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‘Have you had a breakdown yet?’ I was asked on Shabbat. ‘Of course I have,’ I answered. ‘Many, many mini breakdowns.’ Notably the woman who asked me is a social worker. She runs an infertility counselling centre and has nine children, which includes a set of triplets. This is a woman who knows about breakdowns. And yet she smiles and has a wicked sense of humour. An inspiration to everyone who has breakdowns. Especially Aliyah breakdowns.

So what is an Aliyah breakdown?

It can be so many things.

It’s opening a carton of yoghurt, expecting creamy, plain yoghurt and feeling devastated after the first salty, leben bite. In context this is after many, many attempts at buying full cream, plain yoghurt. You wouldn’t think it was rocket science to buy a normal carton of yoghurt, but it is.

It’s banging a gate in frustration after walking with heavy grocery bags from the shops, realising that I’ve locked myself out of our home.

It’s shouting more than I would, fighting more than I would. We are all more on edge. More ratty than normal, especially at the end of the day.

It’s failed driving tests (My husbands not mine. I haven’t had the guts to try yet).

Burnt chicken wings, a cup of pink lemonade spilt over the table onto the chair and floors. A frustrating sticky mess.

Of course the breakdowns could be because of the scorching sun that cooks my eggplant that I put on my patio table to dry out.

It’s ignoring mail that’s piling up, school Hebrew doesn’t prepare you for bureaucratic correspondence.

It’s slinking out of a trial Ulpan class, as I realise that my Hebrew grammar is from upside down land and I’m going to have to build my Hebrew foundation from scratch.

It’s not automatically reading in Hebrew the way I do in English. (The reason for the yoghurt fiasco, the diet pineapple ice lollies that I thought were mango, the cookies that I thought were parve but were milchik, that I gave as a Shabbat gift for a meat lunch. We all wondered why they were so delicious.)

It’s everything that goes wrong in normal life but it’s taken much more personally. It highlights my humanness and vulnerability. It shows me that we are all fallible as much as I’d like to pretend to myself that I’m not.

The truth is that breakdowns are happening all around me. I am not alone. Jerusalem is grappling with her own shadows. Every shop on Emek Refaim bears the sign ‘׳ירושלים אומרת לא! לֹאלימות ‘Jerusalem says, “NO! to violence”’.

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When terrible things happen we all pause. We forget about yoghurt and leben and diet pineapple ice lollies. We reconsider who we are, what values we have, what we teach our children.

As we break down we grow up.

Of course with Aliyah we break down just a bit more often than usual as every day brings something new.

‘There is only one rule about Aliyah,’ my sister in law’s very good friend announces to me over coffee. Eager to follow any rule that will guarantee our Aliyah success I am all ears. ‘Don’t speak badly about Israel.’ Come again? She kindly elaborates, ‘Whatever you project onto Israel is what you get in return. If you complain about Israelis and find fault with everything, that’s what you’ll get. On the other hand if you’re positive, even if you fake it, only good will come to you.’ Good rule, I thought to myself. After all the lesson is well learnt from the twelve spies who projected a negative story about the land of Israel which led to the Israelites wandering for forty years in the desert, not meriting to enter the land at all.

So I’m not going to complain about the inferno of heat that Jerusalem is experiencing at the moment. I’m not going to mention how walking outside is like being squeezed in a cheese toaster. The cool Jerusalem nights are no more and my husband ran out to by fans, late at night, with the rest of the Jerusalemites who realised the heat was not going to go away. This is the August, Middle Eastern heat that we were warned about before we came. But we’re not going to mention it.

What I will chat about is the wonderful camps available for children in the summer here. The first month of us arriving we sent our boys to Liga Camp, a dynamic sports camp, where they met many children their age who will be in the same school as them. Next on our camp program was the government sponsored Ulpan camp where they were going to learn Hebrew. They arrived ready for anything but the reality, which was that almost all of the Olim were from France. There were a couple of Russians, one American family and two brothers from South Korea, but the lessons were mainly in Hebrew and French with a smattering of English. The children all spoke French amongst each other. We thought school’s going to be tough enough; let’s find them something else.

