Archives for the month of: July, 2015

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.