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The last few months, any lingering love affair I still had with the news has died a fast death.

I’ve been broadly ‘news-free’ for about 8 years, give or take, and I haven’t missed it all. But with the recent upswing in violence here in Israel, I’ve been reading more news headlines than I have done for years.

Usually, I only check after a bunch of sirens, and thank God, it’s been much quieter in my neck of the woods this week. But I remember logging on to Arutz Sheva two week’s back, the day after the terrible double murder of Aharon Bennett and R Nechemia Lavi in the Old City, and being shocked to my core that they were offering video footage of R Lavi being stabbed to death as the ‘editor’s pick’.

I know, we’re all so used to the ‘bread and circuses’ approach of modern society that we don’t bat an eyelid any more at how voyeuristic, callous and un-Jewish all this ‘viewing’ actually is.

Let me ask you something: how would you feel if your dad, or your husband, or your son, got viciously stabbed to death, and then the next day your friends and neighbours (or worse, your kids’ school-friends) were busy watching it on their i-Phones. How would you feel?

I was pondering that quite a bit the last two weeks, because while the headlines have ebbed, and the families of Aharon Bennett and R Nechemia Lavi have faded back into relative obscurity, the real impact that these real tragedies had on these real people continue.

Even though we watch them on the internet, they aren’t film stars being paid to play the part, just to entertain us and give us something to blog about, and to talk about, and to share on Facebook. They are real human beings.

Let me tell you a little bit about what’s happened to family Lavi, now that things have gone ‘back to normal’. Mrs Lavi was a teacher in my daughter’s school. She’s left her job now, because the family couldn’t bring themselves to move back to their home in the Old City after the shiva, and have now moved to Bet El, to be close to both sets of parents.

Many of the kids have had to move school, as it’s too far to travel back and forwards to Jerusalem every day.

That murder people were gawking at didn’t just kill a beloved abba and husband; it threw 8 people’s lives into complete disarray. The family effectively lost their dad, lost their home, lost their jobs and sources of income, lost their community and lost their whole way of life – all at once.

Of course, that’s not deemed ‘newsworthy’, so you won’t be reading about that any time soon as you scroll through the latest headlines. And that’s why I hate the news, and I hate all the mileage that people are making in the blogosphere out of the ongoing tragedies occurring here, and also elsewhere.

This stuff is not just fodder for more opinion pieces, more speculation, more breathless, excited, giddy posting about the ‘latest’. The impact of the headlines that are so quickly made, shared and forgotten can and does last a lifetime on the people involved.

And if we forget that, and we get caught up in chasing the drama instead of remembering the tragedy, that bodes very badly for us and our collective humanity and caring.

That’s what my 12 year old asked me yesterday.

Apparently, lots of the girls in her school now have their own canister, and my kid was up on all the different prices and sizes, and wanted me to get her a ‘1 ounce-er’.

Apart from the craziness of having a discussion about buying pepper spray for my daughter, there’s another, additional level of craziness going on here: namely that anyone thinks that pepper spray actually works.

Yes, I know in theory that if anyone dodgy comes anywhere close it would be useful to spritz them with someone nasty in the face and run off. But in practice, people don’t react with that much presence of mind when confronted by a knife-wielding terrorist. The usual response is stunned shock and temporary paralysis, not a lightning-fast reflex to grab the pepper spray and start squirting it around.

My other daughter told me a first-hand account she heard of one of the attempted stabbings in the old city, when an arab woman attacked two Jewish men. She first stabbed one, and he fell to the floor. The other one was carrying a laptop in his hand, and he used that to smash the terrorist in the face.

Now, you’d think that ordinarily a strong man smashing a woman in the face with anything would be the end of the story.

Not in this case. The female terrorist had her nose broken the first time he hit her with the laptop, but she stood back up and tried to stab him again. He hit her a second time, and it didn’t stop her from trying to stab him again. A third time, and she was still coming after him with the knife.

At that point, the wounded friend mumbled to him to shoot her – with the gun he’d had in his possession the whole time, but forgot in the drama of it all – which he did, and wounded the terrorist non-fatally.

Now, both these guys had been through the army, they’d been in combat situations, most recently in Gaza, and they knew how to handle themselves in dangerous situations. If that’s the best they could do when a female terrorist attacked them, what hope do the rest of us have, pepper spray or not?

The more this stressful saga continues, the more I’m seeing that there really is only God to rely on, and nothing else.

