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.

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.

IMG_1264

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.

IMG_1268

IMG_1269

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.

IMG_1279

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.