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I’m starting to realise that putting my head in the sand may be good advice.

Yesterday, I got the same message in three different ways. Once was from the husband, who told me that he thinks I’m getting distracted from what I should be doing by getting too caught up in all the shenanigans in the US.

Once was from my brother, who told me:

I think I need to have a bit more of your paying attention to things, and you need to have a bit more of my putting my head in the sand and ignoring it all.

And once was from a reader, who made no bones about telling me:

You aren’t Hashem, you aren’t the Tzaddik. You don’t need to be worrying about all this stuff.

After some pondering, I see that they are all right.

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I also see that my yetzer has been pulling a fast one on me, trying to tell me that I need to be ‘warning’ all these people, all these Jews, in chutz l’aretz, about what is about to happen over there.

It’s like World War II all over again!!! You have to tell them to get out!!!

Blah blah blah.

What, I’m the only person who can watch a Youtube channel and figure out what’s really going on behind the scenes in the US?

Of course not. Anyone who wants to can figure things out for themselves, there are so many non-Jewish journalists and bloggers and Youtubers now, who are doing a much better job than the mainstream media of putting the pieces together, and explaining what’s really going on.

I don’t need to waste any more of my time being a second-rate imitation of them.

I realized some more stuff:

I live in Jerusalem. I already took the ‘red pill’ a long time ago, and that’s why I moved out of London. There is nothing ‘practical’ I need to change about my life right now to be ready for Moshiach and geula. So paradoxically, I can actually stop obsessing about what’s happening in the wider world, and just get on with living my life and doing my own thing.

Maybe this sounds a little selfish. But I got the last couple of days that I’m effectively wasting my time banging on about this stuff, because most of the people it will directly affect don’t want to hear it, and certainly don’t want to believe it, anyway.

All my readers are grown ups who can think for themselves, and who are responsible for their own lives and neshamas. I am no cleverer than them, no more insightful than they are. All this ‘trying to predict the future stuff’ is just a big personal ga’ava trip.

And in the meantime, it’s also taking so much of my energy away from my own projects, like this new book I’m trying to write, BH, which is a personality typology based on Jewish sources. I want to go back to writing about life, pure and simple, on this blog. With some Rebbe Nachman stuff thrown in.

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I know, I’ve said that before and I’ve got pulled off into other directions. It keeps happening, it may well happen again. But what I want, really, is to leave the geula stuff alone for a good long while, because the boulder is gathering steam and is rushing down the hill all by itself now, and it doesn’t need any more prodding from me.

I need to take a break from all that, and try to put something useful out into the world. Even though my books barely sell, writing them is what I really love to do.

So, this is where I’m holding in life:

If I have any more geula insights, I will stick them up on my weekly blog at ravberland.com – as that is the appropriate place for them. Otherwise, I’m half putting my head in the sand about world events, so I can go back – and go forward! – to writing about other things, especially how to handle our emotions and develop healthier relationships.

That’s plenty controversial enough, all by itself.

And at least for now, that what God is telling me I need to be focusing on.

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Photo by xiaokang Zhang on Unsplash

If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about – and struggling with – internet addiction for as long as ‘www’ has been a word.

Although strictly speaking, that’s not true, because before I decided to quit my job 10 years ago, there was no real struggle: the internet had eaten me up, body, mind and soul. Once I realized just how bad my preoccupation with the net was for me and my whole family, I got the internet out of my house, and went cold turkey.

Over the next 6 years or so, I mostly had it mostly sidelined. I’d go to the local library to upload things and gorge myself on geula sites and a bit of news twice a week, but it was manageable – and I have to tell you, I got a lot of other stuff done over that time, mostly hidden in my home and internally, but still a lot.

Then for a lot of different reasons, the internet came back via a plug-in internet stick, and the internet addiction also started to creep back in under the guise of all this ‘important’ stuff that we were now doing online.

But it was kind of manageable still, until the middle of last year, when our disastrous house purchase blew up, blasting my last ounce of spiritual strength away with it.

The internet addiction roared back, and I found myself obsessively checking earthquake sites, and geula blogs, and even the occasional Youtube video or documentary.

