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He was always alone. This man with the long black beard, which looked glued on to his face, his white nose protruding from it. His dark eyes which hid under his black Chassidic hat. He wore a black suit and every time, until yesterday, he was by himself.

The first time I saw him he was sitting by himself at a small round table outside a coffee shop on Emek Refaim eating Shakshuka. Already then although, I hadn’t seen him walking slowly on Shabbat, unaccompanied down my street, he looked a little lost, like lonely people do, when they know they really shouldn’t be alone, don’t want to be alone and yet that’s the way they are.

“It is not good for Man to be alone,” God pronounced at the very beginning.
Even Noah’s animals were brought into the ark in pairs. However in Jerusalem the lonely walk around, as if stepping out of the Beatle’s song. ‘All the lonely people where do they all belong?’ the answer, in Jerusalem.

Every time I see this man walking the streets of the German Colony, in his steady slow stride, his head a bit bent down towards the sidewalk, no one at his arm, I feel a bit lonely too. All the lonely people who come to Jerusalem; the singles, the ones with Messiah complexes, the at ‘loose ends’ people with no strings pulling them anywhere besides this old city on a mountain. ‘God’s holy city,’ they would say. Every person therefore belongs here as the children of God.

I’ve even met lonely Arabs who search, like Hussein, a very friendly philosophical man whom I met at a Parsha class, who thinks to himself, ‘Is not the God of the Koran the same God of Abraham, the God of all other peoples? Why must their be antagonism?’ he asks himself as he explores the Jerusalem Jewish learning circuit to learn more about Judaism, the ‘other’ in his midst.

If they could just meet, Hussein and this man with the long black beard, and eat Shakshuka together.

Yesterday the man with the long, dark beard wore a long black winter coat, and he walked with someone else, an older man, in a smart grey suit, with a white, greying beard of wisdom. His companion of redemption from his seeming loneliness. As they walked I heard the the dark bearded man speak for the first time, in perfect English, outlining his learning hours for the day. As they passed me by I heard of at least two learning hours. Why was he explaining his time? For a prospective shidduch? A job?

Or perhaps not. The desolate, forlorn, sore of heart come to Jerusalem looking for healing. Young and old. Jerusalem could be described as the loneliest city in the world. In this loneliness you are forced to look at the empty spaces under your ribs, in your hearts, as you see the empty spaces in others. The redeeming quality of empty space is that in that echoing silence, the sound of God can finally be heard. That quiet voice invited in by sheer, desperate loneliness, where you realise in that moment that no matter what, you’re not alone.

Today I saw the dark bearded man again, walking by on the familiar streets of the German Colony, his shoulders slightly stooped, walking carefully step by step in his black sneakers. He still had his long, black, winter jacket on. Alone again. Perhaps the shidduch didn’t work out, perhaps he actually has a wife and five children. But to me he will always be the loneliest man in Jerusalem.

I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with Hebrew. More than struggling I think I may even be a bit dyslexic in this right to left language. And I’m luckier than most in that my parents are Israeli, although they spoke to us in English. I also have had twelve years in the Jewish school system where they supposedly taught Modern Hebrew, and yet I struggle to understand the radio, read a Hebrew newspaper or speak basic Hebrew on the streets.

The language barrier is, I think, the hardest part of integrating into Israel. ‘You don’t have to know Hebrew in Jerusalem’, I’m told. And that’s part of the problem. Everyone knows English and are more than happy to speak to me in English, rather than have to endure my broken Hebrew which more often than not insults their gender and takes them back and forth in time like a epileptic time machine.

The French and Russians have it easier. They have to learn Hebrew, otherwise they won’t get anywhere. So they learn far quicker on a steeper learning curve. We’ve explained this to our children, who can’t understand why the French Olim are learning Hebrew so much faster than them. It also helps that French has female and male constructs, which English doesn’t have.

It’s a humbling experience learning a new language. Every word learnt and moreover remembered is like a diamond. I collect little diamonds, with such tricks as trying to learn five new words a day, looking like a lost soul as I walk down the streets of Jerusalem with my scrap of paper and new words, repeating them over and over again until they sink in.

