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It’s hard for me to write and yet I know I must. Silence, utter mute silence is my response when I’m confronted with terrible grief, irrevocable reality. I guess we all experience this at some point of our lives. It’s very hard to find any meaningful words, any meaning at all when bad things happen to good people. It’s the ultimate philosophical question mark, the most trying test to our faith.

Nothing I write, nothing I say will change the reality. Nothing, no amount of prayer can bring Hugo back. And I can’t skip over this into a cappuccino, as much as I’d like to drown myself in a whole vat of cappuccino in my despair for his family and for all who knew him to be the unique soul that he was in this world.

I was sitting with my grandfather, who’s from the old world where the Ottoman Empire ruled over Iraq and the Middle East. He’s one hundred years old now, and whilst his legs have given way and he needs twenty four hour care, his mind is sharp. Sitting with him is like sitting with a young man who’s stuck in wrinkly, well worn body, whose mouth moves too slowly for his words that he wants to express. His eyes give it away though, dimmed with age they look at me and seem to ask, ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What is it all about?’

I sat with him that early Summer, Los Angeles morning and asked my eyes asked him in return, ‘You tell me what it’s all about? What wisdom do you have to gift me?’ After a few silent moments he lifted up his finger and began to draw a circle in the air. ‘Life is a Galgal – a circle,’ he rasped. ‘Life is a Galgal.’ Slowly, carefully, around and around, his finger drew the circle of life in the air. And I appreciated his wisdom. The cycle of life, the culmination and summary of one hundred years on this earth.

If I’ve learnt anything in the month that has felt like the mourning month of Av, it’s that we don’t know much. In fact we know nothing. We know as much as the zero in that circle of life. We just go around and around, day in day out, living our lives. This may seem defeatist. Maybe I’ve become a fatalist in the month where my son’s good friend dies suddenly, horrifyingly. Where a beautiful black haired, black eyed baby of just a few months dies, also suddenly, also horrifying, and I can’t look at her mother’s face without crying. When I think of the heartbroken parents there are no comforting words to offer. How can I not be a fatalist, because they don’t deserve their sorrow. No one does.

My only conclusion is that we don’t know anything as we walk in this world. Day in day out, along the fragile circle of life which we are gifted with. All we can hope to do is work on ourselves so that each day counts, each relationship counts and to be the best we can be in the moment. In all humility we don’t know what tomorrow brings, we don’t even really know what God wants, except what comes to mind from the book of Micah, ‘What is good and what does God want from you? But to do justice and loving kindness and go humbly with God.’ (Micah 6:8)
What this means is different to all of us. It’s a personal journey, and more often than not it’s a silent expedition of the soul, which takes place wherever you find yourself, Johannesburg, Los Angeles or Jerusalem.

What colour is the colour of tears? Of a parent’s grief? Of tragedy in our midst? All the philosophical questions come up. As my son said, ‘It’s not normal for a teenage boy to be on life support.’ There are too many murky colours, questions and emotions. I feel old this Shavuot as I see how good people suffer and suffer and suffer. The very best of us, truth be told.

Meanwhile life in Israel goes on. On the radio yesterday I heard Shavuot referred to as the ‘Festival of White’. It’s a festival of wearing white clothes, of little girls running in sparkling white dresses running through the streets, and of eating all types of cheesecakes, the favourite Israeli classic is made from smooth white cheese. Another take on the whiteness of Shavuot is that it’s like Rosh Hashana, as was explained at our Shabbat table by a guest, opening my mind to a completely new perspective on  the Festival of White.

Shavuot makes sense as the Festival of Tikkun. We have Tikkun Leil Shavuot, as we learn Torah all night. With Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth fighting for his life, Shavuot cannot be just about cheesecake.

We are all praying. Every friend I tell the story to is shocked into praying. And as I pray there are many, many questions with no answers. Life isn’t simple. When we are taught the Torah in our good Jewish day schools, it is taught simply, forgetting to relate what it must have been to actually leave Egypt, to enter a desert with nothing more than faith in Moses and God as their steady companion. They saw plenty of death, destruction and hardship, and somehow they carried on.

Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson of Matan Torah. The giving of the law to a very human, imperfect people who were ‘stiff necked’ with a national hobby of complaining. Why? Because they needed it, they had enough faith to see their need for law and order and faith in one God, and what can be created from it – a utopian society of justice, loving kindness and peace, a healed world – Tikkun Olam. Has it been achieved? Not quite.

Have I achieved this utopian vision of Matan Torah in my own home? No. Not even in my own soul.