And there was nothing I could really do about it, because there was a big, gaping hole where things like ‘satisfaction’, and ‘peace of mind’ and ‘real happiness’ should have been, but just weren’t. So all that internet stuff was my escape out of a reality that I really didn’t want to be in any more, but couldn’t see a way out of.

To put it another way: I gave up.

Of course, all still with the plug-in stick, and what I’m describing as ‘internet addiction’ probably wouldn’t even register on the radar for a lot of people, but for me, I understood that I’d got to a very low place, spiritually.

Then I had that awful experience erev Rosh Hashana, when someone who had previously been quite friendly all of a sudden did an ‘Anakin Skywalker’ and went over to the dark side. She sent me an email a few hours before Rosh Hashana began that upset me so much, it nearly threw my whole Rosh Hashana over to the forces of evil.

I wonder if she has even an inkling of the huge amount of damage and pain she caused me, with her five line email?

All of a sudden, I realized that most of the people I’d been ‘hanging out with’ in cyberspace where anonymous psychos that I actually knew next to nothing about. And that threw me for another loop, because if I hadn’t been interacting with real people, then who the heck was I actually dealing with?!

This thought creeped me out in a way that’s hard to explain, but I think it comes back down to that lack of authenticity.

I felt like I’d been participating in some warped, geula-fuelled version of The Sims for the last few years.

Anyway, straight after Rosh Hashana I deleted my blog in an attempt to avoid getting pulled into any more machloket online, and I also permanently blocked every single geula blog I’d been looking at from my PC. I figured,

maybe, this was God’s way of telling me to stop blogging, and to go and do something else, something better.

So I tried, I really did, to find those other things. I bought a new painting set, I tried to do a real shiur with real people, that didn’t exactly work as fabulously as I hoped. I got to work on the book on volcanoes. I tried a few different shuls locally on Friday night, to see if one would ‘click’.

Long story short: it all flopped. It all failed. And after two months of no blogging, I realized that God wanted me to write, and to return to blogging. And I was really angry when I found that out, because

It’s so much easier to be completely ‘offline’ than to try to use the internet judiciously.

So I started blogging again, half resentfully, and now I started to realise how much of my internet use had been done as a reaction to try to make me feel better about the mess my ‘real life’ was in.

The equation went something like this:

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and lose yourself in Youtube.

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and read a geula blog written by an anonymous psycho

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and post up something you wrote knocking something, or someone else, to try to make yourself feel better

Things were a little better now I’d blocked the geula blogs, but again, the internet was eating me up, body, mind and soul, and after my all efforts to run away from it, I just kind of rolled over and let it happen.

What, I’m going to try to get it out of my life again? I’m going to make another failed attempt to pull away? I can’t. I’m tired. I’m finished.

But God had other plans.

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About three months ago, my youngest daughter started going completely beserk about what was going on in the house.

She started berating me for not doing the washing up promptly, for not doing sponga every week, for not making fancy suppers every night. She started complaining that the house smelt ‘bad’, and would come home and immediately splashing economica all around. My house smelt like a public baths for three weeks.

I’ve had to do a lot of praying to figure out what was really going on, but at its root, God sent this teenage obstinacy to me as a gift. He wanted to shake me out of my complacency, and to encourage me to make some very necessary changes in my life. But for weeks, I was trying to ignore Him.

Leave me alone, God. I can’t do all that ‘trying to improve myself spiritually’ stuff anymore. I’m finished. I’m done. I’ve officially retired from making any effort, and that’s that. Nothing else to talk about.

But God wasn’t having any of it. The teenager got more and more abusive, more and more difficult to be around, more and more stressful to live with – until I finally realized:

She is right.

She is 100% right.

I need to pull my socks up, and try to make a change for the better here.

This is so easy to type, but at the stage I’d arrived at recently, it was so very hard to even begin to contemplate.

What, I’m going to try again?!

After the million failures? Why bother? Let me continue to escape into Youtube, and gamarnu.

But God – and the teenager – didn’t give up. I got really ill around four weeks ago, and I know from experience that when a serious health issue shows up, that’s because I’m ignoring the message I’m getting at the emotional / mental level. God was giving me a shot across the bows:

Don’t keep ignoring the message to change things, Rivka, because it’s only going to lead to a bad place if you carry on doing that.