I have a renewed respect for immigrants. Broken English is now brave, not stupid. I think back to all the Russians who came into my class in Sydney, not knowing English and how they endured social isolation and confusion, until they mastered it. I think to my children now and how they’re having a similar experience. I hope they learn kindness and compassion as they learn first hand what it is to be an immigrant.

Of course there’s Ulpan. My husband and I chose the Ulpan at Hebrew University. For us it’s been a great decision, as it’s an academic environment that’s refined the art of teaching Hebrew with excellent teachers. (I think all Hebrew lessons should be modelled on their methods. Take note Jewish Day Schools!) As we learn the basics of Hebrew grammar, I wonder at the fact I know English let alone Hebrew. Grammar is tediously logical. A Hebrew word is like a Chinese acrobat that can twist and turn into a thousand different words and meanings.

As I write my essays, read articles and practice speaking, finally learning to take care of the gender and tense, I see bit by bit that the language is coming. Slowly, painfully slowly and with many mistakes and funny incidents, such as ordering a ‘parcel’ instead of an omelette for breakfast. And being told that I can’t have a ‘Chatich’ of pizza, which I though was the correct word for ‘slice’; And the guys behind the counter said that they’re ‘the chatichim’, slang for cuties.
Red faced encounters is my style of learning. Deep crimson blushes ensure that I don’t repeat the same mistake twice. I find the more I try, the more I learn. Israelis are more than forgiving as I blunder along. One of the best pieces of advice was given to me by my Brazilian friend in class. He chastised me for translating everything in my head into the Queen’s English. ‘You’ll only learn if you think in Hebrew,’ he said. And so I’m thinking a lot, in my broken, pigeon Hebrew.

Everyone knows that the Middle East is a region of extremes so I know that I shouldn’t be surprised that today is a beautiful sunny day that makes one think of beaches on the coast of France.The sun is a gift after the days of broken umbrellas that colourfully dotted the grey streets of Jerusalem. Cheapie 18 shekel umbrellas were no match for the fierce, stormy winds that were meant to bring the snow that never came. So along with broken umbrellas it was a week of broken hopes.

All of Jerusalem was ready to officially shut down on Tuesday with the promise of a white morning. Parents, like ourselves, were more lax with bedtime on Monday night, knowing that with a white morning came a cuddly, duvet morning with no school. I bought cheese cake ingredients and made sure I had amply stocked up on milk for hot chocolates. I also overstocked on bread and butter, veggies and all the necessities just in case the snow morning became a locked in snow storm that shut the shops and electricity down as was the case a few years ago. A good friend who suffered PTSD from that last snow storm, kindly warned me on the Monday to get everything ready for Shabbat. Just in case.

Well you know with grand expectations come popped balloons. Tuesday morning arrived with icy, Siberian temperatures and not a drop of white anything to be seen. Just a grey drizzle. What do you do with shattered dreams – you keep going. The kids, objecting loudly, were driven to school (a ‘no snow day’ treat) and I went to yoga. Where in the middle we saw the rain intermingled with soft, flakes of snow that teasingly said, ‘We are here, but we’re not here to stay.’

It’s obvious that snow for Joburgers who make Aliyah is beyond exciting. I didn’t realise that Israelis from all over Israel also come to Jerusalem to experience a white wonderland. I met a lovely young couple from Beer Sheva at yoga who came just for that reason. Unfortunately Jerusalem hospitality disappointed that day with only a few flakes to show for itself.

Apparently you can’t sue the weather report for getting it so astoundingly wrong. God is in charge, as Jerusalem has that knacky way of reminding us. It was fun to obsess about the weather rather than terrorist attacks, which have begun invading my dreams. The attacks are where the real brokenness lies. We are heart broken as the dream of peace within ourselves and our neighbours is shattered daily with vicious attacks of words and terrorist stabbings. Broken people breaking lives because of their broken values and beliefs.

I can’t think about it too much without being overwhelmed by a bitterness and negativity that I don’t want in my life. So I try and focus on wholeness. I made the ‘for the snow’ cheese cake for my family. Trying to create love and wholeness in myself and my home, one cup of tea and cake at a time, served with love and kind words. Stepping forward into today’s sunnier day, which promises hope despite the brokenness of the world around us.