French is the new English here. In fact I’m on a chat group for the new Olim at our boys’ school which is all in French. A great opportunity to improve my very limited French, I know.

I feel somehow that I’m living history here. The French Aliyah is made up of real people, and the proof is the wonderful patisseries that are available all around Jerusalem. One is right around the corner from where we live. It’s called Ness and is a definite go-to stop for all pastry lovers. They have the most delicious almond, chocolate croissants I’ve ever tasted. And for those watching their waist lines (as I should probably be) they come in mini, truly French, sizes too. Their soft, creamy custard brioche is a must and goes very well with their excellent cappuccinos. They also sell the most delicious parve cakes and cookies for Shabbat. I highly recommend the chocolate mousse cake and chocolate truffles as well as their decadently delicious milky tarts and cakes. It’s not cheap but everything is simply delicious. In this weather it’s a treat to sit in their air-conditioned cafe, where there is normal, healthy food, but I wouldn’t bother with it when there’s so many sweet treats to eat. A small croissant, a cafe hafuch for fourteen shekels is a cheap treat by any standards. And yes it’s a great place to improve your French, as the waiters and patrons are mostly French.

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The conclusion with the camps, for those interested, is that we’ve sent our older boys to Hackers Camp, which is a science, computer camp, where they do activities such as make indestructible eggs that they throw from two stories up, (and it worked my boys came home with eggs intact so they could have omelettes for supper) and they go on excursions like visiting Google in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile my seven year old, who is too young for Hackers, is a Madrich – counsellor of five year olds at his friend’s home camp.

I would add another rule to my friends ‘be positive’ rule about Israel. Nothing is what you expect in Israel, so just relax and eat excellent pastries.

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Ness Cafe (with Ness Patisserie next door) 42 Emek Refaim, Jerusalem

There’s something about searching in Israel. It sometimes feels like everyone is searching for something; meaning, the next fun thing, a good piece of music, a friend, a spouse, the best cup of coffee. Whilst I’m amongst those searching for the best cappuccino and pastry, I know I’m searching for more as well.

My first chag (festival) that I’m experiencing in Jerusalem surrounds the saddest days of the Jewish calendar; the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of Av, where the two Temples were destroyed. The coffee shops and restaurants were still full in these subdued days, but things were a tad different.

My Filipino cleaner asks me if it’s okay to do the laundry. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, I think to myself. How does she know that doing laundry is one of the prohibitions of the nine days? The meat restaurants have signs advertising their fish specials over this period, as meat is another no no. There are no impromptu orchestras on Emek Refaim, like there was when we arrived, because there is no celebratory, live music at this sombre time.

Yet whilst I know it’s a sad period where Jewish energy is at an all time low, I don’t find tears around me. At this time, especially, there is a sense of celebration that we have a State of Israel. We are at a unique period of Jewish history, where we have a country, a home, a place where we can plant a vineyard in our garden, and observe the laws of Shemitta. We have free Jewish national autonomy, the like of which we haven’t experienced in at least 2,000 years, and arguably even longer since the times of King Solomon, where after his demise the nation split into two kingdoms. Israel was never the same united autonomous kingdom since then; until now.

True, today we don’t have a Temple and we don’t have proper access to the Temple mount. I’m not into politics, or intelligent conversations about politics, because they go in headachy circles, and nothing changes anyway. What I am into is a book that’s become a best seller in Israel called, ‘Catch the Jew’ by Tuvia Tenenbom. Tuvia disguised as Toby the German, travels through Israel with his fluent Hebrew, German and Arabic, interviewing the far left and right, Palestinians and Europeans who have become involved in the Palestinian conflict. It’s written humorously, honestly and subversively. And the reality he uncovers is as sobering as Tisha B’Av

When I finished, I shut the book and cried. At the end of it I felt the long and deep journey of the Jewish people. Through tragic destructions and exiles of the First and Second Temple until now. We are a nation of refugees and immigrants who have risen from our dusty suitcases to build a country which we can be proud of and enjoy a good cup of coffee in. And yet there is still anti semitism, persecution, and insidious internal and external threats.