And I knew what I had to do: I had to get offline again, and stop using the internet as an escape hatch from reality.

But how?

Last month, I started looking around for hubs in Jerusalem. Long story short, there are quite a few, but all of them seemed to be miles away, in the centre of town where there was no easy parking. I didn’t have the strength to make such a big effort, so I sank back into feeling miserable and stuck, and just gave up again.

But God said:

Not so fast!

Annette Gendler, a writer friend of mine, was in town and speaking at a Writepoint evening, and invited me to come. It was pouring rain, but when I realized she was speaking somewhere that was a 5 minute walk away from my house, I decided to go anyway. The event was taking place in a hub in Talpiyot, that I’d never heard about, and all of a sudden, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was still feeling ill, so it took me a week to get back there, but when I returned, I met the manager – and realized I knew him from London. That particular hub wasn’t so suitable for me, but he told me about another place that was also a 5 minute walk away, and which is aimed at creatives.

It would cost me 1,000 shekels a month to get a hotdesk there, but if I did it, I could get the internet out of my house again.

I wavered for a fortnight. The internet had taken over so much of my life, I knew it was going to be a huge, massive change. Also, that’s a lot of money to spend, and I wasn’t sure we could really afford it.

But somehow, last week, I finally took the plunge, and signed up for a month. I told my husband to hide the stick – and on Monday, it finally hit me just how much of an emotional ‘crutch’ the internet had become. I mamash went into some sort of drying-out crisis, like a heroin addict climbing the walls.

Now it’s just me and my life. No running away. No getting away from those lonely feelings by surfing. No dodging the dissatisfaction anymore.

I had a really hard couple of days, because all the things I’d been trying to ignore for months came sharply into focus.

But now, I’m starting to feel better again. There are things I need to work on, things I need to improve, things I need to pray about. And BH, now I’ve pulled the plug on the internet escape hatch, that stuff will start to happen again. I can’t watch Youtube in the hub – it’s a serious place, where people are doing serious work – but I can do all the stuff that I need to do online, like check emails and upload blog posts.

But not all the time, and not 50 times a day.

Hopefully, I’ve made some space to start reclaiming my life again.

And now, like magic, the teen has cheered up and stopped nagging me, even though I’m still not so hot on doing the washing up. And like magic, I’ve found the energy to start work on Secret Diary #2, which is going to be written like a real story, not just a bunch of blog posts pulled together in book. And like magic, I’m starting to get a little bit of the energy required to look the internal black hole in the face, and to get on with the job of shrinking it again.

I’m still feeling pretty shaky, emotionally and physically at the moment. I’m still feeling pretty weak. But now I’ve got the internet out of my house, I’m also feeling calmer and happier. I know there’s a lot going on out there, I know the earthquakes and meteors and volcanoes are picking up, and never mind all the political cack that passes for ‘news’.

But I also know that at this stage, I have to take a step back from that stuff, and to do much less online than I have been doing. I have other things to write, other things to think about, other stuff to work on.

And for the first time in ages, I’m looking forward to getting on with things again.


Annette just sent me a lovely post she wrote about a quick tour we took of Musrara, my old hood, when she was here a few weeks’ back. You can read it HERE.

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.

A little while back, when I was talking to God about how One in a Generation, the biography of Rav Eliezer Berland, seemed to have gotten permanently stuck, I got the following insight:

That book can only come out with a lot of shaflut (lowliness) and humility.

Aha! So now I understood the problem: I was still far too full of myself and patting myself on the back for writing the book, and that was the main spiritual issue holding it up. But how to resolve that problem? (Because let’s be clear, working on these bad middot takes years and years and years…)

God gave me another insight:

“Rivka, I am going to send you people to diss you day and night, until the book sees the light of day!”

Great, thanks Hashem!

And you know what? He’s kept His word.

The last month, barely a day has gone past without someone having a go at me either in person, on the phone, via text or online.

One of my kids has been particularly good at dishing out the shaflut in person- her recent PTA meeting was one of the most humbling experiences of the type I’ve had, BH – but she’s by no means the only person drenching me in these ‘dissing diamonds’.