Two weeks ago my seven-year-old son went to sleep in tears. Oh no, I thought, he’s heard about the fatal terrorist attack at Jaffa Gate that took place earlier that day. Anxiously I asked him, ‘What’s wrong?’ He was scared to walk to school, he said. A kid had been hit by a car outside his school. Oh that’s all, I was relieved, a kid’s broken leg we could deal with. We spoke about how God is watching over him and whatever happens He is with him, guiding and protecting him. If anything is going to happen, it’s going to happen anywhere. Any place. Any time.

I didn’t discuss with him the recent spout of hideous attacks. What of Rabbi Reuben Birmajer and Ofer Ben Ari who wee murdered at Jaffa Gate? What of the two young men slain on Dizengoff St this past weekend? Where was God then? This is where faith steps in and flings a comforting arm over reason’s sobbing shoulder and says, ‘Life must go on, because the alternative is unthinkable.’

On the macro level, the news is unwatchable. On the micro level, my Oleh troubles seem insignificant by comparison. However they are BIG in my life. You see what comes under pressure when you make Aliyah, is your most important relationships. Stress does that. Suddenly your husband who is your best friend becomes your best enemy, as together you try to navigate your children, maintain a household, and be productive.

Any issues you had before are now big, fat warts oozing green pus. You can’t ignore them as much as you’d love to cover your head with a warm duvet and hibernate until everyone has sorted themselves out.

So what to do? Two Words – GET HELP.

I’ve heard a big mistake Olim make is getting help too late in the day. The cost of this can be your Aliyah. There’s too much at stake when you immigrate to Israel, too many hopes, dreams, lives, for it all to collapse because you didn’t seek the help you need. This is not the time to be stubbornly independent and insist you can keep it together all by yourself.

Organisations such as Telfed, specialise in helping Olim through their adjustment period. They provide social worker support and can recommend different options that can aid a family financially, emotionally and socially. We’ve accessed their PRAS program, and they’ve sent us a young university student who comes three hours a week to hang out with our eldest son. Together they play Hebrew Scrabble, eat microwave popcorn and sometimes mosey off to Burger Bar.

It’s important to approach experts for advice and for diagnosis. Moving country is no joke and there is a period of adjustment difficulty which the whole family experiences. We found a fantastic child expert who assessed all of our children, and was a brilliant diagnostician on how best to help them moving forward. She provided a holistic game plan for each child, from group art therapy to private ulpan, homework teachers and a mentor for the eldest (thank you PRAS).

Of course none of this was given on a platter. We had to access all of this. Find the therapists, Ulpan teachers and experts. Apply for the PRAS student. Move beyond our comfort zone and say we need help with Hebrew homework, can you help, do you know anyone who can? Most people are more than happy to help new Olim. They still can’t understand why you’ve come, so it’s more than their pleasure to help this mysterious breed of idealists.

The Aliyah road is not a simple road to walk. We’ve been journeying for about six months leaving a long, messy trail of lost yarmulkes, jerseys, tempers and tears. Around us knives and bullets are flying. But we know as we keep walking one day at a time, that the show must go on.

I have a photo of my husband and boys kitted out in snorkelling gear. They look like they are having the time of their life on a yellow sandy beach, with a beautiful blue sea behind them. I have to laugh here because you would never guess that they were on the crappiest snorkelling beach in Eilat. We had no idea being Eilat newbies that there are much prettier, more accessible and child friendly snorkelling spots by the Red Sea than the one we chose. (The hotel recommended it.) This picture made me think about pictures and the actual experience behind the picture. Picture perfect is not life perfect.

There is no such thing as perfect, besides the Rasberry Cronut at Kadosh (a must go to for the best French pastries in Jerusalem) We can make things perfect in our mind; the perfect Eilat holiday – ice skating, socialising with a lovely Jerusalem crowd, mingling with dolphins, decadent omelettes at The Dan’s massive buffet breakfast. Forgetting the hilarious falls on the ice, searching for a simple, kosher cafe on the promenade (there aren’t enough), kids fighting (as per usual), broken dreidels, missing children (and found again), a dangerous snorkelling situation, windy weather, twelve hour drive back (don’t even ask).

The Ying and Yang of life is that there will be the pleasant and the not so pleasant. The cigarette smoke from a neighbouring table that ruins your perfect coffee. That’s life.

