Archives for the month of: April, 2017

It’s 10:00am. The siren just went off. A dull, high alarm where everyone stops, stands still with heads slightly bowed. There’s a deep resounding silence as the cars stop and everyone gets out onto the road. Young school children stand at the front of their school gates, holding onto the iron fence rails. Mothers with prams, old people on their morning stroll all freeze. It’s an eerie moment which brings home the Holocaust as more than a memory but as a national moment which we all share.

This morning as I stood still in my own silence whilst the alarm rang, a modern shofar of calling. Beyond the whine of the siren I hear dogs yapping and the chirping songs of the Jerusalem birds, which is usually drowned out by beeping traffic. It felt so peaceful, and I thought to myself that the dogs go on barking and birds chirping around us, through all moments in our lives. Through the generations. When the Jews were taken to the forests to be shot, piled onto railway carriages, lining up heads shaven, tattooed, a mere number on the way to be gassed, or those marched to their death. All would have heard in the silence yapping dogs and chirping birds.

There’s a deep sadness in realising that we humans are our own worst enemies. We cause more death and destruction than any natural disaster that befalls us.

Last night we lit the Holocaust memorial candles that my boys brought home from school. Each candle had the name and details of one of the 6 million murdered Jews. The boys read their names and my thirteen year old as he lit his candle said without prompting, ‘This is in memory of Yechezkal Gitzinski’. And as the memorial candles flickered alive they reflected our lives. One life passes on and another one is born. The whole of European Jewry perishes in a gas oven and an antiquated country and language is renewed, reborn. A phoenix flying high from amongst the tear stained bloody ashes.

We can’t forget our past. We’ve moved forward and left the shtetl towns with their ghosts, but the tremors of sadness, loss and fractured spirits are still felt. My mother in law can’t speak about her father’s murdered family from Brno, Czechoslovakia. And the saddest of all are the lonely survivors, who live in abject poverty under our very noses as was discussed on Jerusalem radio yesterday.

Yom HaShoah is not only about remembering, it’s about grieving, it’s about seeing the world through the lens of the way we would like the world to be. By keeping our ghostly memories alive we teach our future, child by child, how to be grateful and give and create a world that says, ‘Never Again!’

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By the time you reads this you are probably sick of matza, but comfortably happy chewing coconut macaroons. The market stalls in the Shuk that usually sell fruit and vegetables have transformed into macaroon havens. Mounds of chocolate covered almond and coconut macaroons are bought instead of Jaffa oranges. I couldn’t disappoint my fruit man and not buy from him, so I went home with my plastic bag of macaroons, and was pleasantly surprised at how yummy they were.

The month before Pesach in Israel is silly season; everyone is walking about in a bit of a harried daze as they try and figure out when they’re going to ‘turn over’ their kitchens into chametz free zones. Even if you want to ignore the frantic, hectic hype, you can’t. At the health food store the manager reminds me to buy my cleaning products for Pesach, three weeks before. The bus conversation is all around cleaning, and that’s two weeks before. The week before Pesach, the boiling vats are on every corner of Jerusalem, as everyone lines up to kasher their metal pots and utensils. At this stage only the bravest can face the supermarkets. The yellow hearted, like me, shop a few weeks in advance so as not to face the two hour long queues. Having said that the products available for Pesach are unbelievable. It’s the perfect time to shop for Gluten Free allergies; corn tortillas, chocolate energy bars, all shapes of pasta, Doritos and of course the macaroons. Unfortunately Ashkenazim don’t have a gastronomic party like the Sephardim. They have to make do with the chocolate covered, coconut macaroons.

This week of Chol Hamoed everything has calmed down. Families have come together, drunk their four cups of wine, participated in the Jewish specialty of Q & A, eaten way too much matza and used the left overs for matza pizza. At least that’s what we did with our soft matza, especially bought from the Bucharian quarter in Jerusalem. Before you rush out and buy them, I have to report that we officially prefer cardboard, machine made matza to the rubber, frozen, soft handmade matza. Next year we will try the fresh hand made version.

In the soft breeze after the storm of preparation anxiety I have to sit back and comment on how hard it is to cope with the unknown. I turned my kitchen over on Thursday, because I couldn’t live in the no man’s land of uncertainty anymore. The kitchen is either kosher for Pesach or it isn’t, and as we live between these two worlds a great discomfort arises as we face the grand change. It made me think that this discomfort is part of the process of Pesach, of the concept of freedom. We all like certainty. I especially like it. I make decisions hard and fast. Like getting married, making Aliyah – quick decisions with far reaching consequences, but they had to be made. Sitting on the fence is the greatest discomfort of all.

The only problem is that life is full of uncertainty. As has been often said, the only certainty in life is change. And the only thing that gets us through that squirming discomfort is a profound faith in a greater power, in that same outstretched hand that took the Israelites out of Egypt. In life we have to make very big decisions personally and nationally. Get off our comfortable padded walls, and take a stand. Be it with our own behaviours, relationships, careers or where we live.

The discomfort of getting ready for Pesach, is the discomfort of getting ready to journey on to our promised land. This land is different for each of us. Personally, my promised land may be being more patient, braver and more honest to reach that space of inner peace and connection. Next year in Jerusalem symbolises something different to each one of us. The uneasiness is figuring out what it is and letting go of all that chametz, unneeded ‘stuff’, and jumping into the leanness of matza. Letting go of what was to see what you could actually be. When I think of Pesach this way, as a lesson in making big changes, I have a renewed respect for the Israelites and a renewed fondness for chocolate macaroons.