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Day 3 of the partial lockdown in Israel, and Baruch Hashem, no-one has (yet) killed anyone in my house.

What open miracles! What revealed good!

At this stage, it seems to me that the real danger from Covid-19 is not so much the pathological nature of the virus, but how much it’s empowering the police state to force me to try to spend 24 hours a day SOLID with my kids….

But you know what?

I’ve been practicing for this for months, if not years. For months if not years, I’ve barely had a single week where both of my teenagers have been in the ‘framework’ they’ve meant to be in. I literally can’t remember the last time they were both in school when they were meant to be, or both doing whatever else it was they were meant to be doing, that gave me a whole week ‘off’ home alone.

So, when this current phase of Coronavirus madness descended, I actually wasn’t so bothered. I’m used to my kids being around when I’m trying to do other things. I’m used to them playing their music at ear-splitting levels, and totally taking over the kitchen to cook weird things that apparently don’t come with lots of instructions for how to clean up afterwards.

In short, I’m used to hanging out with my kids, on their terms, and kind of ‘squishing myself’ into the sidelines, so they have the space and freedom they need to not go bonkers at home.

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And at this stage of the game, I say thank God for all this practice, because it means we’re actually doing ok.

To help things along, I’ve been panic buying a bit more every day, because I don’t trust the government as far as I can throw them. Sure, all the supermarkets will stay open whatever happens….. yadda yadda yadda. Whatever you say, Health Ministry Ubermenschen.

And I also bought two live chickens…. And I’ve also bought some 2x4s for the people in my house that like to make things out of wood…And I also bought some crochet yarns and hooks to make kippas…and a cast iron pot to cook things over a campfire in case we mamash go back to the stone age….

So, we have plenty to keep ourselves busy with.

Of course, I’m getting pretty much zero work or writing done.

And of course, I’m cooking three times a day because everyone is home and comfort eating, so as well as lunch and supper I’ve also been baking more cakes than a conditoria this last week.

What can we do?

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This situation has definitely got its challenges.

It’s definitely got its stresses. But most of all, so far, this lockdown has had a massive silver lining for me, as I see just how much I actually like and love my family, and just how good God has actually been to me the last few years, that I’m in the position I’m in today mentally, emotionally and socially, with my husband and kids.

Imagine being locked down with spouses you don’t speak to or like very much, or kids you haven’t really spoken to for 12 years, since you sent them off to kindergarten, or three million small kids running around that usually the teachers handle because you’re at work drinking cappuccino and pretending you’re doing some real hard work.

Bweeoooaaahhhh.

I’m getting the shivers just thinking about those scenarios.

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In the meantime, so far I can still get to the Kotel every day to pray, baruch Hashem.

In the meantime, the bakery that makes my spelt bread is still open – albeit everything is now pre-bagged – and even the hardware shop is ignoring the rules to keep selling nails, screws and wood stain.

Baruch Hashem.

And then, there are other kindnesses, too. Like, I remember how we were meant to sign on our mortgage 2 weeks ago, and the bank just refused to action it…. Just one of those ‘Israeli-bank-mental-torture’ things that happen. Except this time – Baruch Hashem! Because we didn’t sign, we aren’t paying for a mortgage. And because the whole plan was to rent that apartment out to pay for the mortgage – and everyone is now in partial lockdown – the bank’s torture routine has probably ended up saving me a fortune in time and money.

Baruch Hashem.

I have to say, in the midst of all the madness I’m feeling pretty happy.

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Someone sent me a comment, asking if it’s OK to feel kind of ‘happy’ about all these birth pangs of Moshiach that are going on all over the place, even though things are so stressful and apparently ‘bad’.

Here’s what Rebbe Nachman has to say about that (from Sefer HaMiddot, the section on Yirat Shemayim, or fear of heaven, #28):

One who has yirat shemayim will not be afraid when frightening events come upon the world. To the contrary, he will rejoice.

So, it seems that how we’re reacting to this whole COIVD-19 hoohah is a pretty good measure of how much yirat shemayim we actually have.

And while we’re on that subject, let me just toss in #29 from Sefer HaMiddot here, too:

One who has yirat shemayim will certainly submit himself before the Tzaddik.

Because rejoicing in this difficult matzav we all find ourselves in, and submitting ourselves before the Tzaddik certainly go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one if you don’t have the other.

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So, I’m up to day 16 of my 40 day stint praying at the Kotel, and I can’t really believe just how much things changed since the first day I began.

There are 24 days left to go – until the third day of Pesach chol hamoed – and who knows how much things will change again, by then

But I’m holding on to the Rav’s promise that all this will be sweetened by Erev Pesach, however unlikely that seems right now.

The footsteps of Moshiach are fast approaching.

But who knows how many of us are going to still be sane by the time they actually arrive?

That is the question.

