Archives for category: Uncategorized

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.

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.

IMG_4428

This month has been a month of boxes. Assembling, packing, and taping boxes. I could have used packers and half way through packing up our rental apartment I wished that I had, but there’s something about knowing what you have, sorting through stuff, and most of all throwing out miscellaneous debris. Whilst physically I’ve been confronted with cardboard boxes, mentally as well I’ve had to look at my mental boxes. My preconceptions, my prejudices and assumptions about the ‘other’ which is cartoned in my mind.

One particular box was about the Haredi world. A world I didn’t often enter or really think about. Stepping into the black hatted world which seems so austere, harsh and separate wasn’t was never for me. The most interaction I had was schlepping my son to his orthodontist in Geulah, who has a beard as long as Santa Claus and a sefer by his orthodontic equipment which he dips into between patients. He also has a Chicago accent, a kind, welcoming smile and a great sense of humour when it comes to my son’s bitter complaint’s about his braces. Not so black and white.

A few weeks ago we had a Haredi wedding to attend in Bnei Brak. I truly love the family who invited us (black hats and all) so we were going. I just had to figure out how to go in the most respectful manner. I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable or make anyone scandalised by uncovered elbows or painted toes. So I donned a headscarf that covered every wisp of my hair. I made sure to wear stockings despite the thirty five degree Middle Eastern inferno, and I wore a soft blue dress and cardigan that covered my elbows, knees and neck. I prayed that it was an appropriate colour.

When we arrived, it was hard to figure out which wedding was the right wedding. The Bnei Brak street was a virtual shuk of chuppahs and flower girls. We finally found the right building. Two weddings were being held there. Ours was on the upper floors. I separated from my husband as I mounted the stairs to the women’s separate entrance to the wedding hall. I arrived with bated breath, not quite sure who I would know, and not quite sure who would rag me for my Haredi wannabe outfit. I was pleasantly surprised when I was greeted with warm, beaming smiles from the family members of the groom.

As a wandering Jewess I’m a consummate stranger. I know what it is to be the ‘odd one out’ and I’ve learnt from a very early age to be okay with it. But a welcoming smile to the stranger can’t be underestimated. It brings a warmth that spreads from ones toes to the tips of ones hair. I immediately relaxed and felt the tremendous nuptial joy. Over burekas and hummus I got to know the Haredi women who were the groom’s family’s community. They were warm and friendly beleaguering all my preconceptions.

We all huddled around one of the tables, because everyone wanted to sit with the groom’s mother. Happily I ate roast chicken and rice off my lap, as I was introduced to the various scarfed and shaiteled women around the table. One was a doctor who worked in a hospital, another was the widow of one of the men murdered in the Har Nof massacre. This was all whispered in my ears during the meal. I learnt that evening that you can’t judge a shaitel or scarf by its appearance.

I never expected to talk to one of the widows of the Har Nof massacre. But as we were both not dancing (I couldn’t afford for my scarf that was precariously tied to fall off) and were standing side by side she struck up a conversation, and we ended up chatting about the difficulty of immigration and how it takes up to five to ten years to settle. How does a woman who has enduring endured such shocking tragedy, smile and engage in small talk?

I pondered the thought that happiness and joy have nothing to do with what we have, and nor how life treats us. These people didn’t have much in terms of physical possessions, and everyone in that room held their life story and tears hidden in their hearts.

It was not a wedding of silver dishes and fancy flowers. It’s the first wedding I’ve been to that served Yerushalayim kugel, and had a water cooler in the corner with plastic cups. Nonetheless, the bride’s shining face beamed with an energy and happiness that I felt would see her through the reality of marriage. It was a wedding with happy, joyous people dancing in rapturous Hassidic circles (the Bride’s side was Hassidic), who bussed from near and far to celebrate with the bride and groom and their families. It was simple, and in that simplicity was the richness of friendship and love, that can’t be bought or fabricated from a bridal magazine.

I left that night with my preconceived ideas of what it is to be Haredi shattered. I still don’t know or understand that world. But at least I now am an empty vessel when it comes to how I see them. When I see a black hat or shaitel walking down the street, I now think to myself, ‘I don’t know who you are.’ Which is far better than judging and closing my mind off to their humanity.

