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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,

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.


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.


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.


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.

The big fat word, which I’m a teeny bit terrified of, ‘SCHOOL’ loomed closer and closer as September first drew near. School is bad enough in your mother tongue. How were my boys going to cope with school in Hebrew?

The school we chose in Jerusalem is called Mekor Chaim, it was established by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a Rabbi whose books I love to read and I admire. When we visited it in December the warmth of the school was heard in shouting, laughing, running children in the hallways. The staff were lovely and warm. Of course when choosing a school it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect school, just as there is no such thing as a perfect kid.

The day before school began a get together at the school was organised for new Olim. I received a message about it in French on my Olim Mekor Chaim chat group. Luckily the school also sent out an email in the three universal languages of Hebrew, English and French. With curious hearts we arrived to hear only French spoken. There were at least fifteen new French families who had made Aliyah. Rather than feeling threatened and left out as Anglos tend to feel, I felt nothing but admiration for these families who have left France and chosen to come to Jerusalem. They bring good fashion, good food and the language of romance to the streets of Jerusalem, all of which I love.

The afternoon was run in Hebrew, translated in French and then translated into English just for our little South African crew. (An American family actually appeared towards the end of the event. So we aren’t the only new Anglo family.) The children were told how special it is that they’ve made Aliyah. They were also told that their main job at school is to make friends and learn Hebrew. Super – as the French would say.

They also gave the children a present. A meaningful, creative present. Drawing boards where they wrote on small rectangular note paper what they wanted to wish themselves for the year, and then stuck onto the board, which we then decorated as a family. We came out of the event with a beautiful family board with all our heartfelt dreams and wishes for the year. We came out glad that we chose Mekor Chaim. Glad that we’d come early enough in the summer for the children to make friends at camp so that they were walking into the unknown with friends.

When I woke my seven year old the next day he jumped out of bed with a hoot, ’Yay school.’ It boded well for the day which in South Africa was a bouncing Spring day, and for us marked the beginning of Autumn. Arriving at school bright and early as you only do on that optimistic first day. Fresh in their new school shirts (There is no proper uniform in Israel. The only requirement is a plain T-shirt with the school logo printed on.). To our surprise the children found their classrooms and friends and shooed us away. Dazed we left. This was it the adventure of school in Israel had begun. All of Jerusalem seemed to be reverberating that morning with the celebration of children returning to school. The beginning of new potential for a new year.

Next we had to take our three year old to Gan, which is kindergarden in Israel. They were easing them in slowly with a couple of hours for the day. Luckily our little one had already gone to summer camp at the Gan so he knew his teacher and some of the children. He eventually let us go…

Care free hours pass too quickly. I fetched a happy child and we walked with some really lovely mums to play at a nearby park. I was swiftly introduced to the University of Mothers. This was a new experience for me. Hanging out with mothers after Gan finishes. It never existed in South Africa, where after nursery school ended we all returned to our respective homes, the most we got was chatting in the car park at pickup. Here in Jerusalem, the university of mothers took place at the park. As the children played and ate ice lollies, we hucked about Aliyah, not speaking proper Hebrew, and the best places to buy kids pyjamas.

It felt organic and wonderful being together as women, living parallel lives and sharing important information, like best cake recipes, weight goals and where you’d have plastic surgery one day.… (That’s right mommy discussions are the same world over.) This is the way to be a mom and raise children, at the park. (And fathers just so you know there were fathers at the park. And in the late afternoons there are MANY fathers hanging out at the park.) I won’t have it every day in Israel, because my children are bigger and the afternoons are like a never ending ferris wheel. But it made me realise why Israel is such a happy society, with happy children. It has many many parks!

‘Have you had a breakdown yet?’ I was asked on Shabbat. ‘Of course I have,’ I answered. ‘Many, many mini breakdowns.’ Notably the woman who asked me is a social worker. She runs an infertility counselling centre and has nine children, which includes a set of triplets. This is a woman who knows about breakdowns. And yet she smiles and has a wicked sense of humour. An inspiration to everyone who has breakdowns. Especially Aliyah breakdowns.

So what is an Aliyah breakdown?

It can be so many things.

It’s opening a carton of yoghurt, expecting creamy, plain yoghurt and feeling devastated after the first salty, leben bite. In context this is after many, many attempts at buying full cream, plain yoghurt. You wouldn’t think it was rocket science to buy a normal carton of yoghurt, but it is.

