Archives for the month of: September, 2015

As an Oleh Chadash everything is new. New country, new language, new friends, new food, and now a new year. I’ve been watching our pomegranate tree in our garden these last three months growing big and heavy with fruit. My friend assured me that they would be ready for Rosh Hashanah. And they were. Miraculously red and ripe and ready for picking. Harvesting pomegranates was a fantastic activity to keep the children busy whilst I was sweating away in the kitchen over a stewing beef tagine (a delicious Jamie Oliver recipe that I swiped off the net).

However you don’t see Jerusalem from your steaming kitchen window. I wanted to see Jerusalem erev Rosh Hashana. Where do you go when you want to put your finger on the Jewish heart beat? The Kotel. So we boarded the free shuttle to the Kotel, that comes around every 20 minutes at the First Railway Station parking lot, organised by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

It was a hot sunny day, as these chamsin days are want to be. The final specks of last weeks dust storm still floating around as we stood in the Kotel entrance line waiting to clear security. We stood in two separate lines for women and men. I saw modestly dressed, ultra Orthodox women pushing forward eager to get through to the Kotel, their Psalm books already open, silently mouthing the words so they don’t waste a minute. There was a super size man with a bushy ginger beard walking in a deep sweat to the wall, proudly brandishing a long, twirling, shiny shofar fit for the Messiah. We passed what looked like exotic South Americans, although I’m still not sure who they were. It was a procession of colourfully clothed people. Ornate and stately as they returned from their visit to the wall. It felt like I had walked into an Alice in Wonderland zone, as people from all over the world pilgrimaged to the wall.

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Looking for inspiration at a wall, doesn’t seem to make much sense. ‘It’s just a wall,’ some Jerusalemites have cynically pointed out to me. But I have to admit the emotion wells up, unbeckoned when I see an Asian woman silently crying over her open bible (which looked like it was in Chinese), bound in a pink leather case. Why are they here? I think to myself. Why am I here? For inspiration, for meaning. And I find it, not just in the time worn stones that tears have hallowed away. But in the people, from all over the world, who come, with faith, with belief in one God. And it’s a reminder of the utopian dream, of all peoples of the world coming to the one place, to pray to one God. Together.

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An idealistic, romantic dream which reminded me of how the Jews used to gather in the past. Like the time described in Ezra Nehemiah’s time when the second Temple was first built, men, women and children gathered on Rosh Hashana morning, and the Torah was read to them. Their response was to cry. Some commentaries say because they felt so regretful of all their wrongdoings, as we tend to feel on Rosh Hashana. The leaders and Levites hushed them and said, don’t cry, it’s a day of joy, go home, feast with your family and friends and send out food parcels to those in need. On the Day of Judgement what counts is being together as Jews, with our families and friends, and taking care of the vulnerable ‘have nots’ in our society.

Feasting on Rosh Hashana, we Jews don’t have to be told twice. In Jerusalem the feasting of two days, meant the shopping centres were manically full, and the milk shelves empty. Coming from refugee stock, Israelis are not going to risk doing without.

Giving to the poor is also a very practical matter in Jerusalem. Emek Refaim has its local beggars who appear every Friday, and there are also new ones just for Rosh Hashana. The man with the gangrene leg who as you give to him, insists on showing you his foot that looks like off chicken. I loved giving to the woman with white hair who sanguinely sat and read her newspaper, her money cup in front of her. When do you see beggars read? Then there’s the wrinkly, old woman who does her rounds, and heaps blessings upon your head as you hand her coins. It’s nice to give, these people are down and out. Who knows what their stories are.

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The feeling in Jerusalem over the High Holidays, is at once serious – you need to stock the fridge – and joyously communal. As everyone wishes each other Shana Tova – a good year. From the chocolates at Aroma cafe to the people on the street. Ready for the shofar blows that resound the next morning over and over again.

The big fat word, which I’m a teeny bit terrified of, ‘SCHOOL’ loomed closer and closer as September first drew near. School is bad enough in your mother tongue. How were my boys going to cope with school in Hebrew?

The school we chose in Jerusalem is called Mekor Chaim, it was established by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a Rabbi whose books I love to read and I admire. When we visited it in December the warmth of the school was heard in shouting, laughing, running children in the hallways. The staff were lovely and warm. Of course when choosing a school it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect school, just as there is no such thing as a perfect kid.

The day before school began a get together at the school was organised for new Olim. I received a message about it in French on my Olim Mekor Chaim chat group. Luckily the school also sent out an email in the three universal languages of Hebrew, English and French. With curious hearts we arrived to hear only French spoken. There were at least fifteen new French families who had made Aliyah. Rather than feeling threatened and left out as Anglos tend to feel, I felt nothing but admiration for these families who have left France and chosen to come to Jerusalem. They bring good fashion, good food and the language of romance to the streets of Jerusalem, all of which I love.

The afternoon was run in Hebrew, translated in French and then translated into English just for our little South African crew. (An American family actually appeared towards the end of the event. So we aren’t the only new Anglo family.) The children were told how special it is that they’ve made Aliyah. They were also told that their main job at school is to make friends and learn Hebrew. Super – as the French would say.

They also gave the children a present. A meaningful, creative present. Drawing boards where they wrote on small rectangular note paper what they wanted to wish themselves for the year, and then stuck onto the board, which we then decorated as a family. We came out of the event with a beautiful family board with all our heartfelt dreams and wishes for the year. We came out glad that we chose Mekor Chaim. Glad that we’d come early enough in the summer for the children to make friends at camp so that they were walking into the unknown with friends.

When I woke my seven year old the next day he jumped out of bed with a hoot, ’Yay school.’ It boded well for the day which in South Africa was a bouncing Spring day, and for us marked the beginning of Autumn. Arriving at school bright and early as you only do on that optimistic first day. Fresh in their new school shirts (There is no proper uniform in Israel. The only requirement is a plain T-shirt with the school logo printed on.). To our surprise the children found their classrooms and friends and shooed us away. Dazed we left. This was it the adventure of school in Israel had begun. All of Jerusalem seemed to be reverberating that morning with the celebration of children returning to school. The beginning of new potential for a new year.

Next we had to take our three year old to Gan, which is kindergarden in Israel. They were easing them in slowly with a couple of hours for the day. Luckily our little one had already gone to summer camp at the Gan so he knew his teacher and some of the children. He eventually let us go…

Care free hours pass too quickly. I fetched a happy child and we walked with some really lovely mums to play at a nearby park. I was swiftly introduced to the University of Mothers. This was a new experience for me. Hanging out with mothers after Gan finishes. It never existed in South Africa, where after nursery school ended we all returned to our respective homes, the most we got was chatting in the car park at pickup. Here in Jerusalem, the university of mothers took place at the park. As the children played and ate ice lollies, we hucked about Aliyah, not speaking proper Hebrew, and the best places to buy kids pyjamas.

It felt organic and wonderful being together as women, living parallel lives and sharing important information, like best cake recipes, weight goals and where you’d have plastic surgery one day.… (That’s right mommy discussions are the same world over.) This is the way to be a mom and raise children, at the park. (And fathers just so you know there were fathers at the park. And in the late afternoons there are MANY fathers hanging out at the park.) I won’t have it every day in Israel, because my children are bigger and the afternoons are like a never ending ferris wheel. But it made me realise why Israel is such a happy society, with happy children. It has many many parks!