This new month will be a month of unpacking my boxes. The cartons of prejudice, the prisons of my mind. And whilst I don’t like everybody or everything that is done in the name of religion, I can love everybody for being created in the image of God (as Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali, one of the murdered three boys, says.) And I can celebrate the openness and magnitude of the human spirit which is found in all of us across all groups, one opened box at a time.

Like life, Jerusalem is full of surprises. Walking down the street with my four year old, on the way to Gan, I breathe in the tantalising aroma of Belgian waffles and American pancakes with maple syrup. On the way back just by our home I’m arrested by the scent of Halva and a minute later with Jo Malone Plum Blossom heady in the Summer morning air. It’s these daily idiosyncrasies that make living in Jerusalem one year later worth it.

A year later – our Hebrew is A LOT better. To the extent that we enjoyed, and moreover participated in an Israeli, Hebrew speaking, Shavuot lunch, without too much brain freeze.

It’s a misnomer to believe that you don’t have to work for a new language. It’s a commitment learning to speak and live a new language. More often than not I feel thick as a brick, as my tongue trips over the grammar and I speak of how yoga ‘kills’, instead of ‘cleanses’, as I mix up letters and words in a wonderfully dyslexic way.

A year later – I’m learning what it is to be an Israeli.

Firstly I have to be honest with myself and admit that I will never be one, but my children will and are becoming Israeli before my eyes. (They’re beginning to roll their r’s with guttural Middle Eastern ease – ‘I want a rrreally big trrruck’.)

To be an Israeli is to love life, be direct, not beat around any bushes waiting for Lady Luck to visit but rather to make life happen; such as ensuring space for their family Yom Haatzmaut BBQ by camping out all night with mattresses on the grass, plastic tables and chairs all set up (I kid you not.) I love the way Israelis celebrate birthdays with colourful, helium balloons, festive birthday signs and large, bountiful bouquets of red roses; loudly singing Happy Birthday every time anyone pops around to their two table party at the neighbourhood deli.

You don’t have to walk far to experience joy on the thoroughfares of Jerusalem. There are street festivals every week, from the Light Festival in the Old City to the Summer, sports evenings, every Wednesday on Emek Refaim. With children doing yoga on purple mats held down with rocks outside a French Pattiserie, and a woman salsaing for hours to trendy, beaty, Israeli music in front of a wine store. Whilst we live we may as well enjoy, is the ambience emanating from the brimming sidewalks, cafes and restaurants.

A year later we’ve experienced a full year of Jewish Festivals in Israel.

It’s a tremendous feeling to experience all the Chagim in Israel as national holidays. On Pesach all the Jewish petrol stations are full of matzot and kosher for Pesach snacks. On Shavuot everyone wears white and for weeks beforehand discuss their cheesecake recipes. The streets are tranquil and mellow, as stylish (or not so stylish, anything goes in Israeli fashion) pedestrians make their way to prayers, meals and Shavuot night classes. At 4 am, enacting the pilgrimage of old, thousands afoot, ascend to the Western wall for early morning prayers. It’s such a dramatic difference to outside of Israel where I was always part of a minority group walking to synagogue in our festive best, whilst everyone else drove to work.

The ups and downs of the year have been as constant as our heartbeats. Up and down, down and up.

A year later I’ve learnt that we, as Jews and Israelis, cry together.

I have never felt what it is to be a Jew with a national identity as intensely as I did on Yom HaShoah and even more so on Yom HaZikaron. These are days of national mourning that model what Tisha Bav should feel like. I have never felt sadder, experiencing a grief and solemnity which I was unprepared for. It was an emotional dust storm that sunk into our pores. I joined all the mothers and fathers who stood at their children’s Yom Hazikaron ceremony in the burning heat, tears pouring down our faces (hidden behind big sunglasses) as the future stood commemorating the past, waving blue and white flags of our present. And we all knew and felt, Olim and native Israelis alike, what a national cost we have paid for this land. And we tried as best as we could to banish the thought of these children in their summer sandals and white school shirts, one day wearing green.