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Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

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In ten days time, I’m meant to be flying out of Israel to go to my brother’s batmitzvah celebration in London.

I spoke to him a couple of days ago, and I told him I don’t think I’m coming.

Israel had just announced that anyone coming back from abroad would have to self-isolate for 14 days in bidud, and much as I love my brother, we have no family here, we just moved and I don’t know the neighbors, and there is no-one who could keep my family unit going with groceries if I’m out of action.

Such strange days we live in.

My daughter is currently coughing her guts up and streaming phlegm, as she always does when Spring appears and her hayfever kicks off. Although this year, with all the anxiety about Corona and a few other things going on in her life, her asthma has also ramped up again.

Most years, my daughter’s seasonal hayfever and asthma is not a big deal.

This year, with all the hysteria about Corona, she’s scared to leave the house in case people think she’s going to kill them with a sneeze.

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In the meantime, in my own dalet amot I’m having such a strange mix of tremendous good, and tremendous confusion. On the one hand, the house we managed to miraculously rent has blossomed into such a beautiful home.

We had Purim seuda yesterday, and for the first time in 7 years we had enough space to invite a few families together. Honestly, it was initially a little strange, but then we whacked the music up, started dancing and the magic happened and le ha fochu. The weird atmosphere broke and everything turned around.

For a few hours.

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So much of the time right now, I don’t know what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong.

Yesterday, I went for a walk to the Kotel, and I was really pondering to myself if I’m more a Haman, or more a Mordechai, because I honestly have no idea right now if I’m giving God what He really wants, or the opposite.

Everything seems so upside down at the moment.

I know it’s all exploding in madness everywhere you look, but it still seems to me that the best response to everything that’s going on right now (apart from making some serious teshuva, particularly in how we treat other people) is:

To bake cookies.

Yes, you read that right.

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There is nothing better to do right now, apart from reciting lots of tehillim and doing lots of hitbodedut, except to bake cookies. Because until Hashem decides that the world really is ending, we parents have a duty to show our children that the world is still continuing in the meantime.

Already, our kids are struggling to stay in school. Already, they are struggling to get up in the mornings. Already, they are feeling like there is no point in continuing or carrying on, because the apocalypsa is around the corner, so what’s the point?

Honestly, don’t we grown ups feel that way too, so much of the time?

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I’m not saying this lightly.

I’ve been waiting for geula, and trying to prepare for it in as real a way as I can for at least the last 15 years. But now that it looks like we may be coming down to the wire, and the geula really might be materializing before our eyes, increasingly the most important priority for me, as a mother, seems to be keep things as ‘normal’ as I can.

That means baking cookies. That means cleaning toilets. That means doing my best to look after my children, my family, my husband the best way I can right now.

I have my People Smarts Course that’s half done, and my People Smarts book that has been waiting six months to get sent to the printers already. For months, I haven’t been able to get to it.

Finally, last week, I realized that maybe, that’s not my main work right now.

My main work seems to be to look after my family – even tho my kids are 16 and 19 already – and to make my family my main priority.

So, I find myself making sandwiches and suppers in a way that I haven’t done for years, since they were much smaller. I find myself ferrying them around in the car – not least so I can have some quality time to really talk to them – and taking them to different places and appointments and people, because it seems like there is just so much going on, at the moment.

In some ways, it feels like my family, my responsibilities to these people who I live with, and care for tremendously, have kind of been ‘getting in the way’ of my life.

At least, that’s how it looked.

But today, I’m thinking more and more, this is actually my test, right now.

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There is no better way of working on my bad middot and doing acts of kindnesses that really count than by focusing on the people in my home.

Rav Berland explained weeks ago that Corona has the same gematria as ‘mitvot bein adam l’havero’ – the mitzvahs that take place between people.

And nowhere are those mitzvahs more trampled – or more needed – than in the home.

And especially between parents and teens.

So, if you’re reading this, and you have a teen at home, and especially if you have a difficult teen at home who is struggling, stop reading this and go give them a hug. Go tell them that you think they’re amazing. Go and find something to praise about them, to their face, go make them a sandwich, take them out and get them a new top, or take them somewhere they’ve been bugging you to go for ages.

In short, go and love them unconditionally, with as much energy as you can muster.

Because that is the main test right now.

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So many people are now being forced to spend 14 days cooped up with their families, with no distractions.

There’s no malls and chugim to run away to, no work deadlines, no shopping, no shiurim, no beaches and expensive holidays and restaurants.

All there is, is our raw family unit.

And that is the real test – does it feel like gehinnom or gan eden?

Is there love in the home, or constant arguments, guilt trips and withering criticism about all the things that aren’t being done 100% ‘perfectly’?

Are cookies being baked in that home, or not?

That is the question.

