Archives for the month of: November, 2016

Jerusalem hands you gifts when you most need it, and when you least expect it. As I walked down the street this afternoon bundled up against the chilling winds, my face being warmed by the sun. I saw an old woman with a stick, hitting an olive tree, one of the many olive trees that line Hizkiyahu Hamelech street. She was dressed in a colourful purple silk dress, with gold embroidery, it was old and worn and muddied like her face. It told her story of coming from another time and culture, perhaps from a Kurdistani background from across the Zagros mountains or Northern Iraq. And she was hitting this tree with all her strength. I stepped around her to avoid the black olives falling on my head. I had to speak to her, I asked her if she was collecting olives. ’Yes,’ she replied in a thick guttural Hebrew. ‘Olives.’ She gestured to her checkered shopping trolley which was full of freshly harvested black olives from the ground, with a beautiful, wide smile which showed off her missing teeth. I felt like I had been handed a gift. The simple happiness of collecting olives on the narrow, public streets of Jerusalem.

The encounter with this simple smile warms my heart every time I think of it. Simplicity is something I’m craving in the craziness of everyday living in a city, bringing up a family, keeping up with everyday pressing demands. My theme has been finding my centre in the centre of a city which is considered the centre of the world. Yet you couldn’t find a metropolis of greater extremes. It’s climate for starters. Auburn Autumn days were scarce this year as the weather turned from boiling hot to bone chilling cold as fast as a leaf falling from a tree.

Jerusalem is also the social frontier of all peoples, Jewish and Non Jewish. It’s the polestar of the Ultra Orthodox, Chassidic, Secular, French, Anglos, Sephardim and Middle Eastern Jews as well as Arabs, Christians, and all shades of people and religions in between.

Economically it has the poorest of the poor of Israel living in it’s golden sphere and the wealthiest Jews from all over the world pushing real estate prices up so that the ground you walk upon is equivalent to bars of gold.

All these opposites create a dissonance in the city of God, which is enough to cause anyone to develop the dreaded Jerusalem Syndrome.

So in some ways I feel the irony of looking for serenity in this pivotal city of paradox. Where the best and the worst of religion, people and self comes out. Ever the optimist I focused on the simple moments, condensing complications into a cappuccino and ticking the never ending to do list in Hebrew. I was getting on top of my game.

And then the fires happened. My friend who lives in Yad Hashmona, a Moshav in the Judean Hills arrived in Ulpan class flustered and worried about her dog, as the perimeters of her moshav were being flushed with water to prevent the raging, merciless fires, that had already evacuated the neighbouring moshav of Nataf, spreading.

All equilibrium flew out the window into the ash filled air as I and the nation confronted arson, the new, fierce face of terrorism.

The Haifa fires were devastating, and on Shabbat as we watched firefighting planes fly across cloudless sky towards the North of Israel, (we were in Yad Binyamin, where they get the best views of all aircraft activity) our stomach’s twisted, with the lack of news, with the knowledge that those fires may be licking up houses as we stroll equanimously through one of the most peaceful yishuvim in Israel.

So much for my tranquil epicentre. I’m certainly not living in Sydney, Ausralia. This period has left me wondering where is the ‘peace’ of Jerusalem, which its very name promises? It’s forcing me to realise more and more that peace is not tangible. It’s like gold dust that flies through our days, to be caught with our hearts. Ephemeral moments that pause time like the smile from an old woman from an archaic world, harvesting olives from olive trees with a stick and a creaky, granny trolley, as the hustling, bustling Jerusalem cars whizz by.

So Trump has won the election. The shock, the horror as the world watches America exercise their democratic right and vote in their next president according to what they believe, not what the polls and media would have them believe. Is it the right choice? Who knows. This is when I believe in sitting back with a cup of coffee and watching what happens next. Interesting times are unfolding before our eyes, we might as well sit and enjoy it with a hot cappuccino.

I could be accused of being a frivolous coffee addict, who lives from one coffee moment to the next. I’m not alone. The world has erupted into vibrant, gourmet coffee shops and corners. Coffee has become a new art, a religion with it’s own exclusive magazine. It’s about the quality of the bean, the exact temperature, allowing the coffee to bloom, and of course the creamy froth. What they forget to mention is the human element of camaraderie, quiet moments of togetherness which makes change, insane turns of events, the big unknown that much easier to face. Because we’re in this all together.

One of my most memorable memories of a meaningful, therapeutic coffee moment took place this time last year. I was sitting at Kadosh (yes the absolute best French Patisserie in Jerusalem) in town, with a lovely friend and we were listening to heart stopping, raging sirens that shook the city a street away from where we were sitting. We looked at each other, and said ‘now what?’ This was at the time of vicious stabbings that paralysed Jerusalem night life for a week. It felt like a taste of armageddon, where we didn’t know where the next knife would appear. We sat there in the radiant sunshine and shook our heads and laughed. We knew it was inappropriate to laugh which only made us laugh harder. It was a laughter that was full of nerves and fatalism and that we didn’t know what would be so we may as well savour our coffee and apple croissant as we stared into the vacant abyss of the unknown. We knew, as the sirens provided background ambience to a tragic month of terror, that if we didn’t laugh hysterically over our cappuccinos we would cry and cry and cry.

So coffee is a coping mechanism. A moment of quiet enjoyed alone or relished with friends. It’s a precious commodity, that extends beyond the quality of the coffee filter. It contains a human element that traverses all cultures, languages and religions. A dark shot of caffeine is a simple, easy pleasure that doesn’t have to be a Nespresso specialty in a china cup. It can be an Elite instant, red sachet in a paper cup, black with two teaspoons of sugar. A specialty that I’ve been preparing for builders who are fixing our house, and who love coffee breaks as much as I do, especially with a piece of vanilla raspberry cake. I’ve learnt how to say thank you in Arabic. I’ve learnt that a cup of coffee can be a smiling meeting point of our common humanity.

This all makes me believe that coffee may be the secret brew to solving the world’s problems. There’s nothing more human than drinking a cup of coffee. On the level of a black cup of coffee I can wax lyrical about the fact that the every day person is just eking out a living, providing for their family, taking pride in their children and hoping for another sunny Middle Eastern day to drink coffee in their work break. If we could keep life to the simple savouring of a cup of coffee, beyond religion, politics and past hurts. If all world leaders, old and new could remember that we are all in this together, human beings deserving of mutual respect, we could live in a peaceful world that guarantees tomorrow’s frothy cappuccino.