It’s banging a gate in frustration after walking with heavy grocery bags from the shops, realising that I’ve locked myself out of our home.

It’s shouting more than I would, fighting more than I would. We are all more on edge. More ratty than normal, especially at the end of the day.

It’s failed driving tests (My husbands not mine. I haven’t had the guts to try yet).

Burnt chicken wings, a cup of pink lemonade spilt over the table onto the chair and floors. A frustrating sticky mess.

Of course the breakdowns could be because of the scorching sun that cooks my eggplant that I put on my patio table to dry out.

It’s ignoring mail that’s piling up, school Hebrew doesn’t prepare you for bureaucratic correspondence.

It’s slinking out of a trial Ulpan class, as I realise that my Hebrew grammar is from upside down land and I’m going to have to build my Hebrew foundation from scratch.

It’s not automatically reading in Hebrew the way I do in English. (The reason for the yoghurt fiasco, the diet pineapple ice lollies that I thought were mango, the cookies that I thought were parve but were milchik, that I gave as a Shabbat gift for a meat lunch. We all wondered why they were so delicious.)

It’s everything that goes wrong in normal life but it’s taken much more personally. It highlights my humanness and vulnerability. It shows me that we are all fallible as much as I’d like to pretend to myself that I’m not.

The truth is that breakdowns are happening all around me. I am not alone. Jerusalem is grappling with her own shadows. Every shop on Emek Refaim bears the sign ‘׳ירושלים אומרת לא! לֹאלימות ‘Jerusalem says, “NO! to violence”’.


When terrible things happen we all pause. We forget about yoghurt and leben and diet pineapple ice lollies. We reconsider who we are, what values we have, what we teach our children.

As we break down we grow up.

Of course with Aliyah we break down just a bit more often than usual as every day brings something new.

‘There is only one rule about Aliyah,’ my sister in law’s very good friend announces to me over coffee. Eager to follow any rule that will guarantee our Aliyah success I am all ears. ‘Don’t speak badly about Israel.’ Come again? She kindly elaborates, ‘Whatever you project onto Israel is what you get in return. If you complain about Israelis and find fault with everything, that’s what you’ll get. On the other hand if you’re positive, even if you fake it, only good will come to you.’ Good rule, I thought to myself. After all the lesson is well learnt from the twelve spies who projected a negative story about the land of Israel which led to the Israelites wandering for forty years in the desert, not meriting to enter the land at all.

So I’m not going to complain about the inferno of heat that Jerusalem is experiencing at the moment. I’m not going to mention how walking outside is like being squeezed in a cheese toaster. The cool Jerusalem nights are no more and my husband ran out to by fans, late at night, with the rest of the Jerusalemites who realised the heat was not going to go away. This is the August, Middle Eastern heat that we were warned about before we came. But we’re not going to mention it.

What I will chat about is the wonderful camps available for children in the summer here. The first month of us arriving we sent our boys to Liga Camp, a dynamic sports camp, where they met many children their age who will be in the same school as them. Next on our camp program was the government sponsored Ulpan camp where they were going to learn Hebrew. They arrived ready for anything but the reality, which was that almost all of the Olim were from France. There were a couple of Russians, one American family and two brothers from South Korea, but the lessons were mainly in Hebrew and French with a smattering of English. The children all spoke French amongst each other. We thought school’s going to be tough enough; let’s find them something else.

French is the new English here. In fact I’m on a chat group for the new Olim at our boys’ school which is all in French. A great opportunity to improve my very limited French, I know.

I feel somehow that I’m living history here. The French Aliyah is made up of real people, and the proof is the wonderful patisseries that are available all around Jerusalem. One is right around the corner from where we live. It’s called Ness and is a definite go-to stop for all pastry lovers. They have the most delicious almond, chocolate croissants I’ve ever tasted. And for those watching their waist lines (as I should probably be) they come in mini, truly French, sizes too. Their soft, creamy custard brioche is a must and goes very well with their excellent cappuccinos. They also sell the most delicious parve cakes and cookies for Shabbat. I highly recommend the chocolate mousse cake and chocolate truffles as well as their decadently delicious milky tarts and cakes. It’s not cheap but everything is simply delicious. In this weather it’s a treat to sit in their air-conditioned cafe, where there is normal, healthy food, but I wouldn’t bother with it when there’s so many sweet treats to eat. A small croissant, a cafe hafuch for fourteen shekels is a cheap treat by any standards. And yes it’s a great place to improve your French, as the waiters and patrons are mostly French.