With this in mind we went to the Kotel on the night of Tisha B’Av. (Notably there is a free shuttle from Jerusalem’s First Station parking lot. It takes people to and from the Kotel every twenty minutes. For more information go to http://english.thekotel.org/today/Article.asp?ArticleID=187 ). We walked up to the Kotel with all the Jews of different colours, languages and stripes. Our gathering together was a tribute to what is now. A beautiful rainbow of Jews from black and white Charedim and Chasidim to blue haired girls and tight pants. Lamenting what was, and by being there, celebrating who we are today.

I joined the mass of prayer and began the evening service. In the middle I was interrupted in Hebrew by a woman in pants and no head covering who wanted to know where I bought my dress. I indicated to her that I needed to finish my Amidah prayer. She patiently waited and said, ‘Amen’ to my blessings. When I finished I happily told her where I bought my dress on sale. And she proceeded to bless me, and asked me if I was married, which I affirmed. She proceeded to tell me the importance of family purity and how it would bring blessing to me and my family. She asked me where I was from. I told her I had just made Aliyah, to which she blessed me more, and said, ‘You are in the right place. Geulah, redemption will come here.’ Amen and Amen. The blessings of Israel are in the mouths of every Jew.

Being in Jerusalem for the Ninth of Av is a celebration of everything we mourn. That we are alive, well and kicking to a vibrant Jewish heart beat. The shops were all closed as we walked home that evening. Jerusalem was quietly alive because the daughter of Zion had returned home.

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The important thing about Aliyah is to take it day by day. The day by day mantra is in some ways a survival mechanism. In some ways it’s the best way to live any time, wherever you are. It’s a gentle reminder that time is the great healer. That foul moods (at all the never ending piles of laundry, and dishes, and counters to wipe, socks to pick up, clothes to fold, clothes to dry, clothes to put out, dry clothes to take, need I go on…) also pass like the sticky heat of the day into the cooling air of the night, where you can breathe and reflect. Every day brings something new.

Jerusalem after a month has become day by day. The day by day of normal, everyday living of anywhere in the world. Getting the children ready for camp, fetching them from camp. Preparing supper. Getting ready for the next day. The day by dayness with which life runs, without which, a house becomes infested with cockroaches, clothes are grubby and children are lost under all their dirty socks. The day by dayness which holds us, without us knowing. Where we continually create order in a world of chaos and disorder.

Of course the day by dayness in Jerusalem can easily become special. It’s going to see the Godfather on the big screen at the outdoor Sultan’s pool accompanied by the Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra. The modern American story of guys and guns sharply contrasted by the ancient amphitheater. Enjoying the spine tingling, cinematic ratatata of gun shots that echo into the Jerusalem night alongside thousands of appreciative Israelis and tourists.

It’s about trying new gastronomic delights like stuffed artichokes with mince, ceviche and Kubbeh soup. Israel is very much about the food and finding new places to eat. Like the charming Bread & More, a bakery, deli, coffee shop on 35 Emek Refaim. Its owner is a young girl, Sharon, who runs the shop with her interior designer mother, Irit. Together they’ve collected the choicest cakes, cheeses and breads from all over Jerusalem. It’s the go to place for chocolate truffles, walnut and sour dough bread and decadent cakes such as the Kinder Bueno cake I bought for Shabbat. A cake to live and love another day for. And their Cappuccinos are amongst the best I’ve tried yet in Jerusalem. The kind of cafe I love having down the road, one that welcomes my boys with their rambunctious mess as chamudim (cuties) and where you can sit with the owner and have a good chat about Israel, what it means to live here and bring up children here.