Aliyah is no different. The weather in Jerusalem has turned. It’s ice skating cold on the street. Chanuka is over but the bakeries are mercifully still churning out their gourmet suvganyot. Roladin’s Irish Bailey donut is a must. The sugar highs make up for daily lows.

What are the downers? The language difference is a major downer. Bureaucratic procedures, figuring out how I ordered myself a credit card without realising it and getting daily calls from Bank Leumi to activate it. School emails, class messages, all which requires concentration and time, which are things that are becoming increasingly rare and pricey commodities in my life. It’s much simpler to wash the dishes, than speak my immigrant, pigeon Hebrew.

Having no one to hold your hand is hard, because there is no one to hold your hand, and meanwhile having to hold the hands of your spouse and children is difficult. It means continually smiling and having victory dances over the children’s daily small conquests. (An idea of a friend of mine which I’ve adopted and I’ve implemented – it really works at raising morale.)

Creating a community. The Jerusalem community is one of the best in the world. Yet people complain that there is no community here. Which funnily enough is also true. You need to create your own community here. Find people you like and invite them for a coffee, a Shabbat meal and begin your friendship. It takes time, it takes effort.

I’d love to be able to project the Facebook perfect image of Aliyah. But I can’t pretend ‘perfect’ anything. However behind the effort and work is the satisfaction of learning a language, making friends and building a new life. Everyone says Aliyah is hard. Everyone knows it. It’s another thing to do it. To accept that there’s no such thing as perfect, and that’s okay.photo

Jerusalem is the City of Love. I know the renowned city of love was attacked last week. Paris, the city of bridges with masses of golden and silver locks that declare undying, unbreakable love. Love in Jerusalem is of a different kind. To experience it you need to stroll along its grey paved streets on a Friday morning, through the German Colony, downtown and Machane Yehuda to see the couples ambling along hand in hand perhaps with a buggy, or a dog on a leash. They fill my favourite coffee shops so that I can’t get a table. Young, middle aged, and older couples sit chatting over their Israeli omelettes dotted with parsley. There’s a feeling that everyone has all the time in the world and the ticking clock beckoning the Shabbat candles is muffled under a steaming almond croissant.

Friday morning, I’ve realised, is the reason Israel will never have a Sunday. Friday is Sunday. Yes the argument that Shabbat is a reality, and Friday is spent preparing for it, is true. Even if you don’t keep Shabbat you need to stock up. Most stores are closed on Shabbat especially in Jerusalem, and you can’t buy a loaf of fresh bread for the love of money. This means most couples are hauling around colourful plastic bags, of challah, chocolate krantz cake and hummus. Judging by the smell of chicken soup with kneidlach that wafts through the streets, most people have cooked and are free and easy to sit and enjoy the most romantic day of the week. You see the children aren’t so lucky, they have school. Which means an Israeli Friday morning beats the Diaspora’s Sunday soccer/ party schlepping morning (at least for parents), because it officially becomes ‘date’ morning as sacrosanct as the Shabbat.

I’ve learnt from my friends that nothing messes with their Friday ‘date’ morning. And there’s nothing that fills me with more joy than when I spy them hand in hand with their spouses on the way to their coffee destination. People work hard here, holding two to three jobs, whilst bringing up and servicing a bus load of children, laundering, cooking and cleaning. I’ve always wondered how they survived. Now I know.

Whoever you are Erev Shabbat is a day of connection. Chatting over a cappuccino, therapising over a piece of ricotta cheese cake. Whether you’re single catching up with a friend, or an elderly couple walking arm in arm, dressed to match in a rainbow of beige. There’s a relaxed happiness, that isn’t about what label handbag you own, but about the metaphor of wrinkled, sun spotted hands holding onto each other.

Perhaps it’s the ever present threat of a knife in ones back, a shrapnel sharp lesson that life isn’t forever so we may as well live for today. It makes Israelis walk and sit on their hard earned streets savouring their cappuccinos with their loved ones. They know what it is to grieve. Everyone knows someone whose husband was murdered in a terror attack, whose father was killed in a war, whose son or daughter fell in battle. All these ghosts and black shadows join the round table of cappuccinos reminding us to live, live, live. And life is about the living. It’s about dating our spouse on a Friday morning. Fetching our children from school and holding their hands tight because they are the gift of today. It’s about big family Friday nights that take place throughout Israel, because although God may be forgotten sometimes, family never is.

