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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