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Since Rosh Hashana, I’ve just been feeling like I’m bouncing along the bottom, spiritually.

And there really isn’t much I can do about that, except not give up and let go.

Sukkot continued the theme of me hoping I could attain a spiritual level – even a basic one! – that sadly seems so far out of reach at the moment. True, me and the kids made our own decorations for the Sukkah this year, which was great. True, also, that I managed to roast some beef in a way that was edible, which was an open miracle.

Ten years ago, I tried to cook what I thought was beef for my brother when he came to visit from the UK, and because I had no idea what cut of meat I’d actually bought, it came out the chewiest meat I’d ever had to eat.

Because he’s British and kind of polite, my brother forced himself to eat it, but to this day, he likes to remind me of the ‘donkey stew’ that I dished up to him that night.

So getting a cut of beef to come out edible is quite an achievement for me.

But otherwise, I really can’t boast about my Sukkot.

True, I spent a lot of time sitting there by myself obsessively researching my husband’s family tree from Lithuania, but I can’t say I did more than that.

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Shabbat rolled around, and with it the strange mood I’d been in all week deepened and broadened out.

Does no-one else in this house know where the supermarket is? I wondered to myself, as I schlepped for the millionth time to replenish the cupboard and fridge.

Does no-one else know how to wash up? Does no-one else know how to cook?

In fairness, my kids weren’t around. One had descended to Egypt for the chag, and spent Sukkot in Sinai. Great.

The other was just at her friends all the holiday, including one night she spent in a 5 storey mansion in Rishon LeZion that had its own sauna, pool room, and was basically decked-out like a boutique hotel. The owners were mishpacha of one of my daughter’s friends, so she went to see how the other half live, as the owner had gone to Italy for Sukkot.

How festive of everyone. How very Sukkot-y of everyone.

The husband was out of action, still hobbling around on an ankle that has refused to heal for nearly three months, until we paid a pidyon over to Rav Berland shortly before Sukkot, and now things are looking up, Baruch Hashem.

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So Shabbat rolled around, and after yet another round of shopping and cooking for the ‘guests’ that call themselves my kids, I was in a bad mood.

The bad mood was compounded by all these Litvak ancestors who totally goyed out 100 years ago and stopped keeping anything.

One had even baptized the children he had with his non-Jewish wife, after naming them ‘Blumer’ and ‘Wolfe’. The mind boggles.

So, I was sitting there thinking that I’m not doing so well on the ‘upstanding spiritual Jewish household front’ at the moment, and long story short, that quickly snowballed into our annual massive fight in front of all the neighbors.

This has happened so many years in a row since we’ve been in Jerusalem, I think it’s some sort of institution now. Just as everyone else was finishing up their zemirot and bentching, the Levy Sukkot started up with World War III, arguing about things like free choice, and whether God (and parents….) still loves Jews that go completely off the derech.

God does, but I’m not God!!!

I told my kid that , and I could see she was shocked, but it’s the truth.

Or to be more accurate, I will continue to love my kids whatever, but I want to actually have kids I can relate to, and that I don’t have to walk on eggshells around because they’ve taken a path of confusion and now just talk pointless rubbish all the time (at best…).

I’m not God. I can’t pretend you can do whatever you want and that’s totally cool with me.

I thought some more, and then I added:

And I’m not sure God thinks that Jews can do whatever they want, too, even if they are still teenagers.

This was apparently shocking news.

Since then, we’ve made up again, baruch Hashem, but there went our neighborhood reputation…

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On Simchat Torah, I woke up with a cold, which got me out of going to shul for hakafot which was great, because I didn’t have a shul to go to, anyway. I danced a bit with the chumash in my own house, and started to feel like I don’t really belong in Baka, again.

The feeling was compounded when we went out for supper, and one of the other guests started slagging off the Rav.

I literally got all shaky, hearing this guy opine on things he really knows nothing about that equate to a one way ticket to gehinnom, and my husband started yelling at him.

The conversation then devolved into an argument about whether the Gemara is really ‘Torah’ (!) and then at that point, the yelling between my husband and this guy got so loud the man’s wife intervened and placed him under a gag order.

We spent the next hour making polite small talk about banal things that no-one could take offence at, and I thought to myself: What a waste of life! What a waste of time! And I felt kinda sad.

Next day, we got invited out again by neighbors of ours who I really like, but who have been surfing negative Youtube videos about the Rav. I gave them One in a Generation to try to put the other side –they read ¼ of it, and gave it back, still preferring the Youtube version of events.