This is the tikkun of Shavuot. The audacious challenge to refine ourselves, to rid ourselves of our blemishes. Our ego, jealousy, gossiping, slander, unkindness, evil eyes, dogmatic judgements that disunite our souls, families and communities. To live the Torah authentically we have to adorn white, pure clothes. Get rid of assumptions of what a Jew is, what Torah is and really look at what it is to be an accepting human being first and foremost that creates more smiles in a day than frowns.

No one said it’s easy. Life is clearly not easy. Blessing and living a joyous, appreciative life is harder than the stiff necked, complaining variety. It takes banishing cynicism, as Rachel Fraenkel says, and believing in the greater good of people, no matter what shape or form they may take.

For me it takes the form of being kind at home to my family. Biting my tongue as my son empties his dinner plate half on to the floor as he misses the bin, as another son eats all the peaches in one sitting, or the other drops our stray, adopted, Jerusalem kitten onto the floor. It’s hard work and I don’t always win. Real life is in the nitty gritty small acts of patience and kindness.

Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth is a real boy, a very good mate of my son, who liked a good sleep over with pizza, a soccer game on TV, liked to argue about what boys like to argue about and then make up the way boys do with a friendly punch on the shoulder. When we left Johannesburg and moved to Israel it was hard to say goodbye to our friends. It’s even harder now when tragedy strikes. But we are a people of the Book and we by definition believe in and live by miracles.

May we all pray together for the speedy miraculous recovery and healing of Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth, and in his merit may we don white clothes internally and externally this Chag HaShavuot as we face the innate fragility of life which we all share.

Today commemorates the day Jerusalem was reunified in 1967. It’s a wonderful day of pilgrimage to the Old City and Western Wall, of Jews and people from all over Israel and the world. For me it’s a day of gratitude for living in Jerusalem. For being able to march through Mamilla and through Jaffa gate, power walking into the Jewish quarter to join the Mizrachi walking group tour, with confidence and a sense of I live in this city. It feels wonderful not to be a stranger. To know exactly where to get the best coffee in a one kilometer circumference of where ever I am. But Jerusalem’s not only my home, it’s home to every Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrim that gather from far and wide. For some reason Jerusalem is a magnet that attracts people, as it attracted me, and despite the excellent coffee, the captivation defies rational.

Yes Jerusalem is a beautiful city, of weathered old stones, which have been recycled from century to century as each capturing army reuse and recreate the city of David and Solomon. But it’s also expensive, hence people joke, that’s why it’s called the city of Gold. It’s a city of extremes, of very poor Haredim and Arabs, and the very rich Chutznikim, who’ve raised the house prices so that real estate here is also at a gold premium. It’s a city littered with refuse that make the German tourists gawk, and a city where every one is trying to get the best deal, and not be made a fool of (like the rest of Israel). It’s a city where shopping for food is a journey, especially if one chooses to go to Machane Yehuda (which isn’t much cheaper than the local supermarket by the way), where wages are lower than Tel Aviv, and parking requires a science degree.

Yet everyone I speak to who lives here (unless they’re cynical Olim) love it here. They wouldn’t live anywhere else. Not if you paid them. And when you ask why? They say because it’s Yerushalayim. It’s the dream of one taxi driver’s grandmother from Kurdistan, who walked here on foot in the early fifties. You don’t throw away dreams.

The question I’m left with as I’m privileged to live in the city of dreams, is what is the next stage of the dream? The answer is obvious as I walked through the Old City, through the Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters. Where everyone was at peace, or as peaceful as the narrow streets of bazaars can be, more concerned with selling their colorful Armenian ceramics, fragrant spices and religious icons, than politics. It genuinely felt like the whole city was celebrating reunification. Which may sound naive (especially as security was high). But dreams are built on naiveté. Cynicism didn’t reunite Jerusalem. And the real dream is the world dream of peace in our times, in our streets, in our city, between different faiths, cultures and people. And the city that it is literally happening in is this city. Jerusalem is truly the City of Peace, in opposition to many people’s projected perceptions of discontent and strife (which of course it can also be).