This was the weekend to forget the knives, the differences, the guns that stick out of ordinary people’s pants pockets. Open House Jerusalem is a weekend of prying and poking into peoples’ houses, lives, and even into cemeteries. It was the weekend of Jerusalemites and brave visitors exploring and owning Jerusalem’s streets on foot with colourful Open House brochures at hand.

Open House is an international initiative which takes place across over twenty cities worldwide. Alon Bin Nun, an architect and the curator of Open House Jerusalem, explains that it’s about opening up the city to its treasures of architectural design. What we usually experience is the urban surface of a city, but who doesn’t want to peek into other peoples’ homes and tour their city’s public spaces from the inside.

For Jerusalem especially, Alon emphasises, it’s about opening doors free of charge, so that the city is accessible to everyone. Usually the event attracts 50,000 visitors, 70% come from outside of Jerusalem. This year alot less were expected due to the current security threat.

But this wasn’t going to stop me and many others from adventuring into a weekend of exploring over one hundred Open House destinations.

Mount Zion Hotel
My first stop was the Mount Zion Hotel. I was lucky enough to be invited to tour with a group of foreign design journalists from Europe. If I hadn’t been invited I never would have thought to go on my own. I had no idea that the hotel is a stately, historic building that used to be an eye hospital.

I stood on its Presidential suite’s balcony where CNN likes to film its Jerusalem broadcasts. It was that perfect time of day, dusk, where the light plays with day and night, so that time stands still, and you forget the past, present and future. Looking onto the walls of the Old City and the sand stone houses around it. All so different and yet uniform. All so contentious and yet at that moment I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful place to be.

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Ticho House
The official opening event of Open House Jerusalem took place at the newly renovated Ticho House. It was a magical evening under softly lit olive trees, with live music and waiters waltzing through with trays laden with lovely little salad bowls, pargiot on butternut puree, hefty beef burgers, and an odd hors d’oeuvre of sashimi, which tasted like ginger jelly. But I wasn’t there for the food, I promise. I was there to be encouraged to face the challenges of daily life in Jerusalem. ‘Live as normal,’ Mayor Nir Barkat reminded us, despite the terror.

The exciting bit came next. Not dessert, parve dessert is never that captivating. But the tour of the Ticho house and museum. We had a lovely, knowledgable guide who walked us through the house passionately explaining the ins and outs of this one time residence of Dr Avraham Albert Ticho and his wife, the talented, well known artist, Anna Ticho.

Dr Ticho was a well regarded ophthalmologist and I had a particular interest in visiting his house because decades ago he treated my grandmother, who had a glass eye. One of the interesting facts I learnt on the tour was that Dr Ticho was knifed in the back during the 1929 Arab riots. He was badly injured, but survived. It’s not reassuring to consider that not much has changed in Jerusalem.

Anna Ticho’s story as an artist was beautifully told in a brilliant documentary which repeats itself on two parallel screens with images that interact. It brings Anna Ticho to life as a vivacious, passionate artist who dances on screen as if she was still alive and painting in her home.

The main emphasis of the tour was the house’s architecture. Our guide explained to us that any changes in the renovation to the original house were purposefully created with a modern look, so that the original house could be clearly seen. I kept looking for signs of the old house: they had one wall with the Ticho’s dark wooden bookcases and books, as well as the Doctor’s chanukiah collection which he was renowned for. I would have liked to see more of the Ticho’s domestic presence in the house.

What the architects had preserved well was the magnificent wooden staircase which gleamed in the middle of the building. It led upstairs to the most beautiful, fresco ceilings that the Tichos’ weren’t aware of in their time. Here will be the Ticho restaurant, which I hope opens soon. One of the reasons Anna Ticho left the house to the people of Israel was so that they could enjoy Apple Strudel and coffee, an idyllic escape from the every day hubbub of Jerusalem living.

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The City of David
The Jerusalem we see, according to Alon and many others, is the tip of the iceberg. There are worlds underneath the roads we drive on, the shops we shop in and the parking lots we park at. Literally. The City of David tour I did on Friday opened up this underground, archaeological world. An entire parking plot had been excavated. They found ruins, which included an entire intact mosaic Roman floor, Hellenist period remains, a treasure of gold coins, as well as a central water drainage tunnel from the Second Temple period. We ventured down into the narrow, musty, underground shaft where we could see the foundation stones of the Western Wall. It left me thinking that every Jerusalem parking lot needs to be dug up.