The conclusion with the camps, for those interested, is that we’ve sent our older boys to Hackers Camp, which is a science, computer camp, where they do activities such as make indestructible eggs that they throw from two stories up, (and it worked my boys came home with eggs intact so they could have omelettes for supper) and they go on excursions like visiting Google in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile my seven year old, who is too young for Hackers, is a Madrich – counsellor of five year olds at his friend’s home camp.

I would add another rule to my friends ‘be positive’ rule about Israel. Nothing is what you expect in Israel, so just relax and eat excellent pastries.


Ness Cafe (with Ness Patisserie next door) 42 Emek Refaim, Jerusalem

There’s something about searching in Israel. It sometimes feels like everyone is searching for something; meaning, the next fun thing, a good piece of music, a friend, a spouse, the best cup of coffee. Whilst I’m amongst those searching for the best cappuccino and pastry, I know I’m searching for more as well.

My first chag (festival) that I’m experiencing in Jerusalem surrounds the saddest days of the Jewish calendar; the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of Av, where the two Temples were destroyed. The coffee shops and restaurants were still full in these subdued days, but things were a tad different.

My Filipino cleaner asks me if it’s okay to do the laundry. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, I think to myself. How does she know that doing laundry is one of the prohibitions of the nine days? The meat restaurants have signs advertising their fish specials over this period, as meat is another no no. There are no impromptu orchestras on Emek Refaim, like there was when we arrived, because there is no celebratory, live music at this sombre time.

Yet whilst I know it’s a sad period where Jewish energy is at an all time low, I don’t find tears around me. At this time, especially, there is a sense of celebration that we have a State of Israel. We are at a unique period of Jewish history, where we have a country, a home, a place where we can plant a vineyard in our garden, and observe the laws of Shemitta. We have free Jewish national autonomy, the like of which we haven’t experienced in at least 2,000 years, and arguably even longer since the times of King Solomon, where after his demise the nation split into two kingdoms. Israel was never the same united autonomous kingdom since then; until now.

True, today we don’t have a Temple and we don’t have proper access to the Temple mount. I’m not into politics, or intelligent conversations about politics, because they go in headachy circles, and nothing changes anyway. What I am into is a book that’s become a best seller in Israel called, ‘Catch the Jew’ by Tuvia Tenenbom. Tuvia disguised as Toby the German, travels through Israel with his fluent Hebrew, German and Arabic, interviewing the far left and right, Palestinians and Europeans who have become involved in the Palestinian conflict. It’s written humorously, honestly and subversively. And the reality he uncovers is as sobering as Tisha B’Av

When I finished, I shut the book and cried. At the end of it I felt the long and deep journey of the Jewish people. Through tragic destructions and exiles of the First and Second Temple until now. We are a nation of refugees and immigrants who have risen from our dusty suitcases to build a country which we can be proud of and enjoy a good cup of coffee in. And yet there is still anti semitism, persecution, and insidious internal and external threats.

With this in mind we went to the Kotel on the night of Tisha B’Av. (Notably there is a free shuttle from Jerusalem’s First Station parking lot. It takes people to and from the Kotel every twenty minutes. For more information go to ). We walked up to the Kotel with all the Jews of different colours, languages and stripes. Our gathering together was a tribute to what is now. A beautiful rainbow of Jews from black and white Charedim and Chasidim to blue haired girls and tight pants. Lamenting what was, and by being there, celebrating who we are today.

I joined the mass of prayer and began the evening service. In the middle I was interrupted in Hebrew by a woman in pants and no head covering who wanted to know where I bought my dress. I indicated to her that I needed to finish my Amidah prayer. She patiently waited and said, ‘Amen’ to my blessings. When I finished I happily told her where I bought my dress on sale. And she proceeded to bless me, and asked me if I was married, which I affirmed. She proceeded to tell me the importance of family purity and how it would bring blessing to me and my family. She asked me where I was from. I told her I had just made Aliyah, to which she blessed me more, and said, ‘You are in the right place. Geulah, redemption will come here.’ Amen and Amen. The blessings of Israel are in the mouths of every Jew.