Sure, take the gun, take the pepper spray, spend hours figuring out how you’re going to scream, lunge, run away fast, kick the attacker in the goolies etc but remember that God is really the deciding factor in all these things, not human prowess, proficiency with firearms, muscles, or anything else.

In the meantime, I’m not buying the pepper spray for my daughter. That might change in the future, but right now that seems to be where I’m holding. If I really thought it would help protect her, I’d do it in a heart-beat. But my soul is whispering to me that pepper spray is a broken reed, and that I’d do much better relying on God 100% to protect my family, and not feeling ‘safer’ just because I got my kid a one ounce-er.

After Wednesday’s twin terror attacks in Jerusalem, I went a bit weird and kind of shut down a little ( I know I’m not alone…)

In one of the huge ironies of this week, I’ve been reading a book called ‘Does Stress Damage the Brain?’ – and I’ve been proving its thesis. I forgot appointments I made to meet people, I couldn’t concentrate or think straight, Wed night I was so tired I crashed into bed at 9pm.

Stress, stress, stress.

What to do about it all? (Over on www.spiritualselfhelp.org, I’m putting a few posts up about PTSD and it’s more formal general aspects over the next few days.) But in terms of my life, our lives, here and now? What to do about it?

The terrorists aren’t going away any time soon.

They are just the big stick that God is using to wake us all up, and show our anti-Torah politicians and citizens that they’re barking up the wrong tree.

Right now, there are armed guards on pretty much every corner of the Old City and its surroundings.

My local makolet in Meah Shearim is selling pepper spray (under the counter, quietly…) My kids come home with stories about people being stabbed with scissors and screwdrivers and even, unbelievably, vegetable peelers. (I think that one is still an urban myth, but who knows).

On Shabbat, Rav Arush said that we can’t run away from God, and the answer is to walk with Hashem wherever we go. If we’re walking with Hashem, we’ll be OK. So now before I go out, I ask God to ‘walk with me’, and give me (and the rest of my family) a bodyguard of angels to escort us.

I asked my youngest, who goes to school in the Old City, how the rest of the kids in her class are doing. One hasn’t left her house for 2 weeks (she only moved to the Old City in August, and is completely traumatized). She told me that another bunch, the ones that live in the City of David, are still walking to and from school by themselves, except now they have pepper spray. (A lot of the terrorists come from their neighbourhood.)

They are doing ‘relaxing’ hour in school now, and giving them regular ‘chizzuk’ conversations after each new attack, along the lines of ‘we aren’t scared, and we aren’t going to let the Arabs scare us!’ One of the girls asked what she should do if she was actually still scared, despite all the chizzuk.

They didn’t really know what to tell her.

Yesterday, my husband came home with a few copies of Likutey Moharans, that Rav Arush had given the avreichim to give out. There’s a breslov tradition that Likutey Moharan protects the home.

We heard a story first hand to prove that a little while ago, when one of my husband’s acquaintances, a property manager, had a fire at one of his flats. Everything was destroyed except the room Rebbe Nachman’s book was in. It was untouched –  the clothes in the cupboard didn’t even smell smoky.

You can pick up a Likutey Moharan at the Breslev.co.il bookstore HERE.

So that’s my recipe for dealing with the stress this week:

  • Walk with God everywhere you go
  • Get a copy of Likutey Moharan for your home
  • Do a lot of praying

I did another long prayer session yesterday, and again, it pulled me back together mentally after Tuesday’s sirens sparked off a small panic fit.

As the bloke in my makolet told me: “This is going to carry on for a long time. It’s the war of Gog and Magog.” He really believes it – he’s just started wearing a kippa. I gave him one of our copies of Likutey Moharan.

I hope to post up some of the more spiritually-meaningful things that have come to me recently next week, stress-induced brain damage notwithstanding.

So the big question for me on Shabbat was this: go to the Kotel for Friday night prayers like I always do, or not?

Friday morning, I went for a long walk via Geula to Machane Yehuda to buy stuff for Shabbat, and it seemed to me like something fundamental had changed in the atmosphere of Jerusalem. I know people were still being stabbed all over the place, but it suddenly felt much safer to be in the Holy City again.

As Shabbat came in, we made the decision to go down to the Kotel to pray, as has become our custom over the past year. Last week, when it was still Succot, there was standing room only at the Wailing Wall. This week, it was the emptiest I’ve seen it for a long while, although still full of people, notably a whole bunch of soldiers and goyim.