One time, I got chewed out so badly – and so unexpectedly – that I sat on the couch shaking for a full hour after the conversation (which if you follow spiritualselfhelp.org, you’ll know is the body’s natural response to ‘shaking out’ the trauma, so you don’t get PTSD or C-PTSD).

Yes, it was that bad.

There’s also been a flurry of people queuing up to diss my writing, too, and my general lack of editorial professionalism. And then there’s been a few sent along to diss my overall grasp of reality and good judgment.

And that’s on top of all my ongoing, bog standard shaflut that comes from earning zero pence whilst working like a dog; being a really bad housewife; and still being unable to express myself properly in the local makolet (corner shop).

Man, it’s been a veritable dissing extravaganza the last few weeks, with the diamonds literally pouring in through the roof!

And you know what?

It’s working.

Yesterday, on zot Chanuka, I sent the manuscript for Volume 1 of One in a Generation to the designer, and I already know that for this part of the process to get completed in a timely way with minimal issues, I am going to have to continue to be dissed royally for at least the next month.

And that’s even before the book comes out, which let’s be clear, is going to lead to yet another huge ‘diss Rivka’ event on Facebook etc, as the usual suspects gear themselves up for more self-righteous, confused-thinking evil speech.

Yay! I can’t wait.

The upside of all this dissing is that I am definitely seeing a huge number of brachas occurring in a number of areas of my life, just as Rav Berland said would happen.

The downside is that I’m really starting to go off interacting with people, and the thought of retiring to some remote island with no internet connection – or people – is getting more and more appealing.

How to square this circle?

Enter, Rav Ofer Erez, who wrote this great article on his website, last week:

“We have to remember that Yosef was just 18 years old when he was sent to prison. Usually, when something much smaller happens to us – if just two people don’t treat us so nicely we immediately start believing that everyone’s a liar, everyone’s a fraud and there’s no such thing as a good person – i.e. we immediately lose our faith in humanity, and become bitter, angry and harshly judgmental of others….

“For 12 whole years, Yosef worked on this point, that he shouldn’t become angry, bitter and harshly judgmental against other people, inasmuch as everything came from Hashem, and was ultimately for his good.

“…How can a person merit to avoid any trace of harsh judgment and anger? This is called the secret of dancing.

“We need to know that if people are making us angry, or hurting us, then just doing hitbodedut (personal prayer) isn’t going to be enough. We also need to dance during our hitbodedut, and to do at least 8 minutes of dancing.”

Aha!

Just what I needed to know, because while I am still trying to understand the deeper reasons behind why so many people are chewing me out, and while I am still trying to forgive them and to not hold a grudge against them, it’s sooooo hard to do this in practice!

Especially the times when I know I don’t deserve it, and the person is actually just projecting their own issues on to me. (I wish I could tell you that’s always the case, but clearly I often do deserve being dissed, because I’m not always nice, or thoughtful, or considerate of other people.)

So today, I was careful to dance for a full 8 minutes, as recommended by Rav Ofer, and it really did help.

If I’m going to get ‘dissing diamonds’ raining down on my head, let me at least have buns of steel.

Given that I’ve sold around 10 copies of my latest book, The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, I decided to try something different, and to turn it into an audiobook.

Apparently, there’s a huge and growing demand for audiobooks, and relatively very few authors supplying the market, so I thought it’s worth a go to try to stand out a little from the other 4 trillion books being self-published on Amazon.

Initially, I started looking for a voice-over artist to narrate my book via the ACL platform. I set the budget (as low as possible…) and I got back a handful of auditions from a bunch of very nice actress ladies who made my book sound absolutely awful.

One of them narrated it with an Indian subcontinent accent that made it sound like The Secret Diary was set in Bombay. A few of them were clearly SOOOOO BORRRREDDDD by all the boring stuff about God that they fell unconscious during the audition and were sleep-talking. And the others just sounded kind of bland, and not at all engaging and interesting.

Hmmm.

So, I decided to find a recording studio in Jerusalem, and see if I couldn’t do a better (and much cheaper…) job of narrating my book myself. I checked around for an English speaking studio with reasonable rates and I found NONA, based near Talpiot.

I sent the audiobook requirements to NONA, they told me they could meet them no problem and weren’t charging a fortune, so I got in my car and headed down there.

After getting completely and utterly lost, I finally get to the studio – and it’s in someone’s basement flat in the middle of Arnona.