Being in Jerusalem for the Ninth of Av is a celebration of everything we mourn. That we are alive, well and kicking to a vibrant Jewish heart beat. The shops were all closed as we walked home that evening. Jerusalem was quietly alive because the daughter of Zion had returned home.


The important thing about Aliyah is to take it day by day. The day by day mantra is in some ways a survival mechanism. In some ways it’s the best way to live any time, wherever you are. It’s a gentle reminder that time is the great healer. That foul moods (at all the never ending piles of laundry, and dishes, and counters to wipe, socks to pick up, clothes to fold, clothes to dry, clothes to put out, dry clothes to take, need I go on…) also pass like the sticky heat of the day into the cooling air of the night, where you can breathe and reflect. Every day brings something new.

Jerusalem after a month has become day by day. The day by day of normal, everyday living of anywhere in the world. Getting the children ready for camp, fetching them from camp. Preparing supper. Getting ready for the next day. The day by dayness with which life runs, without which, a house becomes infested with cockroaches, clothes are grubby and children are lost under all their dirty socks. The day by dayness which holds us, without us knowing. Where we continually create order in a world of chaos and disorder.

Of course the day by dayness in Jerusalem can easily become special. It’s going to see the Godfather on the big screen at the outdoor Sultan’s pool accompanied by the Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra. The modern American story of guys and guns sharply contrasted by the ancient amphitheater. Enjoying the spine tingling, cinematic ratatata of gun shots that echo into the Jerusalem night alongside thousands of appreciative Israelis and tourists.

It’s about trying new gastronomic delights like stuffed artichokes with mince, ceviche and Kubbeh soup. Israel is very much about the food and finding new places to eat. Like the charming Bread & More, a bakery, deli, coffee shop on 35 Emek Refaim. Its owner is a young girl, Sharon, who runs the shop with her interior designer mother, Irit. Together they’ve collected the choicest cakes, cheeses and breads from all over Jerusalem. It’s the go to place for chocolate truffles, walnut and sour dough bread and decadent cakes such as the Kinder Bueno cake I bought for Shabbat. A cake to live and love another day for. And their Cappuccinos are amongst the best I’ve tried yet in Jerusalem. The kind of cafe I love having down the road, one that welcomes my boys with their rambunctious mess as chamudim (cuties) and where you can sit with the owner and have a good chat about Israel, what it means to live here and bring up children here.


Bread & More


Irit and Sharon

Irit and Sharon

And then there’s the taxi driver conversations. Yes those legendary Jerusalem taxi drivers who are the philosophers of Jerusalem. At first I thought the one I had the other day on the way back from town was a hidden tzaddik. He said, ‘Life is hard here.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘The politics. There is no love. Everyone hates everyone else. The religious won’t speak to the secular. The Arabs hate the Jews. To me every person is a person whether they are Jewish, Arab or Christian. It’s against the religion of the world to hate any person.’ My kind of guy. Until of course he had to continue, spitting his words out vehemently, ‘We don’t have peace because of the Right, because of the settlers. They’re crazy people. They’re ruining everything.’ So much for loving and accepting everyone. But it was an alive moment, which reminded me why I’ve come.

Day by day is about knowing that it’s what I make of it. Whether it’s a day in bed with tonsillitis or a day out and about walking the narrow streets of Jerusalem, where artists can be dotted along its paths trying to capture a corner of its sand stone character. One day at a time.

Preparing for Shabbat in Jerusalem is very different to Johannesburg. Friends here have kept emphasising which supermarkets to go to. I didn’t understand why. Now I do. There’s no one stop shop that sells everything you need. At least I haven’t found it, yet.

I thought Machane Yehuda Shuk would be my one stop shop. To buy the freshest fish in Jerusalem, the best vegetables and fruit and ready made salads. Optimist that I am I leave an hour to go to the Shuk, and do a quick, whirlwind run through. I buy my hummus, eggplant salads, chilli and even Hilbah – a fenugreek salad. I learn from Moshe, the man at the deli stall that you can taste the olives, grape vine rolls and apricots before you buy them.

Pity I didn’t know this before I bought all my fresh produce. You can’t shop as if you were plucking plastic packaged vegetables and fruit from Woolworths refrigerated shelves. Here it’s hit and miss; the mangoes were tasteless, the apples floury, the coriander went off the next day. I’m realising that this is a land you leap into but slowly get to know the important things, like where to buy the sweetest watermelon (if you know where, please tell me.)