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The Greek Colony
Open House Jerusalem is a whole new experience on Shabbat. It’s a communal day where a kaleidoscope of people visit venues in their neighbourhood. I popped into the Open House locations  around the German and Greek Colonies where I live. I discovered a quaint house that I often pass, on 3 Rachel Emeinu street, that was once a Greek doctor’s, it’s now maintained by the Greek community. I also entered The Greek Community centre, which is ten steps from our apartment. There I met the Greek carer, Alex, who lives on the property and proudly spoke about the long Greek history in Jerusalem, which hailed from the days of Alexander the Great.

The Templar Cemetery
One of the events I was especially looking forward to was a tour of the Templar Cemetery on Emek Refaim. I’ve walked by it a thousand times and have always wanted to go in. I discovered that it wasn’t just a Templar cemetery but it’s also an international cemetery with many empty spots.

The best place for a good story is a cemetery. The story began with our guide, a messianic Jew who grew up speaking Yiddish in Bnei Brak. I was captivated by the story of Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s daughter Dola, who is buried in the same grave as her Christian husband, Max Whittman. Another inspiring story was about the German Reverend who helped Jews escape Germany on illegal boats to Israel, one of them being the infamous Exodus. Stories upon stories buried in a graveyard opposite one of my favourite cafe’s in Jerusalem. Coffee is never going to taste the same there again.

I could go on about the places I canvassed at Open House Jerusalem. Anyone who has participated has their stories. From meeting their spouse (two marriages have taken place thanks to Open House Jerusalem), learning something astounding about the city they love, to feeling a sense of togetherness in a city which is perceived and reported upon as a seat of frenzied conflict and strife. What Open House exhibits is a city of peace, the true meaning and prayer of Jerusalem.

Can I ignore the news? Can I pretend that all that matters is my little domestic bubble? Battling to get kids to school on time, with the added walk because we want to watch their backs. Taking hours to settle kids at night because anxiety levels have risen with recent events. Anxiety hangs in the Jerusalem air, as heavy as a humid, Tel Aviv night.

I needed a good escape, so my husband and I did just that. We booked a babysitter and made our way through the dark streets of Rechavia to a quaint, Italian restaurant, Al Dente. Our friends introduced us to this small, recluse restaurant gem. It’s not the kind of place you happen to pass. You have to find it. This suited us just fine. We weren’t looking to sit in a busy, public place. No tonight we were forgetting our troubles. We were going to ignore the fact that we were walking around looking over our shoulders like the other brave souls who walked the streets. We were going to forget all news and sorrow over a hearty bowl of pasta.

Usually we would have to book for Al Dente, but we knew that tonight we didn’t. With the current situation you could walk into any Jerusalem restaurant and get a table. That evening the restaurant was three quarters full, which was more than we expected. I guess we weren’t the only ones escaping into the comfort of creamy Alfredo sauce. We chose our table by the door, not too close to the front windows, and busied ourselves over the English menu. Most restaurants in Israel have English menus. I like to practice my Hebrew on a Hebrew menu, but then we often end up with surprising results. Tonight was a risk free night.

Our waitress that evening was more than helpful, explaining their different glasses of Israeli wine, something we are slowly getting the hang of. My husband ordered the merlot which was excellent. The food was a bit harder to choose. So many choices. We knew their fish was excellent. Sea bream in particular. We also knew we were definitely having a pasta and wanted a salad, and for sure dessert. There’s a lot to weigh up when you order a meal. How hungry you are? Do you want dessert? I’ve learnt that Israeli salads are massive, and should always be shared. These were important decisions to make, they could literally make or break an evening.

At Al Dente, I should have known I didn’t need to worry too much. The seasoned seared tuna salad we ordered was big enough for four people. It came with a generous portion of perfectly red, seared tuna on top of a mountain of green salad. It was delicious, but almost too healthy for me. I couldn’t wait for our main dish which we were sharing. The Proiarbo. A sauce of spinach, cashew cream and pine nuts with our choice of pasta, home made fettucinne. There is nothing better than home made pasta cooked al dente. And we literally licked the plate clean. The waitress didn’t have to ask us if we enjoyed our meal. Guiltily we surrendered our forks with the clean plate.