Hmmm. Not only that, the only person in that basement flat – apart from yours truly – was the truly gifted, apparently completely secular, utterly male studio technician Amit, who lived there.

Hmmm.

Things didn’t get off to a good start.

After a quick look around, I realized that me disappearing into some strange secular bloke’s basement apartment was a huge yichud problem, so I asked him to leave the door open. We had a stand-off for a minute – and then he grudgingly agreed to leave half the door open – the top half, that was also a window and had a net, and to leave it shut but not locked.

“The recording studio is in a completely different room!” he told me. “It’s not a problem!”

I was pretty nervous that first session, not least because spending a whole hour talking about heart-felt personal issues and God, God, God with a secular male studio bloke as my only audience was pretty nerve wracking.

He was there, with his pony tail and his ‘arse’ huge diamond earring in one ear, while I was gently poking fun at ‘arsim’ with their pony tails and huge diamond earrings in one ear… There were a lot of out takes in that particular section, as I kept fluffing the words and praying he wouldn’t get offended.

I came out gingerly, and wondered if we were going to make it to session 2.

“Was that OK?’ I asked him.

“Yes!” He reassured me. “I wasn’t listening to anything.”

We were both kind of relieved.

The next trip, Amit had a friend in the studio, so we got round the yichud issue that way. The third trip, he had a dog he was ‘babysitting’ so he could leave the front door completely open. He also toned down the earring a bit, to something much more classy.

Hmmm.

So, I finished the recording sessions, and then we were up to the editing sessions – which is when I hit another major yichud problem, because now I had to be in the same room for two hours at a go, while we went through the whole thing and Amit fixed it up.

Thank God for my husband.

I came home, explained the problem to him, and he instantly came and agreed to work on Amit’s couch, while the recording was being edited.

At this point, I began to feel so sorry for Amit. He’s a really nice, sweet secular guy with really good middot who’s had to listen to 12 hours of a neurotic frum woman with a speech impediment (who knew?!) going on and on about her marriage, and her crises of faith, and her kids, and her financial problems, and of course, God, the Creator of the world.

I’ve been watching him for signs of subliminal stress, but so far he’s coping with it all remarkably well.

In the meantime, I’m going completely bonkers from the sound of my own voice, especially when we hit an out-take and I have to hear myself say ‘what’s the point of it all!’300 times until Amit’s re-mastered the recording.

Gosh, how does my family put up with me?

So, all in all, I’ve discovered two hidden tzaddiks by recording my audio-book. One of them I’m married to, and the other one is probably going to be on a plane to Uman this time next year. (I can’t think why else God arranged for a completely secular guy to be subjected to 12 whole hours of Breslov-inspired Jewish Housewife stuff…)

At least, that’s what I hope.

Amit plays a mean electric guitar, and Rabbenu has a way of attracting all the really good Jewish musicians in his direction, sooner or later.

Last week, I nearly gave up.

I nearly pulled my blog off the web, I nearly retired from writing, I nearly gave up on my books, and on my efforts to make a difference in the world, everything.

Like so many of us, I’ve had one enormous challenge after another to deal with the last couple of months, in just about every area. Every time I stood back up, some other ‘spiritual tsunami’ showed up to knock me back down, and I couldn’t wait for the Omer to be finished, already, so life could return to being a bit more ‘normal’ and placid.

God had other plans.

The day before Shavuot, I got a nasty letter from an immoral, rapacious firm of Israeli lawyers telling me they were suing me for 40,000 shekels for illegally using an image of Rav Berland.

It took me a day or two to get the letter properly translated, and in the process of doing that it also transpired that this firm gets a percentage of whatever they can wring out of whichever poor sap they targeted, and so they aren’t interested in apologies and token payments.

They want money – lots of it! – tens of thousands of shekels, and that’s the end of the story.

Dear reader, for the last three years of blogging, I’ve been so careful with copyrighted images, but I made a mistake and thoughtlessly used a picture in the public arena under the impression that I was covered by the ‘fair use’ provision in Israeli law.

And now I’m being sued for 40,000 shekels….

The last couple of years, I’ve really struggled with the idea that my profession as a paid journalist effectively disappeared over the last decade. It used to be that I’d write, and get paid a packet. These days, I write and it only costs me money.