Peace is a utopian vision worth believing in and investing in despite extreme elements which would have you think otherwise. Beginning in our hearts first, our homes, our streets and our cities. Jerusalem is the symbol of this peace, between all people, all religions, all cultures. And you can see it in the Ulpan classes at Hebrew University where there are North Koreans, French and Italian priests, Spanish Latin teachers, Arab speech therapists, Jewish Olim and Chinese and Japanese biblical students study Hebrew together, and that was just in my class. Where the streets are multicultural and multilingual. Where everyone is free to walk in their religious vestments unharried. This is the gift of the Jews to the world. This is the gift of Jerusalem. A haven of peace in the Middle East. And peace isn’t rational. It’s a dream, and day by day we live it, and have security forces protecting it, and today we are celebrating it with full joyous gratitude to the Creator of all people, faiths and cities. As my Japanese friend who’s a Christian Priest profoundly stated, ‘When there is peace in Jerusalem, there will be peace in the whole world.’

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Jerusalem Day is Remembrance Day for Ethiopians – Marching through the Old City to the Western Wall.

I’ve been washing black ash from my children’s hair. Lag Baomer was two days this week and Jerusalem took full advantage. The real day was pushed off so that people wouldn’t prepare their bonfires on Shabbat, so Sunday night was officially Lag Baomer and you couldn’t miss it. Thick smoke filled the air with a blazing bonfire on every corner, raising the already hot evening temperatures. It was definitely a night to walk around with Burnshield in my handbag.

Of course being Australian it is unimaginable that so many unsupervised bon fires are allowed outside every park, parking lot and all across the winding bike path that leads to the First Train Station. As parents we sent our children to their youth group bonfires with a prayer on our lips and dire warnings against playing with fire. But we had to let them go, we couldn’t prevent them from their night of charred potatoes, burnt sausages and roasting marshmallows until two in the morning.

This is where you enthusiastically exclaim, ‘Only in Israel.’

It’s not that no one cares about safety. It’s just that everyone is given space, including the children to learn on their own and build their fire safety muscles independently. They’re not scared of working hard, getting down and dirty and learning new skills. There is no whitewashed reality here. From the crooked shelves of supermarkets which could be more sterile and fluorescent to the green play grounds which have signs that announce the law that children under six must be accompanied by an adult. Which astoundingly means that children six and above can play at the park unaccompanied.

Undoubtedly this is a country that fosters independence. Where children learn about bus schedules and have their own Rav Kav bus cards from a young age. Where ‘not knowing’ is no excuse.

As the bonfires smoulder into ash piles throughout the city, I’m reminded what makes Israel special; its chutzpah, its Do It attitude, that gets people setting up folding tables piled high with drinks and BBQ food on the Jerusalem sidewalks on Lag BaOmer night. Laughing and singing into the wee hours of the night around their improvised bundles of burning wood, ignoring any fire engines that drive past. And miraculously I don’t hear any whining sirens that smoky, hot night.

Here’s a video my son sent from his group. It’s way too long. Watch the first two seconds so you have an idea what a lovely, heated, balagan it was. (And so that you can see that I am really not exaggerating.)

 

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Memorial at my son’s Gan – Kindergarten

Where do all the tears go? Is what I ask myself as I stand in the beating sun at the Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day ceremony for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror at my children’s primary school. It is a commemoration run by the school children. Together they present and tell the stories of fallen soldiers, call everyone to silence for the siren at 11:00 am, raise the flag, blow the trumpets and march with flags in preparation for Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. Parents, children and old people from the area stand and sit together in commemoration of those who fell in battle, who were murdered by terrorists, who were at the front line for us to live as we do in Israel today.

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Grade 6 Leading the Memorial Ceremony

Freedom and independence comes at a price, as the principal of the school reminded us this morning.

Watching the future generation pay solemn tribute to the broad shoulders that they stand on is a very moving event, and the tears couldn’t stop falling. All the mothers wept behind their big sun glasses. (Just like last year which was my first experience of Yom Hazikaron.) No mother wants her son to go to the army. No mother wants their child to know of such evil in the world, of senseless killings of the innocent which we have to defend ourselves from. And yet we take our children to the ceremonies, they run the ceremonies, they know of their inheritance.

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Grade 3 – Flag Ceremony

The Jewish story is a story about process. Just as it was with Pesach, which we finished celebrating a couple of weeks ago, where we left Egypt to become a free people, and yet it took us forty years of wandering to reach the Promised Land, so too today with our modern Jewish story. We are a nation in process, and our modern commemoration and celebrations days reflect this.

Yom HaShoah was last week where the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust were mourned. It’s in their merit that we have a Jewish country of our own today as the founders of Israel and all who invested their lives in it declared, ‘Never Again!’