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Bread & More

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Irit and Sharon

Irit and Sharon

And then there’s the taxi driver conversations. Yes those legendary Jerusalem taxi drivers who are the philosophers of Jerusalem. At first I thought the one I had the other day on the way back from town was a hidden tzaddik. He said, ‘Life is hard here.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘The politics. There is no love. Everyone hates everyone else. The religious won’t speak to the secular. The Arabs hate the Jews. To me every person is a person whether they are Jewish, Arab or Christian. It’s against the religion of the world to hate any person.’ My kind of guy. Until of course he had to continue, spitting his words out vehemently, ‘We don’t have peace because of the Right, because of the settlers. They’re crazy people. They’re ruining everything.’ So much for loving and accepting everyone. But it was an alive moment, which reminded me why I’ve come.

Day by day is about knowing that it’s what I make of it. Whether it’s a day in bed with tonsillitis or a day out and about walking the narrow streets of Jerusalem, where artists can be dotted along its paths trying to capture a corner of its sand stone character. One day at a time.

Preparing for Shabbat in Jerusalem is very different to Johannesburg. Friends here have kept emphasising which supermarkets to go to. I didn’t understand why. Now I do. There’s no one stop shop that sells everything you need. At least I haven’t found it, yet.

I thought Machane Yehuda Shuk would be my one stop shop. To buy the freshest fish in Jerusalem, the best vegetables and fruit and ready made salads. Optimist that I am I leave an hour to go to the Shuk, and do a quick, whirlwind run through. I buy my hummus, eggplant salads, chilli and even Hilbah – a fenugreek salad. I learn from Moshe, the man at the deli stall that you can taste the olives, grape vine rolls and apricots before you buy them.

Pity I didn’t know this before I bought all my fresh produce. You can’t shop as if you were plucking plastic packaged vegetables and fruit from Woolworths refrigerated shelves. Here it’s hit and miss; the mangoes were tasteless, the apples floury, the coriander went off the next day. I’m realising that this is a land you leap into but slowly get to know the important things, like where to buy the sweetest watermelon (if you know where, please tell me.)

I bumbled along, buying the wrong fish for my Shabbat lunch. I needed a firmer white fish for cooking my fish rice. What is the Hebrew equivalent of Rock cod and Hake? Further the fillets I asked for came un-skinned. That evening, standing and skinning my fillets one by one, I paid for my oversight. Nonetheless the fish rice was made. At least there was lunch.

In Jerusalem the chaotic heat of preparation disappears as the afternoon sun dims and the cool Jerusalem evening winds begin to blow. The shops shut, which feels peaceful and right. This is from a person who gets depressed on Christmas and public holidays when the whirring noise of daily life stops. But Shabbat in Jerusalem feels right. Quiet. The streets empty out and you feel the hush that Shabbat is coming. Connect the urn, put on the hot tray. There is no more you can do, but light the Shabbat candles and be ready to welcome the Shabbat angels.

We had guests this past Shabbat. Old friends and new friends whom we had just met. They all had boys for ours to play with. It ended up being a soccer playing lunch. It was a happy, social balagan in our small home over the miraculous fish rice, Moshe’s deli salads and contributed salads (in Israel everyone contributes to meals). South African friends of our kids, on holiday, popped in to join us for iced coffee and cake. Then our neighbour from upstairs who had moved in a week before, introduced himself with his five year old son. Playing Jewish geography we discover that we know his Uncle in Law, as his wife’s father is from South Africa. It was a happy party of Jews from all over the world – Sydney, London, New York, Johannesburg and of course Jerusalem.

The kids were happy, we were happy and felt tremendously blessed to have a Jerusalem Shabbat.

There is no way to describe being here for the last two weeks. I keep having to shake my head, waking myself up to the fact that I am not on holiday, that I am in Jerusalem forever. Jerusalem is now my home.