Proiarbo Fettuccine Pasta

And for a moment we sat back enjoying the pleasant ambiance of this quaint little hide away. The simple tables. The walls which display their latest artist exhibit – colourful photos from South America. which look so idealic and fun. I can understand why so many Israelis trek there searching for peace. But not too much thinking on our night out.

It was time for dessert, and I was thrilled that the Pear and Almond Cream Tart was available. The other times we had come it was sold out. It had to be good. A lovely tower of vanilla ice cream on a hot pear and almond tart on their signature blue and green clay dishes. My husband thought it was brilliant, and happily polished it off with his full fat cappuccino (Al Dente does not keep low fat milk. A restaurant after my own heart). I just as happily helped polish off the said dessert, but it wasn’t my favourite with its mix of hot and cold. I think I’m learning that I’m a chocolate person through and through. Nana tea was my choice aperitif drink. I love the fresh mint leaves even though it can be awkward as I end up swallowing them hole. There has to be a secret nana tea trick that I’m yet to learn.

We left that evening falling in love with Jerusalem all over again. It’s hard not to after such a fun, good meal. Even though it was still dark, even though we still looked over our shoulders on the way to the car. Jerusalem has its gems, and they’re there to be enjoyed come what may. Perhaps everyone can forget their differences, grievances and fears, over a steaming bowl of Al Dente pasta. We certainly did.

Al Dente – 50 Menachem Ussishkin St, Jerusalem. Phone – 02-625-1479, http://www.al-dente.co.il

The cafes of Jerusalem have fallen silent. The last clanging metal sounds of dismantling sukkahs have ceased. Sukkot is over and there is fear in people’s eyes as they stand waiting for their buses, as they walk in the streets. Those who brave the coffee shops at night aren’t smiling except for one couple who sit together, so much in love that they’re excused for living as if no one else exists. The joy of Sukkot has long disappeared with the beautiful pop up sukkahs that transformed the landscape of Jerusalem.

We all knew we were blessed this summer, despite the oppressive heat and the swirling dust storms. There was no war. The coffee shops were full with alive chatter and a joie de vivre that defied the streets of Paris for sheer fullness of life. A relatively peaceful summer in Israel, what is there not to enjoy?

Summer is over we now walk the streets looking over our shoulder. (They stab you in the back.) We walk our children to school not wanting them to walk alone. We don’t want to tell them the news of repeated terror attacks throughout Israel. We don’t want them to be scared.

The mayor of Jerusalem has told everyone to arm themselves with guns. We see them sticking out of jean pockets. The city has turned into a Wild West rodeo.

All I can think about is how sukkot began with such hope and peace. We went to Birkat Kohanim – the Priestly Blessing at the Kotel. Replaying the ingathering of the Jews. A colourful multitude of Jews on foot, walking together to the Temple. Together is the key word here. There were Jews from all over the world. Brash, loud American tourists, Jews from Ranaana who had recently made Aliyah from South Africa, Yemenite Jews with picnic baskets, families with toddlers, one toddler had a piece of paper with her name and number handwritten pinned to her back, Ethiopian families picnicking, young Moroccan couples in tight jeans and minis. What could have been a zoo of unruly people, was a pilgrimage of worshippers. There was utter decorum where I had feared a stampede of jostling people.

When the priests began their blessing it felt like a swirling, magical moment which touched our core. ‘May God bless you and protect you. May God shine His face upon you and be gracious to you. May God turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.’ It was a blessing for all of Israel, not just us who stood before them. We all felt it.

In front of me there were two wizened, old, sephardic women, covered in colourful scarves. They had their wrinkly, careworn hands on each others heads, like two smiling school girls, blessing each other.

Our strength is when we are together, blessing each other.

It is cold now in Jerusalem. I am feeling it in my bones. There is so much joy and happiness in our hearts that have been blown out by winds of terror. Tourism is down, all the tourists have run away, a friend who runs a tourist company tells me despondently.

‘What will be?’ My friend, a mother of five, asks me repeatedly. I’m also asking. We are all asking as we live day by day. Scared to open the news. Shaking every time we hear a siren. Praying for protection and blessing and peace for the people of Israel in the land of Israel.

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.