I’d made my peace with that too, mostly, but the enormity of the sum involved, and the fact that it was dafka a picture of Rav Berland that sparked off the lawsuit, pretty much brought me to my knees.

For a couple of days, I had such a crisis of faith that I really just wanted to pull the plug on everything and give up there and then. Because I KNOW that I’m getting hit with so much of this stuff because the yetzer wants me to stop blogging about the Rav, and to stop defending him publicly, and to stop explaining what’s going on.

Spiritually, you don’t get anything as big as that for free.

I knew this from when I used to write for Rav Arush’s site, that every ‘real’ piece I posted up that would hopefully really make a difference, and could potentially really help people, would come at the price of me experiencing more madness and turmoil in my private life.

Again, over the years I’ve made my peace with that, mostly, but the ‘price’ got so large last week, I almost gave up and put up the white flag.

‘OK, yetzer, you win! It’s not enough that my books don’t sell, I get grief over email from demented people, and I’m constantly questioning whether I’m doing what God really wants me to do with my life. Now, you’re also fleecing me out of 40,000 – when I’m trying to figure out how to pay for my kids’ braces and only recently stopped panicking about being able to put food on the table… You win! I give up! I will quit writing and go get a job packing groceries somewhere.’

(That last bit is a lie: my spoken Hebrew is so awful I probably couldn’t even get a job packing groceries….)

To sum it up, I got completely buried in an avalanche of despair and bitterness, and I ran out of the energy required to continue.

This continued for two days, and I started spiralling further and further down until God gave me the brainwave of trying to take a note to Rav Berland. So I collared my poor husband, and we walked over to the Rav’s building. I was crying my eyes out the whole way (as I had been for two days, already) so it was left to my husband to hand the note over to one of the court-appointed security guards outside the building who’s effectively become another of the Rav’s unofficial gabbays.

Two minutes’ later, I started to feel like some of my strength was returning. I stopped crying…I stopped feeling like I just wanted to run away from my life, and from Israel…I stopped feeling that horrible, dead-end despair where you just feel like you’re sinking, sinking, sinking and nothing can ever reverse the decline.

I still went to bed pretty miserable and wasted, but I got up the next day with one thought in my head: I am NOT giving up! I’m not going to stop writing about the Rav, I’m not going to retreat, I’m not going to take the easy route!

The crazy Moroccan genes kicked in, in a good way, and I decided to write the last piece about the Rav I posted up here, and give the yetzer a poke in the eye.

I am not giving up, with God’s help! We’re so close to geula you can smell it in the air.

But the last few days, I came really, really close.

As you might have expected, trying to get The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife distributed to regular, orthodox Jewish bookstores is proving to be EXTREMELY difficult.

There’s two main problems going on:

1) Frum Jewish publishing is actually an enormous cartel operation.

Most of the book publishers expect authors to pay around $10,000 to cover all the costs of designing, printing and distributing their own books.

If an author is unwilling or unable to put up this sort of money – and they aren’t directly related to the Baba Sali, or a ‘Rock Star Rabbi / Rabbanit’ type themselves- then most of the Jewish publishers won’t touch them with a barge pole, no matter how interesting or appropriate their books may be for the frum audience.

The corollary to this is that so many of the books that you find on the shelves of orthodox book sellers are there because the person is connected or wealthy, as opposed to a good writer. (Yes, that starts to explain a lot doesn’t it?)

2) Frum Jewish publishing is pushing a distorted image of observant Jewish life.

This was kind of the problem I tripped over with the cover of the Secret Diary, because OFFICIALLY, all the people buying books in frum Jewish bookstores aren’t meant to be surfing the internet, watching movies, or owning i-Phones.

In reality – probably the vast majority of people who shop in frum Jewish bookstores, particularly in the English-speaking world, are doing all those things. But SHUSSSSHSH!!!! Don’t tell the orthodox Jewish publishers, because they still think that Jewish women are all called ‘Breindy’ and obsessed with making the perfect kugel!!!!