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Photo by Ruth Reyer on Unsplash

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For about five minutes yesterday, as I was driving back to Jerusalem on Route 6, I had this amazing feeling of being so connected to God, and seeing how He’s guiding every tiny detail in the world.

The traffic was flowing, the scenery was beautiful, and I had a profound sense of peace and excitement.

Moshiach is almost here, I can feel it….

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I got home, and instantly my mood changed.

Someone had sent me a link to another crappy Israeli TV ‘expose’ about Rabbi Berland, blah blah blah, and somehow, my oldest daughter had opened it up when she was using my computer, and then spent two hours watching more poisonous crap about the Rav.

Excuse my mild swearing.

I’ve just so had enough of all this.

So, I told her:

I can’t keep trying to clean this stuff up for you, spiritually. You want to watch poisonous crap about the Rav, from lying, immoral, anti-God journalists, what can I do? Bezrat Hashem, God will help you to figure out the truth by yourself, because I am no longer prepared to sit her to try and shore up your shaky emunat tzaddikim.

That’s not an easy thing for me to say, because I know that it’s not going to go easy for anyone who finds themselves on the wrong side of the Rabbi Berland equation, and I love my daughter tremendously.

But each person has to fight their own fight.

And I also decided that I am totally coming off Youtube, and once I’ve finished typing this, I’m going to see if there is a way I can totally block it and / or erase access. (If anyone has any tips for me, please leave them in the comments section.)

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The more the current craziness plays out in the world, the more I’m seeing that there is really only one way that we can short-cut things like pandemics, plagues, economic depressions, terminal illnesses and wars, and that’s by working on our own middot.

All this Coronavirus stuff is just a case in point.

Regardless of whether it really is a potential world-killing pandemic, or just a totally over-hyped strain of flu that the media is using to whip-up mass hysteria for some unknown reason, what it actually all boils down to is just a big test of emuna.

Sure, you may be wearing a shawl, and thinking like you are the holiest thing to hit the world since Moshe Rabbenu, but if you’re scared to ride a bus in Jerusalem because of Corona, that is a clear indication that your real level of emuna is actually way, way less than you think.

Wherever there is fear of something that is not Hashem, that’s called ‘fallen fear’.

The whole idea, the whole goal, is to work through all the millions of ‘fallen fears’ that we all have, and to raise them back up to their root in emuna. That means understanding that God runs the world, God is doing everything for our ultimate good, and that everything is just a message from Hashem.

God doesn’t need Corona virus to kill anyone – if He decides we’re going to croak, that’s it, end of story, even if we’re wearing a bacteria-killing mask 24 hours a day and have an IV drip infusing our blood with industrial quantities of Vitamin C.

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God is running the world.

Let me repeat that again, as I know it’s so easy to forget it:

God is running the world.

Once I understand that, I stop obsessing over using the hand sanitizer, and I stop panicking when someone coughs next to me at work, and I stop checking out ‘the latest’ germ-blocking face masks.

And instead, I take some time out, and I go and explore why do I feel so scared? What am I doing, what sins am I engaged in, that are making my soul feel so anxious and frightened?

And top of that list is:

The sins between adam l’chaveiro.

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Recently, I’ve had a lot of kids who dropped out of the Torah world in my orbit, especially from the city of Bet Shemesh.

That place seems to have cornered the market in terms of dysfunctional ‘religious’ families where the parents are so super-duper, mega-crazy ‘frum’ on the outside – but actually treating other people, and particularly their kids, really badly.

What I’ve been learning is that the yetzer has been totally running rings around so many of these people. It’s convinced them harshly criticizing their children for not being ‘perfect’ is the best way to get them to make teshuva  – when of course, the polar opposite is true.

Imagine living in a home where you have a parent that is constantly telling you what you’re doing wrong, and constantly picking up chumrot that they try to shove down your throat, and constantly going on about how ‘bad’ and how ‘evil’ and how ‘defective’ you are, poor kid, and how they’re sure you’re not going to ‘make it’ when Moshiach shows up.

If I lived in a home like that, I would also get a punk hair cut, smoke 2 packs a day and feel really, really angry at God and religion.

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It’s no coincidence that Rabbi Berland has made it very clear that the gematria of ‘Corona’ is 363 – the same gematria as bein adam l’chaveiro.

And the first place to start with fixing that part of the equation is in our homes.

If you are criticising your kid all the time for not being Moshe Rabbenu, or not getting ‘straight As’, or not being perfect all the time – stop!

If you are condescending to your spouse, and you think like you have it all figured out and they are the spiritual retard in the relationship – stop!

If you think you are above doing a cheshbon hanefesh on how you hurt other people’s feelings, and how you use religious observance to try to control other people – again, especially your children – then stop!

Take a breath, take a careful look in the mirror that God is holding up to you, and to me, and to everyone else in the world right now, and see what’s looking back at you.