What can I do?

Where can I go?

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The anglo, gashmius part of me quite enjoys Baka, with its leafy greenery, and ordered neighborhoods. But my soul is starting to wither here.

Once chag was out, we headed out to our old hood, to go hang out by Rav Berland’s ginormous Sukkah in the Meah Shearim bit of Musrara. There was trash everywhere. There were kids everywhere. There were people everywhere. I sat on a bench with my husband, and my soul lit up as my nose wrinkled.

You know, it takes a lot of effort to get trash into every corner of the streets, like that. They are actually putting some effort into doing this right…

As we stood by the bank on the corner of Meah Shearim, looking at home and simultaneously looking out of place, a group of chareidi men in a rush speed-walked past, accompanying some distinguished Rov. I have no idea who he was, just that people kept running over to kiss his hand.

I miss this madness, I told my husband. I miss this kedusha.

But I don’t miss the trash.

So not for the first time, I found myself caught between two worlds, two lifestyles, two neighborhoods. Clean, sociable and heretical in Baka, or filthy, isolated and holy in Musrara.

For the last year and a half, the body has been winning out.

But I think in 5780, the soul is starting to tip the balance again.

Now, I just need to find 3.5 million shekels from somewhere, to move back…

TBC

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The darkness seems to be lifting…

Every end of Summer, I have a mini nervous breakdown, and I’m thrilled to report that this year was no different. My kids are bigger now – 16 and 18 – so the problem wasn’t one of having to keep them entertained for six weeks straight.

One of them was jet-setting off all over the place (and thank God, is now thoroughly sick of travelling.) The other one was communing with nature, and camping out by the Kinneret for the best part of the Summer, trying to detox from her awful school.

So until around Tu B’Av, I was managing OK, mostly. Sure, sitting in 40 degree heat with no air-conditioning for three months has been a little challenging. Sure, having one massive deadline, one massive project, after another has been raising my stress levels. Also sure, it’s been hard for me to get a good night’s sleep all year, as 5779 has been the year of ‘no shut-eye’.

But aside from all those things, I was mostly OK.

Until three weeks ago, when all of a sudden the pressure seemed to ramp up a billion times over and I was walking round feeling like a gasket was going to explode any minute. Partially, it’s because my husband badly twisted his ankle playing tennis, which meant I’ve been ferrying him to work and back in the Jerusalem traffic.

Partially, it’s been the never-ending list of things ‘to do’ – including get stuff for the kids for another new institution a piece come September. Partially, it’s been working like a dog on all these unexpected things that keep popping up, and that seem so very important.

But mostly, the stress was just in the air, and was driving me crazy.

Last week, I reached cracking point, exacerbated by my kids deciding that they were going to stay out until 4am every night because it’s the last week of holiday.

For them.

For me and my husband, we’ve still been trying to get up at our normal, early time, to pray, do hitbodedut, get on with all the stuff we need to get on with.

But by Thursday, I just couldn’t anymore. I felt like a totally overwhelmed zombie of misery and rage, as my kids stuffed up yet another night of sleep, which meant I just didn’t have the head required to work on the latest book.

At 4am Thursday night, when the oldest still hadn’t come home, the scud got lit, and exploded, in a rage fit that lasted most of Friday.

It didn’t help that some kid had cleaned me out of every last piece of nice, wearable clothing, for her new school wardrobe… and that I had to do all the Shabbat shopping and cooking by myself, as my husband was laid up still… or that it was still so frigging hot, and because I’d only got my act together to leave the house at 9am, instead of 7.30, I was being roasted by the sun.

I came home in a foul, foul mood, just feeling so unhappy and put upon and taken for granted.

And man, did everyone know about it.

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The mood continued until I lit my Shabbat candles, ushering in Rosh Chodesh Elul – and I started to feel a little better. I went to bed straight after supper, and the next day I woke up feeling way, way happier.

For no obvious reason.

But it’s like Elul has shone some light into the darkness again.

Which is so lucky, because at 3am Saturday night, the day before she was starting a new school, my youngest tried to smuggle a dog into the house. Some ‘friend’s’ dog had cute puppies, so my retarded teen decided to buy one, stick it in her jumper, and then smuggle it in my spare toilet.

I caught her in the act.

What, are you doing drugs, that you came up with such a retarded idea?!?!?

I mean, I hate dogs, we have no garden, not even a mirpeset, and on top of that the kid was starting a new boarding school the following morning.