‘Breindy’ doesn’t have any problems, has perfect faith and has no need of books that realistically portray orthodox Jewish life, because ‘Breindy’ is a Jewish superwoman with 15 kids, two jobs, a husband in full-time learning, and a stunning 200 sqm home that she keeps immaculately stocked with 5 different types of homemade kugel!!!!

And if your life isn’t like ‘Breindy’s’ – then what on earth are you doing trying to find suitable reading material in a frum Jewish bookstore?!?!

Of course, the real reality is that even ‘Breindy’ is cracking at the seams in 2017, and has just upped her dosage of anti-depressants…but SHUSSSSSSH!!!! Let’s not talk of such things.

This ‘head in the sand’ approach to frum life means that while the shelves are full of inspiring stories from previous generations of women who could make one chicken stretch to generously feed 38 starving orphans with leftovers; and full of ‘uplifting’ Holocaust tales of every stripe (including wonderfully illustrated holocaust strip cartoons for the kiddies…); and full of ‘perfect kugel’ cookbooks and ‘frum’ fiction that I find terribly disturbing for SO many different reasons – they’re generally very empty of real books by real Jewish women, that portray the challenges and beauty of real Jewish life.

I.e., books like The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife (and pretty much anything else that I write).

Case in point:

I just emailed one of the frum book publishers to see if I could pay to get The Secret Diary distributed via them, and all they did was take a look at the cover, and then pointblank refuse. Even if I paid to print a thousand copies by them, they still won’t guarantee they’d distribute it.

So dear reader, not for the first time I find myself a little stuck between the familiar rock and the hard place.

For as long as the frum Jewish book world – and the out-of-touch people running it – refuse to carry books that are ‘real’ portrayals of orthodox Jewish life, albeit with a lot of God and emuna mixed in, frum people have little choice but to get their ‘real’ books about real problems and challenges from the secular world.

And make no mistake, that’s what’s happening. Even in the hallowed halls of Meah Shearim, people are turning to Tony Robbins and Dr Mercola for advice on how to solve their real problems and crises, because the frum world is still pretending that we’re all supermen and superwomen, with all emuna, all the time, and a never-ending obsession with creating the perfect kugel.

Frum women aren’t being given an authentic voice in our communities, and we are all paying the price for that in so many different ways. If they aren’t a ‘Breindy’, none of the men who are running the Jewish publishing business are remotely interested in what they have to say.

Dear reader, I am DEFINITELY not a Breindy, and my kugels normally suck, big time.

I can see I’m going to have to pray on this a lot, and ask God to show me how to get past this huge obstacle. I will keep you posted.

Last week, I wasn’t having a very good week (I know that’s not a newsflash, if you read this blog on a regular basis).

I was walking around last week feeling physically, mentally and emotionally stressed-out of my skull – and that’s even before I got out of bed in the morning! So any of the regular, routine stresses that we all have to deal were just throwing me for a loop, and making me feel like life is un-doable, un-copable, un-liveable…

I made a rule a long time ago that I would share the ‘downs’ as well as the ‘ups’ with you, dear reader, because otherwise, I’d stop being a real person, and there’s sadly already more than enough ‘shiny fakers’ out there.

So, you heard all about the ‘downs’ of last week, so now let me tell you how God kick-started the ‘ups’.

I woke up on Wednesday super-stressed again, and feeling very stiff and achy everywhere.

I came over to my computer, switched it on, and saw the email from my very nice designer with 7 covers of ‘Fatima the (muslim) Jewish housewife’, and my mood sank even further. A quick email turned up the problem: there were really NO usable images of a Jewish housewife anywhere on the net, so my designer had hit a brick wall.

For the next half an hour, I started to feel really, really sorry for myself again, and how hard it all was to get anything done, and how impossible it is to be a ‘frum’ woman in our modern world and to really get anywhere blah blah blah.

Then, I got really angry about the whole situation, and my ‘stuck’ frustration boiled up so high I decided to go down to the Kotel with my camera and take my own pictures of Jewish women!!!!!

(Clearly only from the back, with no skin or identifying features displayed…)

I am so not a proper photography.

I’m far too shy to stick my camera in people’s faces, or to make a spectacle of myself lying on the floor or climbing poles just to get ‘the perfect picture’. But really, I’d hit that place of utter desperation.

