else, that this period of time is unusual, even though parts of it feel all-too-familiar. Things are getting shaken up. Things are getting broken down. Things are changing.

In which way, and what that means, I have no idea. I hope it’s going to lead to Moshiach and the temple, peacefully. But it feels like we’re definitely entering unchartered waters in some way at the moment, at least to me. And without my hitbodedut to keep me afloat, I think I probably would have sunk under all the pressure and intensity a long time ago.