Archives for the month of: June, 2015

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.