I sat at the back of the Kotel, with my camera on ‘super zoom plus’ mode, and just took pictures of everyone and everything I could, in the hopes that something would turn up as a replacement for ‘Fatima the Jewish housewife’.

“God, please send me one of those gorgeously coiffed bandana babes from Geula, and let them stand right in front of me, and don’t let any savta-types be standing behind them having a conversation…” I muttered under my breath.

That didn’t exactly happen. I snapped whoever I could snap, but my heart started to sink:

‘Forget it, Rivka,” my yetzer whispered at me. “You can’t fix this problem. You paid all that money to the designer for nothing…your cover is going to suck.”

I packed up, trudged back home, and about 5 minutes away from my flat I realised that I lost my purse. And my phone. And credit card. And my I.D.

Great!

“This is what you get for trying to take sneaky pictures of frum people at the Kotel!” I berated myself. I got home, prepared to call the bank to cancel my credit card – and noticed my purse on the table. Gosh! I must have just left it at home.

Nope.

What happened is that some wonderful person at the Kotel found my purse, and arranged to deliver it back to my house before I even realised, really, that it was gone.

God arranged the balm before the blow.

Next, I started sorting through all my pictures to see if there was something remotely usable that could be photo-shopped to fit the cover, and again, the cloud descended. So many out of focus pictures! So few really decent shots of anyone! Sigh.

Which is when I noticed ‘Ms Perfect’ in the denim jacket. I only had one picture of her, but it was a corker – and I’d actually been trying to get a shot of the ‘Geula babe’ next to her, who had such a stunning mitpachat on I didn’t even notice this other woman who was standing there and quietly davening to herself.

Once again, Hashem had hidden the ‘solution’ to the problem away in plain sight.

There was definitely a theme going on here, and I started to perk up.

The nicest surprise happened that night, when I was going to bed. One of the people I live with (who will remain nameless as I don’t want to embarrass them) had tucked a handwritten note, together with quite a large stash of shekels, under my pillow, telling me to go shopping tomorrow, and buy that fancy cardigan I’ve been eyeing up for months, and feeling SO bad that I can’t buy stuff like that anymore.

I did.

It’s stunning.

All in all, God showed me that times ARE tough at the moment, and stressful, and often overwhelmingly yucky. But Hashem’s kindness is still woven into the fabric of all the difficulties we’re all going through, just waiting for the right moment to be revealed.

Gosh, I was really hoping Jan 20, 2017 would mark a big shift in how the world appears to be progressing.

But here we are, a whole 48 hours after Trump’s inauguration, and apparently nothing much has changed.

My husband tells me I lack patience (he tells me that a lot, and he’s definitely right…) but in the meantime, it’s not just 48 hours that I’ve been waiting for God to finally step out on centre stage and show humanity Who’s really the Boss here: it’s 43 years.

I can’t just take any more speculation or theories about ‘what’s going to be’. Everything seems to be ‘fake news’ these days, and I can’t shake the feeling the real stories are mostly going unheard, untold and unreported.

In the past, I spent many years waiting for Moshiach to show up where I mamash put my life on hold. I so don’t want to do that again, but in the meantime, I also feel that I – all of us – are stuck in the plague of darkness, unable to really move forward.

I’m still trying to do things (lots of things, even) , but nothing is really getting there. My husband feels the same way. He has three businesses on the boil, but nothing is really taking off. I have 8 books out there, and two more in the pipes (‘One in a Generation’, about Rav Berland, and ‘The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife’, which is a collection of my own personal musings) – but again, nothing is really moving.

Also in other areas, I have made some Herculean efforts to pray on some of the crazy people I have to deal with on a regular basis, and to reach out to them and to try to shift things into a better space. Let’s just say, it really didn’t work.

I can’t seem to make that – or anything else I’m dealing with – change, no matter what I try.

So for now, it seems that I’m back in spiritual limbo until God decides to lift the current ‘plague of darkness’ and let me and my family out of the rut we seem to have been stuck in for a good four years.

Arhghgarhghgh.

I know Moshiach isn’t going to come and solve my problems for me. I know that only having emuna that everything is from God, and that everything is for the best, and that everything is just some sort of ‘lesson’ is going to solve my problems for me, really.

But man, sometimes I just can’t help wishing things would move already.