If this had happened in Av…. I dread to think.

As it happened in Elul, I could half see the funny side. She stuck the thing in a box with one of her old tops, gave it a plate full of Shabbos chicken and a bowl of water, and we all went to sleep for three hours.

The next morning, it was crying.

Why’s it crying???? She wanted to know.

Ooooof, why did I bring the stupid thing home, what’s wrong with me????

Ah, finally she’s talking some sense.

Long story short, as soon as the thing was out of its box, it weed on the floor. (My husband dealt with that.) And then it spent the next half an hour trying to gnaw my shoes – while they were still on my feet.

Kid, the dog can’t stay a second longer. What’s the plan?

The plan was to dump it on a friend for two days, until my kid comes back from school and figures out the plan. The friend showed up yesterday, and I happily shoved the box of cute dog into her arms and breathed out.

A respite! At least for two days.

And so, for the first day in many, many weeks, I finally have a little time to myself, a little ‘space’, mentally, to relax into.

The Israeli government is currently busy trying to provoke a war with our neighbors. Only the Rav’s prayers are stopping the situation spiraling out of control. Things are still crazy, and getting crazier, I know, we all feel it.

And yet….

Elul has brought with it a hair of hope, that maybe, just maybe, the turnaround is going to come in a totally different, ‘sweetened’ way after all.

Ken yiyeh ratzon.

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Photo by Reka Dora on Unsplash

I opened the door to find Susannah standing there: “I have cancer,” she told me.

One day a few months’ ago, there was a buzz at the door. I opened it up to find a scrawny old woman dressed in the lightest of summer dresses standing on my stoop. She wore a pair of oversized, fake black Crocs on her feet, and she was pushing a black trolley on wheels, that was full of an odd assortment of food.

I looked at her, she looked at me. She blinked, cleared her throat, then told me:

“I have cancer. Do you have some money you can give me?”

I looked at her, she looked at me. I went to look in my purse and as usual, there were only a few shekels hiding out in its creases. When there are teenagers in the house, it’s rare for a 100 shekel note to last more than 10 minutes after they’ve woken up. I handed the small change over with an apology.

“That’s ok, darling.”

She reassured me.

Then she cleared her throat for another request:

“Maybe, you have some food you can give me?”

I’m not a balabusta who has my cupboards stocked for all occasions and contingencies. Now my girls are much older, and now that I live in Jerusalem, I tend to shop on the go, and to really just buy what I need for that day. So I blinked nervously, and started scrounging round the back of the fridge, and the back of the cupboard, to see what I could turn up.

“Tuna in water?” I offered her, over my shoulder. I’d bought them for Pesach, and we still have four cans left because no-one really likes it. Susannah’s eyes lit up.

“Perfect! I can’t have oil because of the cancer, you know.”

It was a win-win. I loaded her up with unwanted tuna, a big box of cornflakes and a bottle of water. I’d done a mitzvah, I felt good.

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The next week, Susannah came back.

I opened the door, and eyed her a little more suspiciously. Was this going to turn into one of those ‘charidee nightmares’, where I’d get to the stage of being scared to open my own front door? I looked at her, and she looked at me. I think she forgot that she’d already told me her shpiel, because she started again:

“My name is Susannah. I have cancer. Do you have some money for me? My medications are very expensive, and I need some money.”

She spoke English with an Eastern European accent that added a strange sense of poetry to her words. I fumbled in the purse – nothing, nada, totally cleaned out by the teenage hordes. I shrugged my shoulders, sorry. She hesitated, then again cleared her throat.

“Maybe you have some food for me? I have nothing in my house to eat.”

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I knew she wasn’t lying.

I could see it in her face. So once again, I rummaged around the fridge, and loaded her up with some bananas and pears, and a tin of lychees I’d just bought that morning in anticipation for a snack attack. She was very grateful, and I closed the door with half a quizzical smile on my face.

The next week, she was back. And I decided I had to put a ‘boundary’ down, a marker to show – to myself! – that whatever I gave in future was coming from a place of free choice, and not from a place of unhealthy manipulation. That time, I told her I had no money, and no food. Sorry. Not unpolitely, not harshly, still respecting the soul of this person who stood on my doorstep. But showing both of us that my giving wasn’t automatic, and that I could say ‘no’ sometimes.

She responded in such a gracious, gentle and dignified manner, that I realized it was safe to carry on giving to Susannah in future.

The next week when she came back, I greeted her with more friendliness, and she relaxed enough to ask me if I could make her a cup of coffee. Of course!