Today on this Memorial Day the flag of Israel is at half mast. We are mourning 23,544 fallen IDF soldiers and terror victims since the establishment of the State of Israel. Each with their own story, their own family, their own mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters, who are now privately mourning their loss. And they are not alone, as all of Israel has gone quiet today. Licking its wounds, trying to salve the nation’s bleeding, sad soul.

Already as the afternoon progresses and the sun begins its steady descent into nightfall, the flags have risen again. Everyone’s spirits are roused as the celebrations begin, and the switch from intense sadness to equally intense joy begins. The dissonance is hard to bare. Both bring forth tears.

The only way I can explain Yom Haatzmaut and it’s ecstatic happiness in the shadow of the deep loss of Yom Hazikaron is that they are about the same thing. Those who died, sacrificed their lives for us to live in peace and security. Not to celebrate our country, our nation and our children on this day, is to say they died in vain. We need to celebrate, be it through prayerful songs of gratitude to God with the special Yom Haatzmaut minyanim that take place throughout the country, or through getting together with family and friends and barbecuing, which is the national custom of the day.

Unity, gratitude, and happiness are the biggest acts of gratitude that we can undertake for our dead. We dance and sing on Yom Haatzmaut not despite the sadness but because of it. Because we appreciate the great sacrifice that establishing this country has taken. And we all know that living here and investing in our country as Jews we are making sure that the tears for the 6 million and the 22,544 are not shed in vain.

Chag Yom Haatzmaut Sameach!

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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.

Today Jerusalem is still sleeping at 8:00 am. This is because the clocks have gone forward an hour, which means we’ve all lost an hour of sleep, unless of course you have the luxury of sleeping in. This may not be the only reason Jerusalemites are lying in bed listening to the birds’ morning chitter chatter, welcoming the Spring blooms. Last week Friday was the Jerusalem Marathon, this week has been the music festival, Sounds of the Old City. Last week we ran the 10 km, last night we rocked with the best of Israel’s musicians. It’s no wonder the streets are silent this morning, besides for the random bark of a passing dog.

For New Yorkers, Jerusalem is a quiet city. For someone come from Sydney and Johannesburg especially, Jerusalem is well and truly happening. There is nothing like these big events that get your adrenaline pumping and running or dancing with all sorts of people that you wouldn’t normally see. And that’s the connection between these two big events. People gathering to celebrate Jerusalem.

When you run a Jerusalem marathon, and I dream of one day running the full thing, (although that may just remain a pipe dream at this stage) you are running for something more than a run. I think any marathon run, or yes even 10 km group run, has a special energy of people joining together in common purpose and goal. It’s not competitive unless you want to come first, and there’s a camaraderie that enlarges the heart and keeps your legs pumping, even when they want to stop. Running in Jerusalem takes on a special significance as you sweep past the monuments of Israel, the Knesset, the streets in town and power down Jaffa. When you reach the hill ascending into the Old City, the blaring music that adds that extra beat to your feet gives you wings as you hit the cobbled stones, which are a runner’s nightmare, but you don’t mind because you’re running history. Something my great grandparents never would have imagined possible.

It’s a run that proves that dreams are possible. Not only because it’s in Jerusalem, but because so many are running for charitable causes. They announce themselves with big, colourful signs, matching shirts and the scampering teenagers who run back and forth to each other. Many of these runners are pushing wheel chairs, with disabled want to be runners, up the precipitous inclines. Complete strangers share the load with them cheerfully pushing up, up and up. This is an event that everyone should come to. Either to run in, or sit on the sidelines at a stylish cafe on Emek or in Town to cheer the runners on.

Speaking of dreams, walking through the Old City to the rhythm of different bands from all parts of the world is a dreamlike experience. It was on all week, and we went for the last night not really knowing what to expect, walking from the entrance where old Israeli songs about Tiberius and Haifa were crooned the high stage overlooking the lit up Old City walls, to creative installations of interactive musical instruments, flags of material you could press for an electrical musical note, floor piano keys you could walk on or, if you wanted a fun tune, dance on. Wall drums out of glass bottles, kiddie drums, saucepans hung high on the wall, making me think what a pity I didn’t bring the kids. This was quickly forgotten as we came to the Mizrachi music, where the crowds were swinging their hips to Iraqi music I grew up with. I wondered if everyone grew up with it and were reliving memories of records turning round and round in the 80’s living room. The melodic blast from the past continued into the Rova square. Where there was a Chassidic band playing lively chassidic niggunim, with dancing, circling whirls of people in front of them. It was a like a big farbrengan bash from Flood street, only this time in Jerusalem, with all types of Jews and not just black hats.