A year later – I love Jerusalem and I love how much I still need to learn and experience her streets, stone abodes and hidden corners. I love Israelis (ignoring the ones I don’t love so much), with their open hearts and quirky humour. I love my fellow Olim, whether they’ve been here a year or many years, who understand what it is to crack your teeth open on Hebrew grammar, and find your feet in the ever shifting Jerusalem desert sands.

And as romantic and fairy taleish as I’d like to make our Aliyah I also have to be nakedly honest.

One year later the children still want to (if given the choice) return back to South Africa. I give them another year or two to settle. Life was beautiful in Johannesburg. Easy, comfortable without their mother losing her ice cubes over spilt soft drinks (which are now officially banned from our Jerusalem abode, as is popcorn). They could shout outside in the garden, banging their chests like the wild, cave men they can be, without neighbours sticking their heads out of their windows, shouting, ‘Qiuet!’. Most of all they miss their family and friends….

Nothing can prepare anyone for what immigration is, a ripping of your heart from the soil of your birth and replanting it in a foreign land, which no matter how Jewish, does not always feel like home.

So one year later – We’re still settling. We’ve grown as a family. We have a deeper appreciation of life, that living in Israel inevitably teaches. The children are buying hot, cheese burekas on their way to school for lunch (does anything else matter? They do all agree, despite their complaints, the food in Israel is heavenly.) I’m far more reliant on God than I’ve ever been before as I navigate the newness of every Jerusalem day, from the bureaucracy of applying for an Aliyah ID (that I lost), to what number meat I should buy to make biltong.

One year later I’m still breathing in the Jerusalem air, with it’s surprising smells and one year memories. Wondering with disbelief at the fact that we are blessed to be living our Jewish ideals and dreams a year on from when our journey, with it’s two steps forward and one step back, began.

IMG_3933

Stocking Up For the Second Year

Every city has its sounds, rhythms and pace that you either get used to or don’t. Jerusalem’s hullabaloo is radically different from the highway traffic of Johannesburg, or the fresh sea breezes of Sydney. Sounds don’t lie. Jerusalem is the orchestra pit of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Every imposing, ornately grand building is a Church with chiming bells that punctuates a yoga class. Their deep tone ringing in and out of the city’s sounds, a reverberating reminder for the Christian devotees to pray.

Then you have the thunderous, passionate cry of the Muezzin, five times a day, from the heights of the minaret, echoing through the sandstone dwellings, calling to Muslim worshippers. It wakes me up in the dark, sonorant in the quiet night, joined only by the yowling of feral street cats. And as I toss and turn, trying to get back to sleep, I wonder if it’s true what I heard, that the loud cry at night is a recording and the Muezzin is cosy in his bed with ear plugs.

And then as I have trouble falling back to sleep I question, ‘What are the uniquely Jewish sounds in Jerusalem?’ In Elul and on Rosh Hashanah we have the vigorous blowing of the Shofar that wakes us up from our slumber of unconsciousness. But day to day, week to week, besides the Shabbat siren that alarms us to the entrance of the Sabbath Queen, there doesn’t seem to be any particularly religious sounds.

So I begin to listen hard for the Jewish Jerusalem sounds, and this is what I hear, sirens. Yes, sirens, every bit as sonorous and urgent as the clanging bells and the Muezzin’s euphonious calls. Sirens that make us all sit up, grab our phones and check what the latest news update is. Sirens that make me examine my life and pray to God that every one is safe, and thank God that I am too. The longer the sirens last the more deeply we go into prayer, the more we look one to another for reassurance, for kindness, for togetherness. And as the latest news updates load onto our cellphones our hearts tear in a way that the deepest Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur can’t achieve. We were all praying for it to be the sirens of a woman being taken to give birth, don’t let it be a terror attack.

My friend described to me how she was driving when the bus this week blew up in Talpiot. She saw the black smoke circling to the sky like sacrificial smoke. The korbanot of a people returning to their homeland. The sirens rebounding through the television screens of horrified onlookers. The memory of past intifadas being resurrected, and their ghosts reappearing and remourned.