The highlight so far has been meeting a part of the anglo community. Our good friends organised a seudah shlishit, third Shabbat meal at a park, where immigrants like us from England, Australia, America and of course South Africa congregated over fresh watermelon, macaroni and cheese, and lots of salads on picnic mats (that are very popular here especially around Yom Haatzmaut I’m told). There were too many faces and names to remember properly, but everyone was really lovely and welcoming. It’s a wonderful community here (who bring meals and cakes upon cakes to complete strangers)  which means alot, being new and knowing practically nobody here.

I woke up this morning understanding why the Torah repeats over 36 times the importance of welcoming the stranger in our midst. There is nothing as alienating as coming to a new place, without the language and context. It’s like walking around without shoes on ice. Nobody knows who you are, nobody necessarily cares about who you are either. Nobody is waiting for you. And the less expectations you have from those around you the better.

Of course I knew all this before I came. Two weeks in it’s sunk in, not only am I a stranger, but my children are too, and they also have to deal with the trauma of being the ‘new’ kid on the block. As an adult you have the skills to create your own life. As a kid you’re still developing those skills. So my heart bleeds tears as one of my children is side lined by one of his ‘new’ friends randomly.

It’s falling down to earth hard with socially scraped knees. We’ve come with good intentions and yet there are hard days. Hard moments, where I need to swallow and say ‘C’est La Vie’, life inevitably has its ups and downs. The moment where my Hebrew is so bad, the woman at the restaurant says, ‘Just speak English, okay.’ Of shouting at the children not to step on the freshly laundered pile of clothes. Of going to bed with my feet aching from walking, washing up, cleaning, general wear and tear of a day spent with four busy boys on holiday until they start camp.

Then there’s the surreal good moments, of simply walking and freely breathing in the purple bougainvillaea that grows wild on the streets of Katamon. Spontaneously going to Tel Aviv and staying over night to join in the White Night festival, where there are bands and orchestras playing throughout the city streets. Sitting with the children and close friends in Old Jaffa, under the soft lantern light listening to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody dancing off the sandstone walls of the ancient Biblical port. Walking through streets that don’t sleep, cafes that don’t close, life that doesn’t end, but clings tenaciously to every moment in search of, if not a great song on the streets of Tel Aviv, then a wonderful story on the streets of Jerusalem.

I only have my story here so far, of trying to find my feet, my street, my song. I’ll start with going to yoga tomorrow at the railway station at 7am.

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Long luggage line at the airport.

Long luggage line at the airport.

The making of Aliyah takes months to plan. Where to live, which school to send the children to, what to take, how to take it, packing up a house, a life, saying goodbye. But when it actually comes to the day before going, I was still in denial about the fact I was going. It’s not really happening, I’m not really leaving, until I’m at the airport with a train of suitcases (and my African checked bags) which takes up a whole aisle at the Elal check in section.

‘I can’t believe we are doing this,’ is what goes through my mind. ‘I can’t believe we are doing this,’ I keep repeating to my husband. The last day in Johannesburg as I drive through the streets of tenacious trees that are shedding their last orange, red autumn leaves, glowing in the dancing light of the warm winter sun, it feels surreal. I can’t believe I’m leaving it all.

But we are, and we do. We arrive at Oliver Tambo airport in a borrowed truck and two cars. We pay porters to help transport our mountain load of luggage. We are hassled at the Elal counter over the weight as I bend every rule in the weight book. (‘Is 23.9kg, 23 or 24 kilos,’ the check in guy asks. ‘I only pay attention to the first two numbers,’ I reply.) The Elal manager, whom we eventually have to call, kindly waves us through, with all our luggage.

Our flight is a midnight flight. The airport at ten o’clock is eerily quiet. All the shops are closed. There’s something haunting about an empty, silent airport. It focuses me. There are no last minute jobs I planned to do anymore. Cape Union Mart is closed. Our flight is also mercifully empty, and we are at the back, which means we can grab a row for each of us, so that the children can sleep. We need all the sleep we can get. I hadn’t slept a full nights sleep for a week because of all the packing and nerves.