Anything else?

“Do you have any food you can give me to eat now?” She asked. Big blue eyes bulging out of her too-red face. “I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

It was already 3pm.

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Again, I’m not a balabusta, but God helped and I offered her some cornflakes. “Yes!” she said excitedly. I brought her the box, but before I could bring her a bowl and some milk, she’d stuck both hands in the foil lining and was stuffing the cornflakes into her mouth. I was shocked. Susannah was poor, but she was also genteel. She really was starving.

That time, I gave her more money and more canned goods, and she spent an hour in my kitchen just recovering from who knows what she’d just been through, the last couple of days.

The next week, she came later, when my kids and husband were home. I let her in, and one of my kids started stage whispering:

What do you know about her, Ima?! How do you know she’s not going to rob us?!

That kid has a lot of fear about ‘stranger danger’. I don’t know who got to her in junior school, but they did a great job of making her a paranoid lunatic, when it comes to interacting with strangers.

First, we have nothing to steal. And second, she’s been here a few times already, and I trust her.

The kid didn’t so believe me, but her phone started beeping and she got distracted.

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That time, I gave Susannah coffee and supper, and a tiny bit more cash – literally, 10 shekels or something – and just let her sit in my kitchen, trying to arrange some of her affairs on her phone.

There but for the grace of God go I.

That’s really all I could think. God forbid, I should end up poor, destitute and sick in my old age, and no-one would even give me a hot cup of coffee or a place to sit quietly for an hour. Just as Susannah was leaving, the kid on the phone burst out in very loud gales of laughter. I didn’t pay any attention to it – it’s the usual teenager thing that goes on all the time – but apparently, Susanna did.

Two days later, the door buzzed in ‘her’ way, and to be honest, my heart sank a bit. I could do once a week happily, but if it got more than that, I’d have to put my foot down. Susannah stood there looking even more gaunt and vulnerable than usual.

Rivka, I have to ask you something.

Ok…..

Here it comes, I thought to myself.

Here comes a request for $300, a plea to come and cater for 30 house guests, or something else OTT and totally unreasonable. I was completely unprepared for what she said next.

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“Rivka….were you laughing at me?

I looked at her in disbelief, and she stared back, tears pricking up around the bulging blue eyes.

“Rivka, I have my problems and I’m poor and I’m sick. But….were you laughing at me?”

Susannah, where is this coming from? Why on earth would you think I would be laughing at you?!

I was so shocked she thought that, I was so upset that’s what she believed.

I looked at her, she looked at me, and then she smiled a relieved smile.

“I had to check, Rivka, that’s all. Don’t mind that I asked you.”

That time, she didn’t ask for anything. No food, no money, no toilet paper. She came all the way to my flat just to check I really was who and what I was holding myself out to be.

Later that night, when I told the story over to my husband, he told me that he’d noticed she’d had a funny look on her face as she’d left, because the kid on the phone had started laughing just then.

“I thought then it could look a bit bad, like we were mocking her,” he told me.

I had no idea.

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For two days, I tried to make some teshuva about this. It’s so easy, to cause hurt to other people. It’s so easy, to ride rough shod over another person’s feelings.

God, I don’t find Susannah’s visits so easy or comfortable, but I will do my best to be friendly and welcoming to her once a week, whenever she comes, and to treat her with proper respect!

This week, she came back. I opened the door and looked at her, and she looked at me.

What can I do for you this week, Susannah, what do you want?

She cleared her throat.

“Rivka, can I have some coffee? And do you have some food you can give me now?”

Her timing was perfect. For once, I’d gone off to the supermarket mid-day, and I had a juicy watermelon waiting to be cut up and was in the middle of making some supper.

I gave her a plate of watermelon chunks, made the black coffee with two sugars, and disappeared back to my writing, while the potatoes for supper continued to boil.

Everything OK?  I asked, when I came back in to check on them.

“Rivka, it’s heaven!” she told me. “The melon is so good!”

Ten minutes later, she’d conked out on the kitchen table, and slept the sleep of the exhausted for a little while, until I’d finished making the fish cakes. I gave her some mashed potato, the ubiquitous canned goods, and two rolls of toilet paper.

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She’ll be back.

And each time she comes, I’m strangely grateful. Susannah is not a pious woman, not at all. But this last time – on a Wednesday – she wished me Shabbat Shalom.

And I know I’m buying my way into Gan Eden for the price of a tin of beans, and a box of cornflakes.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin @belart84 on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt so sorry for him.