The soldiers were dancing and singing their socks off, and the goyim were doing all sorts of weird prayer circles, chants and mumblings. I sat down to say my Tikun Haklali (having dropped my kid off at her friend in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City) – and burst into tears. I don’t know why.

I prayed, met my husband, collected my husband and walked back home. All quiet, uneventful and actually quite nice. My kid had a plan to meet her friend again the next day, and I agreed to walk her in.

Shabbat morning, I went to Rav Arush’s shiur in the Chut Shel Chesed yeshiva, like I do some times, and I crossed Neviim street to go into Meah Shearim and on to the yeshiva.

It was pretty quiet.

Just before the shiur started, the roads exploded with the sounds of sirens, and we all sat there looking at each other, as the Rav gave a very rousing shiur about how the test of today is to walk – everywhere – with Hashem.

Rav Arush explained that the only thing that’s going to protect us is God, and to turn our fear of stabbing Arab terrorists into fear of the Almighty instead. I came home feeling pretty calm, and filled-up by the Rav’s words of wisdom and emuna, although still wondering about what had just happened to cause all the noise.

We ate lunch, and me and my daughter headed off to the old city around 3pm, her to her friend and me to go and do some praying at Kever David. Again, it was very quiet going in. I dropped my daughter off in the Jewish Quarter, headed over to the Zion gate – and then got stuck there for 40 minutes because they weren’t letting anyone out.

I said some Psalms, waited a bit, then went over to the Jaffa Gate – which the police had also blocked, and closed. Hmm. In the meantime, the sirens and the helicopters had started up again, and again I wondered what was going on, but I didn’t feel the horrible fear and stress that was literally crippling me for most of last week, Baruch Hashem.

All the tourists were pulling out their huge i-Phones and scrolling up and down to see what was happening. ‘2 stabbed in Neveeem’ someone said. ‘Where’s that?’ Hmm.

It’s the road that’s 2 minutes away from my house.

‘Someone stabbed at the Damascus Gate’ someone else rejoined. Then the kicker from a local Arab ‘They just killed 3 soldiers!’ he yelled out. Gulp!

And anyway, who’s the ‘they’, o Arab shopkeeper?!

They let me through the barrier (thank God, I’ve started waxing my eyebrows properly again, so no-one suspected me of being a terrorist…) and I came home a little thoughtfully.

Motzae Shabbat, I checked the news, and saw that no-one had been killed, thank God. The choppers are going crazy again overhead as I write this. Who knows what’s going on now. But thank God, my fear levels have reduced so much from last week, and I’m starting to feel like the situation is cope-able again, Arab terrorists notwithstanding.

I hope it lasts.

In London, IKEA was top of the list of places I hated going. I hated the traffic jams to get there, I hated the enormous crowd of people you had to fight through just to shop, and I REALLY hated the two hour waits to pay for your stuff and get the heck out of there.

Now, IKEA Israel has always been a much more pleasant experience than IKEA London ever was: much less traffic, much less barging and noise and best of all, the café is 100% glatt kosher… But to say that it’s a ‘relaxing’ experience? Not really. Especially not when you discover that all the chatchkees you picked up for 3 nis have now taken your bill sky-high.

But yesterday, Thursday, I couldn’t take it any more.

From where I am in Jerusalem, I think I hear every police car and ambulance being dispatched to every incident in the whole city. All day, I heard the multiple sirens and ‘honking’ sound that is the sure-fire sign that a terrorist has just struck again, and I sat there tensed to the max, waiting to get more details.

It’s a little easier when everyone is at home and at least you’re not actively worrying that your family got directly affected, but one bunch of sirens exploded around coming home time for the kid who’s in school in the Old City, and I literally felt I’d reached breaking point.

All week, I’d had severe tension headaches (that I usually never get), pains in my neck and throat, and general all-over feeling of unwellness that I knew was stress-related.

But how to stop stressing when you live in a very intense, albeit very holy place, and there’s always something going on?

On Wednesday, I did a long session of hitbodedut, or personal prayer and that definitely helped, even though I could barely get a word out. I got some insights into the nature of fear that I hope to share with you in another post, as they helped me put things into a more correct perspective, and to remember that this world is just the corridor, not the main event.