Is it nice, or nasty? Is it scary, or reassuring? Is the world full of kindness and compassion and understanding, or vicious complaint, din and anger?

Whatever you see peering back at you, that’s just a reflection of your inner dimension.

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Let me share a story with you, to illustrate this point.

I’ve been checking out a few of my ‘anonymous’ commentators IP addresses, especially the ones who like to write comments slagging off Rav Berland.

I discovered that one big critic of the Rav has a slew of court cases against them for illegally manipulating stocks on the New York stock exchange – they are mamash small time mafia. This guy has been extremely fast to loudly yell ‘financial fraud!!!!’ at the Rav and Shuvu Banim.

Now we know why.

Then, there was the commentator who liked to call himself ‘Peewee’, who is also ‘anti Rav’. Guess what? I found out he’s on a police watch list for pedophiles in the States after he was caught propositioning an undercover police woman who he thought was a 13 year old girl on the internet.

The Rav is just a big super-reflecting mirror, shining a light on our own bad middot.

That’s why I am not going to argue with anyone anymore, about what the Rav did or didn’t do, or did or didn’t say.

If you see bad in the Rav – if you see bad in your kids, in your spouse, in everyone else around you – that’s because that bad is really in YOU.

So knuckle down, acknowledge the real problem and get to work on it.

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This morning, I finally had the energy to walk down to the Kotel, as part of my hour long hitbodedut thing that I do every single day, with God’s help.

I walked down the road that skirts the Gei Hinnom valley, on the side of the Old City, a road called ‘Ma’aleh Shalom’ – the path of peace.

I went with quite a lot of heartache, thinking about some of the things I’ve written above, how I’m seeing so many parents literally destroy their children with their own two hands, all in the name of God and His Torah.

I touched the stones, kissed them, then headed back home. In the plaza, an old frum lady came over to me and called out may Hashem grant you everything you asked for!

I shrugged at her, pulled a tight smile and told her Sorry, I don’t have any money.

She hobbled closer, and told me in English:

You aren’t listening to me. Listen: May Hashem grant you everything you asked for!

She was right. I hadn’t been listening. She was trying to give me a bracha that my prayers should be answered, and I was batting her away like a pesky mosquito.

You’re right. I’m sorry. Amen!

Then she told me:

The most important prayer to say right now, is that we all get out of galut. That Am Yisrael should all get out of galut.

I looked at her twinkly blue eyes, squeezed her arm, and got the message.

What is galut, really, except the prison that we’re all in, that’s keeping us away from God and the people we love, and redemption? And what is that prison, really, except our own bad middot?

Our own fallen fears, and anger, and arrogance, and jealousy?

We all have a lot of work to do.

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UPDATE:

Daisy Stern has pulled a lot of info together to show why the Kan 11 ‘expose’ my daughter say was a total farce, and just more of the same ‘anti-Rav’ propaganda the media has been steadily churning out for year.

You can see that on her site, HERE.

Also, I saw another abusive comment this morning, this time from someone pretending to be ‘Sam Eisen’ about the Rav. Again, I ran the IP address – and guess what? It’s the same ‘Peewee’ pedo guy I mentioned before.

I won’t detail the comment, but suffice to say it was talking about dying in jail for being a pervert. Yet again, we see the mirror principle in full color.

So, yalla, come on all you ‘anti’ Rav people… send me more of your comments, even with your fake names, and then we’ll find out what’s really going on in your private lives and exactly why it is you are so ‘anti’ a person who exudes goodness and holiness so strongly, you can feel it a million miles away.

No wonder all these people are staying anonymous.

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Let’s leave the last word to Rabbi Nachman, who writes in Sefer HaMiddot:

“S*xual violators are for the most part opposers of the Tzaddikim.”

Now that I’m looking up the IP addresses on the comments, I’m seeing Rabbenu’s dictum manifest in real time. And I’m really excited to go and do some more digging on all those big mouths who have been so publically ‘anti’ the Rav – so yalla guys, don’t be shy!

Let me have all your disgusting comments, and then let’s find out who YOU really are.

It’s a taste of the World to Come, when the truth will shine out and no-one will be able to hide behind a fake name or a fake email anymore.

Doesn’t that sound like fun?

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I have so much to get on with….

I’m moving house in less than a week, and there’s so much to do.

And yet, I’m sitting here still feeling totally out of it, and like I just don’t know what to do with myself.

Except… watch videos like this one.

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It’s 8 years since this song came out, can you believe it?

Since then, I’ve seen so many people leave Israel, so many people get divorced, so many kids go screeching off the derech, so many people go plain nutso.

How many times have we all just felt like giving up, already? And just letting go of all this ‘geula’ and ‘moshiach’ stuff, because how long can we just sit here hanging on, by our finger tips, and trying to fight off the rising tide of tumah that’s just every where?