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

No-one should get in the way!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I can do is pray.

So there I was, walking along the pavement and minding my own business on Shabbat, having a chat with God, when I came to cross the road, and a man with a shaved head, designer shades and a deep tan parked his car straight in front of me.

Er, OK.

I went behind the car, to carry on crossing, and then he started reversing up – and at that point, I thought I was dealing with some sort of nutso chiloni who was trying to kill me. I crossed over, and then I heard the window of the car being buzzed down, and he called out to me in Hebrew:

Geveret, can I ask you a question?

Uhoh, I thought to myself, here it comes.

Some sort of anti-religious tirade, some sort of pointed statement about ‘disgusting’ religious people, something like that. But I’m not scared of psychos, and I figured if God wants me to have a bit of verbal ‘scrubbing’, there’s no point running away.

So I turned around to him, and I said efshar, you can ask. I was stunned by what came next:

What would you say to a wife, who each time her husband says ‘my heart hurts me’, she tells him ‘my father’s heart also hurts him’?

I thought I mis-heard initially, so I asked him to repeat what he’d just said. He did, and then he added:

It’s been like this for seven years already, and I feel like I want to kill myself.

OOOOOKAYYYY.

So, God, You’ve clearly decided to put me in the middle of a matzav, as they call them in Israel.

But, if God wants to put you square in a matzav, there’s no point running away. I went over to where the man was, and he told me: Speak to my wife, she’s in the back.

The back window was buzzed down, and there sat a youngish woman, with a toddler on her knee. I looked at her, she looked at me. I asked her:

Is he a good husband? He’s not beating you up, do you love him?

She nodded and nodded some more. So then, I took a deep breath, and God gave me these words to say to her:

Men are like big children. They need a lot of attention, and a lot of love. Your husband is jealous of your dad. You need to make your husband #1 priority in your life. The Torah tells us that, first the husband – and he has to make you his first priority, too – and then the children, and only after that, the parents.

Then I told her:

Your son is half of your husband. It’s a lot of effort to deal with these husbands, it’s very hard work, but you have to help your husband get fixed, so it will help your kid to be happy, too. I’m 45, I’ve seen so many women walk away from their difficult marriages thinking that will solve the problem. It doesn’t. It just messes up the children worse than anyone could imagine.

I’ve been married 22 years now, thank God, and every time it gets hard, I go and talk to God about what’s going on, and ask for help. It’s work, it’s effort, but it’s so worth it, for your children.

She looked at me with tears in her eyes, and I gave her arm a squeeze.

In the meantime, the guy in the front seat turned around with a stunned look on his face, and started yelling in English:

May God bless you! May God bless you!

Buy your wife lots of presents, and be nice to her, I told him, as I walked away from the car, and continued on down the street.

God, what the heck was all that about? I wondered afterwards.

I mean, I hate giving advice, I hate getting involved in matzavim, it usually only leads to lots of problems and issues, and these things are not simple.

But then I calmed down, when I remembered I hadn’t chosen to be a ‘mobile marriage counsellor’, I got ‘happened upon’, I didn’t choose it.

The next thing I thought, is that so many problems occur in the world generally, and in marriages specifically, because of poor communication. This couple clearly loved each other, but the yetzer had managed to ‘eat’ their words, which is why God had to arrange for a complete stranger to say what needed to be said.

The last thing I thought is,

Who is like Your people, Hashem?

Those who don’t live in this country can tell me about all the so-called chilonim who “don’t keep Shabbat” until they are blue in the face, and they will never understood the real situation that is going on in Israel. The Jews here are massive souls, and the most profound, real and deep conversations can happen anywhere, even on a pavement in the middle of a Shabbat morning with total strangers.

That chiloni’s blessing was worth its weight in gold to me. It was such a kiddush Hashem.

And God will redeem His people with love.

I have to tell you, when Ori Ansbacher was brutally murdered in the Jerusalem Forest two weeks ago, I found it so upsetting, I kind of blocked it out.

Me and my girls went into shock for a few days, then we all tried to pretend that it was life as usual, because when you live in Jerusalem, and you are a teenage girl yourself, or the mother of one, really what else can you do?

But the fear and anxiety about what had happened still started to seep out, in all sorts of subtle ways.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t sleep easily again if my girls were out by themselves, and I started phoning them up and texting them every five minutes to check on them, which they both really hate.

And who can blame them?! They are 18 and 15 ½! But I’d gotten so nervous again, after what had happened with Ori.