We are at the doorsteps of the festival of Passover, where God passed over our door posts in Egypt to free us and take us to Israel. Then we were slaves, today we have a choice as to whether we are slaves or not. Slaves to hate, slaves to violence, or free to choose peace, love and belief in today. We are tottering at our doorposts, fighting the feelings of despair as we wonder how we can have peace when there’s a clear intention to destroy. How do you gather in the peaceful of all faiths so that we can dwell in peace?

I shared with a good and wise friend my theory that the Jewish sound of Jerusalem is sirens. She begged to differ, and said that when she’s in Jerusalem what she hears is the cacophony of building. And so I listened again, and whilst I still hear sirens I have to agree with her that the sounds of drilling, banging, and jack hammering are everywhere. On every street, in every yoga class that is the sound. A very Jewish sound, the sound of building.

It’s the most optimistic, true sound of Jerusalem and all of Israel. That out of the ashes we can still build. That my grandparents who were displaced from Baghdad, arriving in Pardes Channah in the early 50’s with one suitcase between their family of seven, could build a successful life from the tin shanty town that they were dumped in. Such building, on the foundations of forgiveness, with the faith of today for a better tomorrow, is the sound I was brought up with. These truly are the sounds of Jerusalem that drown out the sirens if I stand still, take a deep breathe and listen.

Kish Kush Balabush – “What are these words,” I wondered when my three year old son came home from Gan randomly singing these words to himself. These are words that Spell-check simply can’t accept. It sounds like an Israeli Boogie Man, and as such it became a joke between us. I would call him Kush Kush Balabush, and we would laugh and laugh, and he would insist, ‘No, I’m not Kish Kush Balabush.’

I thought to ask my Ulpan teacher if she’d heard of these strange, primitive words, that sound like they should be chanted around a black cauldron. ‘Yes, of course,’ she explained. ‘They describe a drawing that’s a scribble.’ Suddenly it was all clear. Despite the fact I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a deeper meaning to these magical words, which we had so much fun with, I understood a messy, careless drawing has a name, a really fun name in Hebrew, Kish Kush Balabush.

Whilst these words surely belong in a children’s book, the more I think of it the more I think how marvelous it is to have a word for an off the wall squiggle by littlies on a page. It gives dignity to the jottings and doodlings that make no sense. A bit like life. Life that I feel should be so clearly defined, fairy tale like, with a beginning, middle and a very happy end, and yet is often not that way. It’s the ups and downs of every day. The scrawling mess of mistakes, meetings, happenings, feelings that constitute a day, fill our hours and leave me at least wondering ‘What was that all about?’ Now I have a word for it – it’s a Kish Kush Balabush day. Recognising it as such somehow makes it okay.

The creative scribblings of nursery school is how children learn to draw. Without the scribbles they won’t reach that delightful moment, when they realise that the circle they have drawn and those dots and lines in the middle, constitute a face. I’ll never forget the gleeful joy of my three year old when he was doodling at home on lots and lots of white paper, making lots and lots of interesting ‘somethings!?!’ when he realised he had made a face. He shouted with joy and then proceeded to make hundreds of faces. They were adorable, happy, innocent faces. It took a lot of Kish Kush Balabash to get there.

As a grown up I pride myself on not producing Kish Kush Balabushim. But the truth is that they’re there. I hide them, in too much chocolate, in coffee (lots of it), in bad moods, in wanting to just stay in bed another twenty minutes. But perhaps I should take more pride in the Kish Kush Balabush of my life. Our lives aren’t often about clearly defined goals and an ambitious singular drive, rather our days dance in many circles, a lot of which are really really ‘interesting’ with many ‘bright and beautiful’ colours – as all Kish Kush Balabush works of art are.

Bringing up kids is this way. Making Aliyah is this way. Life is this way, even for the most clear, goal orientated CEO. And the days I allow myself to go along with the Kish Kush Balabush, enjoying the capering, twirls and colours, are the days that emerge into beautiful smiley faces that I can clearly see and enjoy. So long live Kish Kush Balabush.

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.