8 years ago, we seemed so much closer to redemption happening than today, at least in some ways.

People were so much more excited about going to Torah classes, and trying to live life with emuna, and so many of us were making so much effort to try to raise our game and to live a life of real kedusha.

And today?

Well, from where I sit I’ve just seen one person after another crack up, from trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal of what a ‘geula-ready Jew’ actually looks like.

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If God hadn’t had mercy on me, and totally crushed me into the floor when I moved to Jerusalem back in 2014, then that’s exactly what would have happened to me, too.

My kids would have gone screeching off the derech a million per cent, tortured by parents who expected ‘frum perfection’ and who refused to compromise, or move even a millimeter to try to meet their children where they were really at.

I would have either jumped off a bridge, or got a padded jacket to match the padded turban I was being told to believe was the epitome of female frum-ness.

And we would have either moved to a dumpster, or given up and fled back to chul, God forbid, if my husband hadn’t found the courage to go back to work even though there were so many people lining up to tell him that ‘God provides parnassa’, as long as you have enough emuna.

We didn’t have ‘enough’ emuna to get our parnassa provided in an openly miraculous way, and thank God we didn’t.

Because since then, I’ve been writing one thing after another, trying to warn against the huge perils involved in all this phony, fake, holier-than-thou yiddishkeit.

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This shabbat, I had one of my kid’s friends in my house.

They grew up in a baal teshuva chareidi home which is super-duper machmir in a million-and-one ways, and doing a whole bunch of things so strictly, and so correctly, this kid has been totally traumatised by the idea of keeping shabbat.

Long story short, they kind of ended up at my house ‘by mistake’ this week, as their plans to go elsewhere fell through at the last minute, so my daughter brought them home to us. This friend is amazing, one of the most impressive souls I’ve met in a long term. Holy, doing hitbodedut every day, thinks and talks about God a lot, is really struggling to be a mensch and to do the right thing.

Yet they can’t sit by the table, for Shabbat.

They can’t go 25 hours without using the need to smoke a cigarette as a convenient ‘out’ from having to be in the house.

They are barely on their phone the rest of the week, and yet on the holy sabbath, they sit there playing games on it almost endlessly, texting their other ‘off the derech’ friends – anything to provide a mental escape route from the obvious emotional pain and difficulty spending shabbat with a family is causing them.

I can’t help but wonder:

What on earth went on, to cause this reaction?

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But really, I already know.

Because I so easily could have done the same, to my kids.

I so easily could have created an environment of ridiculously high, unrealistic expectation which would cast my poor kids as ‘bad’ the moment they stopped being ‘perfect’.

And because no-one can be ‘perfect’ 24/7, so many of our children are growing up feeling they must be ‘bad’, or ‘Erev Rav’, or some other form of messed-up / evil incarnate, just because they couldn’t sit at a Shabbat table singing endless zemirot for 2 hours, or because they wanted to wear jeans, and not black pants, or because they wanted to listen to a song by Ed Sheeran.

How have we come to this low place, where some of our brightest and best souls relate to themselves as ‘bad’ people just because they happen to smoke, or have an i-Phone?

This isn’t yiddishkeit. This isn’t Breslov.

Rabbenu tells us always, judge the action, don’t judge the Jew. The Jew is only and ever good, just their neshama got eaten by a massive klipa, that has been carefully crafted by the Samech Mem to make them feel like nothing they do is ever good enough.

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And it’s not just all these teenage drop-outs that are getting that message.

Their parents are also operating in that atmosphere of harsh fear and judgment, where they feel nothing they do is ever going to be good enough for Hashem. That Hashem is just waiting for them to drop the ball and watch a Michael Jackson video on Youtube so He can smash them into oblivion, God forbid.

This isn’t yiddishkeit!!!! This isn’t Breslov!!!! This isn’t emuna!!!!

And it certainly isn’t Azamra.

God loves us all so, so much. He knows how hard it is right now, how tough the struggle to hold on really is. He knows that we don’t want all this naarishkeit, all this tumah. That really all we want is Him, and Moshiach, and the rebuilt Temple, and to serve Him in holiness and temimut again.

God knows all that.

And He loves us.

And if we can get to the stage where we start to realise that we and our teens and our fellow Jews are really JUST GOOD, however ‘bad’ they (and we….) may look and behave some times, however big the klipa that’s swallowed them up, that’s when the crying will finally stop.

And the geula will finally happen.

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Back when I lived in Musrara, there was a small makolet on the main street, where I used to get most of my groceries.

I was in that place pretty much every day for four years, and over that time I got to know the makolet guys, and their workers, who ran the place.

One guy, Eden, stuck the job out for years, and right around the time that the teenage boy was having his visions of the coming apocalypse in Israel, he stuck a kippa on his head and started laying tefillin.