After a couple of weeks of this, I realized I was driving my kids bonkers again, and I have to try and get a grip on the fear again.

God is running the world. God is deciding everything. OK, there is a certain amount of common sense that’s required when raising teens in our world, but ultimately, so many ‘bad’ things can happen in such normal circumstances in the middle of the day.

If God decides, you can be waiting for a bus near Beit El…or strolling on the boardwalk by the sea in Yaffo…or walking in the forest late afternoon near Ein Yael… and disaster can strike. God forbid a million times over.

As a parent, it’s so tempting to just try and bundle our children up in cotton wool, and to build big walls around them, and to try to monitor their every move and to keep them ‘safe’ in their rooms at home.

But we can’t.

Not if we want to raise emotionally-healthy people who aren’t going to spend their whole lives permanently looking over their shoulders, waiting for the hammer to fall.

God is running the world, not us.

It’s not always easy to accept that.

Yesterday, they held a huge concert just up the road from me at the First Station in Jerusalem, to remember Ori Ansbacher. There were a load of famous singers there, Ori’s mother spoke to the crowd, and there were also a lot of videos and ‘remembrances’ of Ori herself.

Half the teens of Eretz Yisrael tried to attend, so the roads around the First Station were closed to traffic, and swamped with thousands of people, many of whom couldn’t even squeeze in, so they watched the show on the big screens set up outside.

This morning, my kid told me all about it, and concluded:

She was a really good, kind person.

In so many ways, it would be easier if she wasn’t, wouldn’t it?

It would feel a bit more comfortable, if the murder victim had been some sort of low-life, so we could assuage our own fears by telling ourselves what happened was somehow ‘deserved’.

Instead, yet again, we buried the cream of the crop. The best of the best. The kindest of the kind.

God knows what He’s doing, God’s running the world, it’s all ultimately for the best.

But the heart still breaks.

And I’m still having trouble sleeping.

I wrote this last Thursday, February 7th.

The last few days, I’ve been mostly staying at home, because this week it feels like ‘out there’ got dangerous, somehow.

The last two days, I’ve also been having weird dreams again. One night, it was the face of the ugliest person I’d ever seen in my life, who was chasing me around and I couldn’t get away from it. I woke up screaming.

Then yesterday night, I dreamt that I’d just moved into a massive, luxurious mansion, built of Jerusalem stone cobbles and filled with OTT swimming pools like one of the hotels in Las Vegas (I’ve never been, but so I’ve heard.)

BUT – there was some sort of massive leak / waterfall happening, cascading down the roof, and when we and the 400 people who were apparently visiting me in the mansion went up to see what was going on, this toddler started crawling on a very dangerous low wall overlooking the stairs – and fell off before I could grab him.

It was a long way down, and he was comatose – I knew it was a really bad fall, but I had the impression that he was still alive, and would make it.

Then, unbelievably, another small kid fell off the same wall – and I had the impression that this one had died.

I started yelling at the people in my mansion to keep their kids away from the wall and to pay attention to where they were, and what they were doing, but no-one was paying attention to me, because they were enjoying themselves way too much. So, I stood by the wall, and just kept grabbing the kids as they fell off, pulling them back.

In the dream, I was thinking:

“What’s the point of owning a house if it’s just going to spring massive leaks, and kill people?”

There was also a man in my dream, a writer, who initially was really bad, but who by the end made teshuva.

I woke up, and I repeated Rabbenu’s instructions for defusing difficult dreams, by saying: “It’s just a dream” three times.

But then it struck me: this whole dream, and the one before with the ugly person, had to do with talking lashon hara and hating other Jews.

In the first dream, the ugly person was an newspaper editor, and he was chasing me around with gossip and yucky information about other people. And the second dream, I realized, was all about the temple.

The kids who were falling off the ledge represented the destruction of the Temples. The first kid who fell and went comatose represented the destruction of the first Temple, which was a serious blow to the Jewish people, but which we recovered from, mostly, after 70 years.

The second kid who fell and apparently died was the destruction of the Second Temple – which we’re still suffering from after 2,000 years. And the 2-3 kids that fell off afterwards, but who I managed to grab back by their clothes, are the Third Temple, which God keeps trying to build, but which we keep torpedoing by our behavior and attitudes towards each other.

The problem that is causing all this death and destruction is sinat chinam, or the baseless hatred of other Jews that causes people to go around saying horrible, hateful and hurtful things to each other, and about each other.