That for me is the best part of these events, the coming together of all different Jews, from all different backgrounds. You just had to dance at the ‘thunderous’ (as the programme described it) headphone music party to see this. A headphone music party is where everyone boogies to music on headphones. And boy was it a party in the narrow Old City alley. It’s quite a scene of people listening separately to their music and yet hopping around exuberantly, at times singing the words out loud together into the silence. Soldiers in olive fatigues, black hatters, girls in tight pants, boys with necklaces and that new hair cut, shaven on the sides and a tuft of hair in the middle. You could even hear Arabic in the mix of Hebrew singing, It didn’t matter who you were, this was the party to be at. How I loved that thunderous silence.

And maybe that’s what Jerusalem is in many ways, a thunderous silence, of so many people all together doing many different things. Each to their own rhythm and beat. You can’t always see or hear it, but when we’re all brought together for a common cause outside of ourselves, a run, a music festival, Jerusalemites can forget their differences and just enjoy being! It’s really there it just depends what you choose to see and more over listen to.

It’s been a very joyous month of Adar in Jerusalem. This week the streets have been filled with clowns, soccer fans, fairies, super heroes, ferocious tigers and cuddly crocodiles. Outrageous hats, face paint and glitter are the norm. This is the national holiday of joy, and Israelis need no encouragement to be happy and party. The streets feel light with a continuous song in the air welcoming this month that is the harbinger of happiness. It’s swept away the bitter cold grip of winter with a shining, warm sun, literally and figuratively. There is nothing like happiness and joy to break barriers as absolute strangers find themselves smiling at each other and sharing their childrens’ costumes on their phones.

Purim is not one day here; it’s an entire week at the schools of street parades, carnivals, dress up parties and Purim markets. It’s the festival of children, and as my son’s kindergarten teacher said, ‘We are all children on Purim.’ And she walks the talk, dressed up as a fire woman and parading down Emek Refaim with her gaggle of nursery school kids, dressed up in their masks and princess dresses, skipping and singing along. They greeted and sang to everyone they meet, from the blind man’s Labrador, to the local grocery shop (where they march through the aisles), to the relaxed couples sipping their cappuccino’s on Emek, to the Pizza shop, where they ordered their lunch, and then went on, as a final stop, to the Saba of the Gan’s home ( his teacher’s father)to sing and dress up with him. The children had the best Purim parade, with no music, no accompanying school, which they usually have and no balloons or police, as they had last year. They simply were happy and made everyone else happy as only three and four year olds can.

And that’s what this month has been about, being simply happy. Yes, there is a whole story of Purim, which is why we are happy. The Jews were saved from annihilation. Jewish survival is a fabulous reason to celebrate. However there’s more than that to the injunction to be happy. Simple joy is a concept we struggle with as we go along our daily lives, which has its hard moments, like sick kids vomiting in the night. (For those who have not yet been plagued, there is a horrid stomach bug going around Jerusalem.) I’m learning that I need to get beyond my preoccupation with what I think is important; assignments, essays, work dead lines, fancy Shabbat meals, burnt dinners, picture perfect homes and clean walls (that four year olds have not penned their master pieces on.)

I look at the happy Jerusalemites around me. I know that many are struggling to pay the bills, exhausted as they balance their numerous jobs, their children, or are looking for that special someone and are lonely. Everyone has their sad story, and that story has been put on pause this month, as we are all swept up in the energy of being happy because this is the time to be happy. Because this is what we choose to be, as we wish everyone a Happy Purim.

In a way I wish Jerusalem could always be this way. Simply happy. Able to forget its horror stories, and ghosts of winter and embrace happiness, joy, connection and giving which the month of Adar brings. The harsh edge of city living, as everyone vies for space would permanently disappear and we could all smile at each other and in that moment be happy as we connect on that basic human level. Realizing that at the end of the day that’s all that really matters. As three and four year olds already know and understand, and the rest of us have simply forgotten, and need the month of Adar to remind us. Happiness is a state of being, a choice, indeed the road worth taking.

This seems to me the reason why the Rabbis teach that “Yom Kippur is a day like Purim”, a day approximating Purim, because it’s not the fasting and sacrifices that God ultimately wants, as Isaiah (Chapter 1) candidly points out, rather it’s our smiles, joy and connection in our everyday lives with ourselves and each other, which naturally leads to social justice and enduring happiness and peace. No one says it’s easy, sometimes the best things are the hardest, but it’s definitely something to aim for, one smile at a time, beyond this happy month into many happy, happy months.

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.