The people on our flight, who had witnessed our truckload of luggage, were incredibly kind. The Johannesburg Jewish community is a lovely, warm community and they were that to the very end on our flight.

We landed in Israel, after an easy Elal flight. (I love Elal flight attendants, they’re kind, kind, kind. Which is so important especially when you fly with small children.) We were greeted by a Telfed representative, Avraham, who was very calm, practical and of course welcoming. He lead us to get our Israeli identity papers organised, and medical aid. The process was smooth, the children play after being refreshed with juice and cookies, and we fill out the forms and documents, all of which are relatively simple. After an hour we collect our luggage, with the help of an Israeli porter. (One African bag opened up. For some reason it didn’t have the Elal plastic around it. Luckily I had packed everything in plastic boxes so our stuff was secure.) Telfed takes care of the taxi (who was a bit flustered, but nonetheless understanding about the amount of luggage), and Avraham sees us through to the very end.

We load our sim cards onto our phones, that we had organised on our last trip to Israel. (We chose Golan, because they have amazing rates for international calls.) Before we were able to phone my friends they began to phone us. I didn’t expect the incredibly warm welcome that we received.

Beginning with my brother, who brought my father’s cousin to greet us, and moreover helped us unload our never ending luggage. The garden apartment we are renting was furnished by our friends, the beds were made up with linen I had sent with a friend earlier. Another friend arrived with a hot lunch – hummus, mince meat and pita bread, my kids favourite, and hot chocolate cake for lunch. Another very good family friend came with beautiful, colourful flowers (that I didn’t think you could get in Jerusalem) in a glass vase, drinks, cookies. The love and kindness overflowed around us. We were welcomed with a generosity and kindness that felt so blessed. We left wonderful family and friends to come to wonderful family and friends.

So our first day, even though it was back breaking and beyond tiring as we unpacked, and dealt with very little sleep, was a complete blessing. We ended it off with a delicious family dinner at Caffit on Emek Refaim. (Our friend recommended their family meal, of fish and chips, pizza, pasta and a salad, all of your choice. Note it down for next time you visit Jerusalem.)

We walked home in the cooled summer night, after the children had their Aldo ice creams, still not quite believing that we had arrived. We were here in Jerusalem. Officially we had done it and made Aliyah. To which the locals here respond, Mazal Tov.

The last couple of weeks have been predictably heart wrenching. And yet my heart wasn’t over wrought until the last couple of days because I was too busy packing our eighteen suitcases, and when I wasn’t packing I was thinking, dreaming, planning the packing. When you plan to live out of eighteen suitcases as a family of six for a year, what you pack becomes all important. It was a great distraction from saying goodbye

I believe there are no goodbyes. Only the Australian ‘see you later’ or the Hebrew, ‘Lehitraot’, which roughly means the same thing. One thing I’ve realised as a wandering Jew is that you carry your relationships in your heart. Even if you’re not with a person you love physically, you are with them in every other way. My grandmother, even though she passed away a couple of years ago and even though I’ve lived away from her for the last thirteen years, still speaks to me, guides me and is very much part of my life. ‘Dress beautifully’, she’d say in my mind as I get dressed in the morning. ‘Just a little bit of garlic, fry it this way,’ she’d whisper as I’m cooking. It makes me believe that relationships, and love is forever.

Leaving Johannesburg we have taken our loving family and friends with us. These last few months, since we said the impossible, ‘We are moving to Jerusalem’, the love and support we’ve been surrounded by has been tremendous. Enough to convince us not to go. To change our minds, to say, ‘Why in the world are we moving away from our wonderful family and community of friends?’

Except I don’t believe in goodbyes. Only hellos, only in friendships and loves that I carry over all the seas, in the nineteenth suitcase, as my husband’s aunt calls it. The invisible suitcase in our hearts with all the people we love in it.