And that sinat chinam is most destructive closest to home, with our children. It’s mamash destroying the next generation.

Whenever you see people who are publically and poisonously shooting their mouths off about ‘the problems’ they see in other Jews, and other groups of Jews, you can take it as read that they are also negative, critical, neglectful and abusive parents and spouses.  It can’t really be any other way.

Real tzaddikim don’t rebuke like that. They talk about particular bad behaviors, thought patterns or actions that are ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’ and that we all need to work on. They don’t talk about specific Jews being ‘bad’, and place themselves on a platform of being ‘the perfect rebuker who never does anything wrong’.

So, instead of giving these ‘sinat chinam’ types of people a platform to spread hate, and an audience to eagerly lap it up, we should be running away from them as fast as our legs can carry us.

Because this is what is preventing the geula, and this is what is damaging our own relationships, especially with our own children: sinat chinam and lashon hara.

There’s a lot more to say, but hopefully a word to the wise will suffice.

More and more, I’m starting to feel as though some big change, some big transformation really is on the horizon. And the only way we can really prepare for it, wherever we live, is to continue to work on our own bad middot, and particularly the tendency to speak badly of others, and to hate them in our hearts, even while we’re so politely smiling at them.

==

The day after I had this dream, and wrote the above, we got the awful news of the rape and murder of Ori Ansbacher, a beautiful 19 year old girl who was doing her year of National Service at Ein Yael national park.

There’s a news blackout on a lot of the details, but it was awful, awful, awful.

All this stuff hits so very close to home, when you have teenage daughters yourself. And probably, even if you don’t.

We need geula the sweet way as fast as possible, before any more of our children ‘fall off’ and get smashed on the rocks of evil speech and hating our fellow Jew in our heart. God forbid, we should have any more of these sorts of evil tidings.

After I finished House of Windows, a collection of essays written about and around the Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara, where I used to live, I started to muse:

Is it really possible for us to have peace?

I’m not talking about peace with the Arabs, because it’s so clear that once we have peace between the Jews, and the Jews come back to God, the war with the Arabs will disappear all by itself.

Without firing a shot.

Just as the Breslov teachings about what will happen when Moshiach actually shows up describes.

It seems to me the far harder job is to make peace between the Jews, because sometimes, we seem fractured into so many opinionated shards – each one hating the other – that I feel it’s going to take an open miracle to turn things around.

About two thirds of the way through House of Windows, the author starts having guilt pangs about the original, Arab, owners of her house, and starts the process of trying to track them down. After months spent hacking through all the bureaucracy, she discovers the name – and then something seems to have fundamentally changed in her outlook.

She admits in the book that she had no intention of ‘giving the house’ back to whoever the original owners actually were – the knowledge is not going to change anything on the ground. But what it did seem to do is to sour the secular, American-Jewish author’s feelings towards Israel and her fellow Jews.

After detouring into a minor rant about ‘messianists with guns’ from the Bronx and New Jersey taking over the country, plus some extracts of letters from the colonial Brits who clearly couldn’t stand the Jews, and especially the Jews that fought back, like Menachem Begin, the book kind of petered out.

I loved the author’s writing style, if not all of her sentiments, so I went to look up what she wrote next, and discovered it was a biography of a Palestinian poet named Taha Muhammad Ali, who wrote some very good poems that are politically not my taste at all, heavily-laced with references to God.

Now, she’s writing the biography of Ben Hecht – who wrote the classic book ‘Perfidy’ in between turning out Hollywood scripts for blockbusters like Scarface and Notorious, but the reference in the book blurb to Hecht supporting the ‘Jewish terrorist underground’ clearly got my back up again.

Next, I went to check out the reviews she got for her book on Musrara – and like mine, for the Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, they are incredibly mixed. Her one star reviewers are clearly very upset with her for favoring Arabs over Jews, and for treating the religious Jews she meets as aggressive, ogling aliens from another planet.

Meanwhile, my one star reviewers are calling me racist – for stating that Arab terrorists who like to stab people are a drawback to living in the holy city – or dissing me for talking too much about God.

So after all that, I started to ponder: is it possible for us Jews to see past all our differences, and to still respect and relate to the person, despite their different (and sometimes, disturbing) views?

I’d had such high hopes when I was half-way through that book of tracking the author down, and seeing if she’d like to swap notes on life in Musrara as viewed through the lens of an English-speaking journalist. But by the end of the book, I pondered if she’d relate to me as an alien from out of space too, just because I have a hat on my head and an abiding belief in God and His Torah.