I know this, because he’d be ringing up my groceries with his phylacteries stuck to his head, which I know is wrong, but it still struck me as kinda cool.

Then there was the French guy who was fresh out of the army and wrestling with a lot of grudges against God. Sometimes the knitted kippa on his head grew, sometimes it shrank, and then a few months after he got married – it disappeared altogether.

He moved out of the neighborhood shortly afterwards, so I have no idea if it ever grew back.

And then, there was Shimon.

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Shimon could have been in his thirties, or maybe even his forties.

By the time I met him, he was a chain-smoking, secret alcoholic who was destined to eventually get fired because he kept forgetting important details like whether he’d already rung up a purchase, or whether someone had already paid.

He stuck it out for two years, steadily deteriorating, and over that time, I got to know him a little. What was left of his blonde hair was cut in an awkward crew cut, and his beer belly was usually perched dangerously on a low-riding pair of jeans that really should have left far more to the imagination.

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One day, I went in to get my daily pint of almond milk and I found him looking at a dog-eared photo, with a sad expression on his face.

Was this a dearly departed mum? An old girlfriend that it never worked out with? His childhood pet?

That day, Shimon was in a thoughtful mood, so even though my Hebrew was rubbish and his English wasn’t much better, he started talking as he rang up my pint of milk.

That’s me in the army, he told me, shoving the dog-eared picture into my face.

I’m at the age where I have to move things back a few inches, before they swim into focus, so I took the picture cautiously, and maneuvred it far enough away to actually see it. It was the standard shot of a young man wearing army trousers and displaying his pecs, while sucking on a cigarette and holding a machine gun.

I guess it was kinda ‘cool’, in that superficial, glorifying violence kinda way.

I was in a special unit in the army, Shimon told me, clearly fishing for some compliments for his 20-something self.

I looked at the fat, red-eyed man before me, who was already missing some teeth and I sighed a deep, secret sigh.

No wonder Shimon was steadily drinking his brain cells to death, if that picture represented his best shot at ‘happy times’.

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All this took place a few years’ ago, but recently I’ve been thinking again about this whole idea of ‘cool’, and how it’s one of the yetzer’s best ploys for ensnaring our souls in the madness of this world.

‘Cool’ can be so dangerous, precisely because it hides a multitude of sins, while secretly promoting them. ‘Cool’ people smoke. ‘Cool’ people drink lots of alcohol. ‘Cool’ people waste large chunks of their lives in bars and clubs, dancing to stupid, brain-cell destroying music made by other ‘Cool’ people, many of whom are addicted to drugs and pornographic lifestyles.

In so many ways, ‘Cool’ is the anti-thesis of the Torah lifestyle, and of the good middot, and of the calm, good stability that is actually the foundation of a happy life. But which is also, often, totally ‘unCool’.

Until I hit Breslov, which paired massive payot and Rabbenu’s Torah with trance music, I was kind of despairing of finding even a hint of ‘Cool’ in the Torah world.

Because I have to admit, ‘Cool’ still has some attraction for me, still, even though I’m 46 and really should know better.

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It’s so, so easy to fall back into the deceptive allure of that world of lies, where ‘Cool’ people spend their days surfing in Eilat, smoking their lungs black and piercing their tongues.

How can learning a blatt of gemara really compete with that? How can I explain to my children that ‘Cool’ has a short-lived shelf-life, and that ‘Cool’ young people are way more likely to end up addicted, poor and alone, eating their hearts out over pictures of themselves looking ‘Cool’ twenty years ago?

If I still lived in Musrara, if that makolet was still there, I’d tell them (and their friends…):

Go take a look at Shimon’s picture, and then see where all that ‘Cool’ lead.

‘Cool’ is poisonous, my precious children. It’s soul-destroying.

If you want to live a truly happy life, be guided by the Torah and channel your urge to be ‘Cool’ into some outrageously long payot and a tendency to talk to God by the beach.

Ah.

When is Moshiach going to show up, already?

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UPDATE:

I got the following comments from a reader, who is making some important points, so I’m adding them in here:

I just read your post about Shimon at the makolet and coolness, and I just had to say, maybe Shimon was showing you the photo of himself in the army because that was the last time he did anything that he’s proud of and that he worked hard for. Poor guy.

He got out of the army and spends his days drinking and smoking and working in a makolet. He’s not happy. He’s unmotivated. Probably depressed. The army is a real challenge, especially for a combat soldier, who is under-appreciated and works really hard in generally awful conditions. Any one who did his army service as a combat soldier should be proud of himself, and this Shimon deserves our prayers and compassion and to look for his good points to help him have the strength to do teshuvah and serve Hash-m.

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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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In our prayers, we ask God to save us from the ‘Medina of Gehinnom’.

I think I’m starting to figure out what that’s really referring to.