But insights aside, physically and emotionally I was suffering from some severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (more about that over on spiritualselfhelp.org…), and I needed a break from the sirens. My 12 year old came home from school wearing her familiar panicked face and panting heavily (her sprinting has come on a treat since the latest outbreak of Arab violence…) and asked me if we could go to IKEA.

Usually, I will pull any trick in the book to avoid going to IKEA, even if it is glatt kosher, but yesterday I jumped at the chance to get some relief from the sirens and tension. As my friend remarked, ‘no-one ever got stabbed in IKEA’, and as my husband remarked, IKEA has no gold-effect furniture, so the Arabs don’t shop there.

Perfect!

We got in the car (my husband came too) and set out for four hours of freedom from the madness. On the way back, I pondered on how crazy the world has got really, and how it’s really become the olam hafuch, or ‘upside-down world’ they talk of in the Gemara. I mean, who ever went to IKEA to relax?

There are many signs that Moshiach is fast on the way, but when spending four hours in IKEA becomes a way of reducing your stress levels, you just know something fundamental has got warped out of place.

Does it ever happen to you that you sometimes feel like you’re in some sort of weird screenplay of your own life? That never happened to me so much in London, but since I’ve lived in Israel, every week has had its own share of unusual events that I sometimes just pinch myself to make sure it’s all actually real.

I don’t have anything particularly ‘out there’ to share with you (this week…) but it’s just the small, unusual circumstances that make up my every day life that sometimes amaze and baffle me, in equal measure.

Some examples:

  • My youngest came home yesterday, and told me a really funny, ‘hilarious’ story of how her friend’s house in Maaleh Zeitim (a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Mount of Olive cemetery, very close to the Temple Mount) got firebombed, by an Arab throwing a Molotov cocktail.
  • My neighbours just bought (and subsequently sold…) a dog that was half Rottweiler, and half Pekinese. Now, I know these things are technically possible, but when I saw that super-aggressive fuzzy slipper with sausage legs, I thought someone was playing a bad joke. I mean, it kind of boggles the mind.
  • I went out for a walk on Yom Yerushalayim (‘Jerusalem Day’) a little while back, and the streets were awash with literally hundreds of thousands of Jewish teenagers, waving Israeli flags and buying every piece of junk food in sight. It was awesome to behold, in every sense of the word.

 

And then there’s the more routine, but no less amazing things, like the fact that I live 15 minutes’ walk away from where King David is buried. Sometimes, I say a few Psalms, and then I get completely weirded-out by the fact that the person who wrote them is interred so close to my home. I mean, that’s just an amazing thing.

Then, there’s the soundtrack that God chooses to accompany my own particular film. Sometimes, I’ll walk into a shop and they’ll be blasting out one of my favourite secular songs from twenty years’ ago, and it always stops me dead in my tracks. Music comes from a very ‘high’ place, spiritually, and it can literally transport you across years and countries and mindsets.

I walk into the shop a 40-something Jewish housewife in Israel, and I walk out a teenage girl in London (or Canada. The moving-around thing’s been happening for decades already.)

A few days’ ago, I was having a bad day. One of my kids started playing some obscure CD by Israeli Singer Gad Elbaz that we’ve had forever, but one of the songs suddenly really grabbed my attention: It was a musical rendition of Psalm 23.

You know the one:

God is my shepherd

I shall not lack.

He lays me down in lush meadows,

He leads me by tranquil waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me on paths of righteousness, for the sake of His Name.

Even though I walk in the valley overshadowed by death,

I will not fear evil, because You are with me.

To say I was transfixed was an understatement.

Once my kids went to school, I had the song on ‘repeat’ for about 2 hours solid.

How did God know that I so needed to hear that song, just then?

How did King David know that I’d be feeling exactly that way, when he wrote that Psalm? (Maybe he also had melodramatic females in his household?).

Point is, it was the perfect soundtrack for that particular scene.

I’m at that stage in the script of my life where enough suspense has built up over the last year, that it’s time for the denouement, already. I have no idea how the happy ending comes, but I’d like to believe it IS coming, and probably in a hugely unexpected way, like all the best plots.

Moshiach shows up on a donkey and gives my kids a lift to school, in the Old City? I find that $3 million in cash is stuffed in the pipe that keeps backing-up into my toilet? Someone gives me a fat advance to write my life story? Who knows.

All I can tell you, is that the screenplay has never had a dull moment, and while there have definitely been a lot of tear-jerking parts to it, it’s always been more of a comedy than a tragedy – and may it continue thus.