And what about me?

How would I relate to her?

At this stage in my life, I am trying very hard to see the good in others, and to look for the ties that bind, as opposed to the disagreements that cut apart, and the shorthand labels that dismiss other Jews as ‘lunatic lefties’ (or ‘messianics with guns’). At least in theory. But in practice, it’s so much  harder.

Part of me bristled when I was reading her negative account of the yeshiva students who were trying to cut down a mature tree illegally in the shared garden. But the truth is, that I also experienced things like that – chillul Hashem like that – day in and day out in Musrara. And in Meah Shearim. And in Beit Yisrael and Geula and a bunch of other places, too.

Chareidim are only human, after all. And Baal teshuva Chareidim often rush to adopt the external look of being totally ‘religious’ before their internal middot have caught up.

At the same time, the author’s attitudes towards her fellow Jews reminded me of the secular Anglo who lived upstairs from me in the slum, and who spent most of his day loudly criticizing his ‘disgusting’ religious neighbors, and their disgusting children to anyone who would listen.

Sure, he didn’t drop his trash on the floor, but he managed to bespatter the neighborhood with a potent filth of a different kind.

And me? I was in the middle of it all.

I also couldn’t stand the dirt, and the seemingly wanton neglect. But I understood it. I understood that I was dealing with people who were overwhelmed with life, and who just didn’t have the energy to pick up the trash. And on some level, I also understood the secular bigot upstairs too, because it honestly would look so much nicer if it was clean and orderly.

But who wants to hear someone criticising his neighbors in such ugly terms, day in day out?

Not me.

So I circle back to the question: could me and this author get on, somehow?

We lived in the same neighborhood, we experienced such similar things, we’re both Anglo Jewish writers who were completely out of our element, we’re similar ages, we both wrote a book about life in Musrara.

Is that enough for us to relate to each other as human beings, and not stereotypes?

I’m tempted to find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That explained a lot.

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

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

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

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

And mostly, I like it.

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

And I miss it.

Oooahh, there is nothing like having a couple of days off the evil internet to start to regain some optimism and joie de vivre again.

Here’s what I did yesterday:

  • Volunteered for 2 hours a local school’s garden in Jerusalem
  • Wrote up something deep and meaningful on how to forgive people who have really hurt us, for spiritualselfhelp.org
  • Went for three hours to ‘paint me pottery’ with my husband and teenage kids – we all had the best time. And my two teens even left their phones behind for the occasion, unprompted, which was stoo-pen-dous.
  • Spent two hours painting a picture of the Rav.
  • Spent an hour walking around and smelling the roses, literally and figuratively, need to where I live.
  • Swept the huge dust balls off the floor, hung up some washing, did some washing up and generally tidied the house.
  • Exercised twice – some stretching, and then some energy exercises.

I went to bed feeling stoo-pen-dous!

I got so much done that wasn’t just sitting here typing.

I also had some ‘space’ in my head to think, and here’s some of the thoughts that bubbled up:

  • I need to start writing proactively again, instead of re-acting to everything that’s going on, or not going on.
  • I need to stop writing about geula stuff, even though it’s mamash unfolding before our eyes. People are falling into yeoush and despair left, right and centre, and hitting them over the head with ‘reality’ is not going to help anyone at this point.
  • Unity is the thing to focus on – even the Queen was talking about it in her speech. “One must have achudus at this difficult time, and stop hating one’s selfish, retarded jerk of a neighbor.” I’m paraphrasing, natch.
  • I need to go back to writing creatively about life as a believing Jewish woman living in Israel. That means getting on the second volume of the Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife – but doing it with a twist. I’m currently working with Alizah, the very talented fiction editor from SassonMag.com to turn the raw material from the blog into something that’s actually a good read, as a book.

It’s time to make a new start – again!

I know I write about that a lot, but I just saw something on the RavBerland.com website that really underlined for me again how important it is to just keep starting over again when things aren’t going how we want.

Every day is a new creation, that’s what the Rav says! The path of Breslov is to just keep sweetening, and reassuring, and strengthening and picking ourselves up from the bottom of the pit, over and over again.

And not to get stuck in all the doom and gloom.

Man, I keep getting stuck in that myself, and probably I’ll get sidetracked again in the future.  But then I just have to try to pull it back faster, and start over again.

Life is good!

So, that’s what I got from my day off the evil internet, and it was so useful, BH I want to have at least one ‘internet-free’ day a week now.

With God’s help.