On Sunday, I stuck an overnight bag in the car, unplugged my laptop and drove up to Kadita, a small village made mostly of recycled wood, close to Tsfat.

Kadita is hidden in the middle of the Birya Forest’s pines and hills – and even with a map and directions to guide me, it still took me the best part of an hour to find it. Part of the problem was that what my host was calling a ‘road’ was actually sign-posted as a bike track. After the fourth attempt, I finally found the ‘road’, and pretended my Hyundai i20 was really a jeep.

Sometimes, a car’s gotta do what a car’s gotta do.

And my car had to drive up a steep dirt track that was much better suited to goats than tyres.

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I didn’t really notice how bad the road was, as I was just concentrating intently on following instructions for how to find the place, a small rental shack in the middle of a farm, with no internet and barely any electricity.

Everything was solar powered, which meant the fridge switched off at night, and I was left with the light of two struggling lightbulbs. For the two days I was there, I spent most of the time trying to get my manuscript describing the 16 4 Element personalities into good enough shape so that I could send it off to an editor, for the next stage.

I went to bed early – 9pm – because the light was so bad and it was pitch black outside. I started to get that this is how people used to live, before the advent of electricity and street lighting, and I could see it had some big pros – and also some big cons. Life was certainly simpler and more ‘home’ focused in the past, because really, there wasn’t any other choice.

The roads were treacherous enough to traverse in the daylight, let alone when you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

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I woke up early in the morning, around 6am, and went to explore the neighborhood as part of my daily hour long hitbodedut, or ‘talking to God’ session. Which is when I stumbled across the tomb of Rabbi Tarfon, a tanna, who was buried halfway up a hill at an achingly beautiful site where his tomb was partially covered by one of the biggest, wide-trunked trees I’d ever seen in my life – ‘The Tree of Mercy.’

That ‘Tree of Mercy’ had to be at least a 1000 years old, if it was a day.

I had the place to myself, and as I sat there watching the sun come up over the surrounding hill, backlighting the groves of olive trees dotted all around, I sighed a deep sigh. If not for electricity pylons and their bobbing bright orange buoys, this same sight could have been seen for the last 5000 years…

I started poking around Rabbi Tarfon’s tomb, wishing that I knew a little more about him and who he was, when I came to a sign that had been hung against that massive tree. I’m reproducing exactly what the sign said, below:

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The Tree of Mercy

The tree you see before you used to be a sapling. At that time, Jews had hope that one day, Hashem, in His great strength, would place His holy nation within the borders of the Land of Israel. The tree grew tall, and stands strong for the world to see.

At the end of one long and wide branch, the tree grows once more, but in small form. The short growth on the branch reminds us that we ourselves as only a remnant of a mighty nation, the generation that returned.

We should not be satisfied and settle for less than Hashem asks of us.

Hashem will hear us, on the day we call. Call to Hashem, that He grants His mercy to our generation; that through this mercy Israel will be restored to its former state and to its former spiritual status.

May it be that through our love, fear and unshakeable belief in Him, through our Torah study, mitzvahs and good deeds for one another, He will continuously keep us close to Him, so we never wander away again.

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Under this message, which quite took my breath away, was the following:

Rabbi Tarfon says: The day is short and the work is multiplying, and the workers are lazy, and the salary is great, and the Baal HaBayit (owner) is insistent.

He used to say: It’s not for you to finish the job, but you are also not a ‘free agent’ to absolve yourself from doing it.

If you learned a lot of Torah, you will be given a lot of reward. The ‘owner’ of the operation is trustworthy, to pay you for your work. And know! The reward of the tzaddikim is given in the world to come.

Pirkei Avot 2: 15-16

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What can I add to that, that wouldn’t just detract?

I felt like Hashem was talking straight to me, via Rabbi Tarfon. I stood up to go, and noticed a peeling sticker that had been stuck to the backside of the ner tamid, the memorial light set up over Rabbi Tarfon’s marker stone. It said:

I believe with total faith in the coming of the Moshiach. And even though he tarries, despite this, I will continue to wait for him every single day, that he should come.

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My husband asked me to stop here. I’m respecting his wishes.

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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.”

====

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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Refreshing the soul, with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

The last few days, I was really feeling the heat allegorically and physically.

My landlady has been telling me since last Summer’s 43heatwave that you ‘don’t feel the heat’ in Jerusalem – but of course, she’s wrong. And since L’ag B’omer, I was sitting in my house slow roasting along to constant 40plus heat for weeks already – and I was starting to crack.

Then there was all the ‘regular’ madness if you can call it that. So much to do every day, so many chores to take care of, so much stuff on the boil, personally and nationally.

So I told my husband: we need to go to Uman for Shavuot.