I bumbled along, buying the wrong fish for my Shabbat lunch. I needed a firmer white fish for cooking my fish rice. What is the Hebrew equivalent of Rock cod and Hake? Further the fillets I asked for came un-skinned. That evening, standing and skinning my fillets one by one, I paid for my oversight. Nonetheless the fish rice was made. At least there was lunch.

In Jerusalem the chaotic heat of preparation disappears as the afternoon sun dims and the cool Jerusalem evening winds begin to blow. The shops shut, which feels peaceful and right. This is from a person who gets depressed on Christmas and public holidays when the whirring noise of daily life stops. But Shabbat in Jerusalem feels right. Quiet. The streets empty out and you feel the hush that Shabbat is coming. Connect the urn, put on the hot tray. There is no more you can do, but light the Shabbat candles and be ready to welcome the Shabbat angels.

We had guests this past Shabbat. Old friends and new friends whom we had just met. They all had boys for ours to play with. It ended up being a soccer playing lunch. It was a happy, social balagan in our small home over the miraculous fish rice, Moshe’s deli salads and contributed salads (in Israel everyone contributes to meals). South African friends of our kids, on holiday, popped in to join us for iced coffee and cake. Then our neighbour from upstairs who had moved in a week before, introduced himself with his five year old son. Playing Jewish geography we discover that we know his Uncle in Law, as his wife’s father is from South Africa. It was a happy party of Jews from all over the world – Sydney, London, New York, Johannesburg and of course Jerusalem.

The kids were happy, we were happy and felt tremendously blessed to have a Jerusalem Shabbat.

There is no way to describe being here for the last two weeks. I keep having to shake my head, waking myself up to the fact that I am not on holiday, that I am in Jerusalem forever. Jerusalem is now my home.

The highlight so far has been meeting a part of the anglo community. Our good friends organised a seudah shlishit, third Shabbat meal at a park, where immigrants like us from England, Australia, America and of course South Africa congregated over fresh watermelon, macaroni and cheese, and lots of salads on picnic mats (that are very popular here especially around Yom Haatzmaut I’m told). There were too many faces and names to remember properly, but everyone was really lovely and welcoming. It’s a wonderful community here (who bring meals and cakes upon cakes to complete strangers)  which means alot, being new and knowing practically nobody here.

I woke up this morning understanding why the Torah repeats over 36 times the importance of welcoming the stranger in our midst. There is nothing as alienating as coming to a new place, without the language and context. It’s like walking around without shoes on ice. Nobody knows who you are, nobody necessarily cares about who you are either. Nobody is waiting for you. And the less expectations you have from those around you the better.

Of course I knew all this before I came. Two weeks in it’s sunk in, not only am I a stranger, but my children are too, and they also have to deal with the trauma of being the ‘new’ kid on the block. As an adult you have the skills to create your own life. As a kid you’re still developing those skills. So my heart bleeds tears as one of my children is side lined by one of his ‘new’ friends randomly.

It’s falling down to earth hard with socially scraped knees. We’ve come with good intentions and yet there are hard days. Hard moments, where I need to swallow and say ‘C’est La Vie’, life inevitably has its ups and downs. The moment where my Hebrew is so bad, the woman at the restaurant says, ‘Just speak English, okay.’ Of shouting at the children not to step on the freshly laundered pile of clothes. Of going to bed with my feet aching from walking, washing up, cleaning, general wear and tear of a day spent with four busy boys on holiday until they start camp.

Then there’s the surreal good moments, of simply walking and freely breathing in the purple bougainvillaea that grows wild on the streets of Katamon. Spontaneously going to Tel Aviv and staying over night to join in the White Night festival, where there are bands and orchestras playing throughout the city streets. Sitting with the children and close friends in Old Jaffa, under the soft lantern light listening to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody dancing off the sandstone walls of the ancient Biblical port. Walking through streets that don’t sleep, cafes that don’t close, life that doesn’t end, but clings tenaciously to every moment in search of, if not a great song on the streets of Tel Aviv, then a wonderful story on the streets of Jerusalem.

I only have my story here so far, of trying to find my feet, my street, my song. I’ll start with going to yoga tomorrow at the railway station at 7am.



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