One and a half weeks to go. I can’t lie. I can’t say I’m not unravelling. I can’t say I’m completely unravelling either. Because the show must go on. The house has to be packed up. But we are only sending our lift next year, which takes a bit of pressure off. Nevertheless, eighteen 23 kg bags need to be packed and here is where I need to stop and have a laugh. You can join me in a hysterical, belly laugh as you imagine the coffee spluttering sight of two adults, four red bull energy boys and eighteen suitcases.

We don’t even want to own eighteen suitcases. So I’ve bought these massive checked African bags for 30 rand each. We are going to leave South Africa in true African style. Giggle, nervous giggle.

The children are enjoying the packing process. Choosing what they want to take. My three year old has already packed his fire truck school bag, grabbed his Winnie-the-Pooh wheelie bag and plonked himself in the car. I found him there half an hour later and asked him, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘To Israel,’ he replied with a huge grin. Sweet one if only it was that easy.

The packing is not too bad because I’ve majorly decluttered my house. It’s so much easier to open a half empty cupboard and pack it. Decluttering has been a God sent cleansing process. I shouldn’t have waited thirteen years to do it. These A type personalities who keep everything spick and span and have spotless shelves (even behind closed cupboards) have got it right. Where there is physical space there is room to think.

Although room to think feels like a luxury at the moment, I have to remind myself to KEEP CALM and PACK. Keep going to yoga to ground me. Keep my feet planted firmly on the floor so I don’t float away with the tremendous physical and emotional stress, which I can’t allow myself to show. Because I have four boys, because they take their cue from their Mum. So tick, tick, tick. The never ending list is being completed. Tick, tick, tick. The clock stops for no one.

‘Who is Eshkol Nevo?’ most South African’s and Australians would ask. He’s an award winning Israeli author who was in South Africa last week, participating as an international author at the Franschoek book festival. If only I could have gone. However I was lucky enough to hear him speak about his latest book Neuland at the Cyril Harris Community Centre in Johannesburg with a friend. We both left his talk feeling intellectually stimulated to the point that we would have loved to step onto a street of vibrant coffee shops where people chat over cups of coffee, glasses of wine and mugs of beer. Discussing life, hopes, dreams, politics and words.

Eshkol is softly spoken and yet strong and passionate about his work. Going to Eshkol’s talk reminded me what a clever society Israel is. A place, as my New Yorker friend described to me in amazement, that has a public library van on the surfie Tel Aviv beach front. A country where books are not only read but valued. Where their authors are national treasures. As Eshkol Nevo is.

Reading Eshkol’s books such as Neuland (which I’m still in the middle of. I’ve read his World Cup Wishes eons ago as well) is a great way to learn about Israeli society. Every day Israelis, such as his main character Dori who treks through South America in search of his missing father, are described in skilful literary, realistic detail. So that we have access to a collective memory and experience that we don’t know much about as Diaspora Jews. Yet we can also relate to and see ourselves in them, as our shared Jewish memory is explored and hinted to through Dori’s journey.

Meanwhile I would have thought that such a well known author would be politely unreachable. I tried my luck anyhow and chatted with him whilst he signed my freshly bought Neuland book (which is translated from his original Hebrew version). ‘I’m making Aliyah in June and I’m a writer,’ I said. ‘Really,’ he said. And he gave me his email address and said he would help me, to my delight and surprise.

‘You’re making Aliyah? Welcome’, is the overwhelming response we have received from Israelis. That is, after the ‘Why? Why are you making Aliyah?’

This exuberant welcome is both humbling and exciting. It’s like realising that we’re part of a special club. The entrance into it requires a pair of wings of faith. Staying and thriving requires serious, first class elbow grease. But there are the coffee shops, open late at night. Where people drink milky coffee and glasses of giddy wine, and mugs of bubbling beer, and that is my romantic ideal where I hope to go and sit and write and speak about words. After I’ve finished washing all the dinner dishes of course.

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