Despite our lack of cash, he borrowed some money and made it happen, God bless him. Then there was another wrinkle in the plans: women weren’t allowed in the Kever for the whole of Shavuot. Did I mind? Of course, yes I did. But I had to get there one way or another, so I made up my mind to have a different sort of Uman trip, minus Rebbe Nachman’s actual grave.

The hotel was understated but quite nice, quite quiet (relatively…) food was simple buy yummy. I had three whole days to try to get my head in order. There was yet another ‘wrinkle’ in the plans, inasmuch as we made plans to head out to Uman the same night that Rabbi Berland then called his atzeret in Hevron last week.

So, we figured we’ll go early to Hevron stay for half an hour, then bomb it back home, try to catch some sleep for an hour a half, then roar off to ben Gurion. In the meantime, there was another wrinkle in that plan, too: when I got home at 11pm Thursday night, it turns out one of my kids needed some urgent help to get her bagrut art project done and turned in on time.

So (long story…) I spent two hours sewing body parts together for 18 felt dollies, before spending 10 minutes packing my case like a madwoman, before departing for Uman.

Obviously, our taxi man didn’t show up in Kiev. Or rather, he did, but just not where we were expecting him, so we had to spend an hour combing the carparks to find him.

But when we actually got to Uman it was nice. Like, pretty much almost ‘normal’ – which was so weird to me, I spent the first day and a half trying to work out how to react to it. Usually, I hit Uman and I get the massive stomachache, the massive challenge, the massive insight, the massive something…. This time, nothing massive.

This time, just lots of walking around and around Uman itself, as I couldn’t get near the Kever and I couldn’t stay in a hotel room for 3 whole days without going totally bonkers. So I discovered all sorts of back alleys and new places in Uman that I’d never been to before, and certainly never by myself.

On Isru Chag, I decided to spend the day walking around Gan Sofia.

In the past, I’ve seen extending walks around Gan Sofia as something only ‘lightweights’ do, instead of pulling all-night prayer sessions by the kever, but as the Tzion was still barred to womenkind, it struck me as just the thing to pass the time. I spent the best part of a day just walking under trees that were three storeys high, bathing my eyeballs in luxuriant green and Victorian water features, and felt so very lucky.

Hey, there’s something to this, after all….

Walking back from Gan Sofia, I got some insight that Rabbenu’s grave is very chazak spirituality – so chazak, it can and does fry people’s brains out of their heads, sometimes. In our spiritually-dead days, most of us need a jolt like that, an electric shock of kedusha like that, to try to get the soul back from its flat-lining position.

But this time around, I also got why Rebbe Nachman used to request that his followers also visit Gan Sofia when they come to Uman, too.

Gan Sofia is total gashmius – the polar opposite of the intense kedusha that is the Tzion.

But we need both, in order to serve God properly.

But in the correct order and dosage, i.e. first the spirituality, and only as an after-thought or a dessert, the gashmius and materiality.

Second day in, I had this amazing dream that Moshiach is coming into the world next week.

I woke up in a really good mood, and it seemed like a ‘real’ dream to me. I needed that good vibe, as I came home to a tip.

We let a teenager have the house with her friends, and one of them managed to shatter the shower door all over the bathroom floor. There’s no milk in the house, they’ve moved all my stuff around…

But I got another ‘message’ from Uman this time around, which was to shower my teenagers with as much love and compassion and understanding as I can, whenever I can, because in this dark generation, unkind words can just propel our children straight into the clutches of  the tumah, God forbid. So I kept my temper and didn’t go off into rant mode.

The world is very hard to ‘be’ in at the moment, especially if you’re trying to put at least some focus on kedusha and God.

The filth is literally seeping in under the doors and through the walls. It’s permeating the atmosphere and degrading everything it comes in contact with. It’s hard to continue, some days. It’s hard to think straight. It’s hard to pray.

Before I went to Rebbe Nachman in Uman, current events had made me feel more than a little despairing about being able to raise my children in anything like a ‘healthy’ spiritual environment. We’re in a little bubble here in Jerusalem, but even here, the cracks are starting to deepen and the tumah is seeping through.

There is a relentless and effective ‘war’ being waged against the soul, and against kedusha, and against God, especially by the media. It’s claiming so many casualties, it’s truly frightening to witness how fast the moral fabric of the world is unravelling.

Which is where Rebbe Nachman really came in to his own.

Torah is eternal. Tzaddikim are eternal. Mitzvot are eternal. The Jewish people are eternal.

Even though the battle for the Jewish soul is currently very intense, if we stick close to our true tzaddikim like Rebbe Nachman and Rabbi Berland, they will act like spiritual bulwarks, absorbing and deflecting most of the ‘cack’. So somehow, us and families can come through the fighting unscathed.

But without that bulwark?

I dread to think.

You might also like these articles about Uman:

The Uman Experience – Part 9

Uman Redux

Uman explodes