‘I love how you make things normal,’ my sister-in-law informed me the other day on the phone. Was it a broad, euphemistic hint for me to stop whinging and whining? Being that I love my sister-in-law I apologised for my latest rant. To which she replied, ‘No you make what I feel normal. When I’m having a bad day I think to myself, ‘Sarah felt that and so what I’m experiencing is normal.’

I couldn’t have been happier. This is my mission as a writer – to mirror experiences, feelings and stories and normalise life as much as I can in a world that is full of contradictions, hidden truths and tears.

Whinging, whining and complaining about the ups and downs of Aliyah is normal. Once you move to Israel the romantic, white mesh, zionist curtain is rudely drawn back to reveal real life with all its daily travails, big and small.

Two and a half years in we’re dancing in the naked truth of being immigrants, and that is, living in Israel is wonderful and, close your eyes if you don’t want to read this, terrible. Terribly challenging that is to say. And I’m reaching the conclusion that perhaps you can’t have one without the other.

Being an immigrant is by definition challenging. The older you are the harder it is. And moving with a family is complicated. Each person is now an immigrant and dealing with the difficulty of being new.

You would think after two and a half year that we would cease being new. But things are always new and that can be exhausting. Once you’ve conquered the process of a high school application you move on to the next trial, such as figuring out a child’s developmental assessment form, again, in Hebrew. The learning loop is perpetual. It frays and flays your nerves over time.

Hebrew is the hardest aspect of Aliyah, besides the laundry. You don’t ‘pick’ up Hebrew like a common cold or a stray kitten off a Jerusalem alley. You work hard at it. The children go to school and learn it eventually. But it takes them longer to master it than ‘by Chanukah’ as everyone promises. It may take a couple of Chanukahs for them to ‘pick up’ fluent, school level Hebrew. The older they are the harder it is.

There’s no escaping that learning a new language is difficult. Only through sheer perseverance and actively breaking your teeth on Hebrew verbs will you learn to communicate in Hebrew. Sure you can get around big Israeli cities in English, but to keep up with school correspondence, school meetings with teachers who only speak Hebrew, and to have deeper relationships with Israelis, you need Hebrew. It’s worth breaking every tooth in your mouth for it, but it takes time, effort and most of all self kindness.

Be kind, be kind, be kind. This is what I say to myself and my family. But not often enough. The low grade stress of dealing with the new every day taxes relationships. I think the moment you get off your Aliyah flight you should be handed a comprehensive list of emergency help numbers. One of the first contacts should be someone who can help translate your bills so that you don’t end up paying double fines. (It’s too easy to ignore bills in Hebrew.) The second set of contacts should be a comprehensive list of therapists to consult when the stress accumulates in your marriage, with your kids and teens. Any issues that existed before you make Aliyah multiplies and have babies. There is no such thing as a perfect family. My husband and I have had more tiffs in the last two years than the rest of our marriage combined, and I’m not the only Oleh to say so. Aliyah tests the gravelly grit of your relationships as nothing else can.

Prevention is the best cure. It’s better to nip any issues that crop up at the very beginning of Aliyah, than ignore them away. The only problem is that when you make Aliyah it’s so overwhelming that you don’t always know who to ask or what to do. In many ways it’s a sink or swim situation. And you want to swim, swim very very hard.

Of course you’re allowed sinking days. And looking back maybe I should have allowed myself more of those days. Family sink days, where we all sit around and have a crying fest of what we miss and what’s hard for us. Of course I didn’t allow that. In my psyche I swim, and swim, and swim and only when I’m on the other side of the river can I look back and wipe my sweaty brow and say, ‘Boy was I in survival mode.’

Am I on the other side? I don’t think there is another side. I think that I’ll always be swimming. Sure some days I enjoy lazily floating on my back with the view of the wide, azure, Jerusalem sky before me. There are days and there are days. I think the main thing with Aliyah is to keep swimming, but know that if you’re thrashing it’s okay, it’s normal. Many days I too am thrashing upstream, as my sister in law, and now you, know all too well.

This week I’ve written a blog for the Shabbat project. It describes Shabbat in Jerusalem, my favorite day of the week. Shabbat in Jerusalem doesn’t start on Friday night as you will see in my post, it starts way before that.

So here’s the link –  Shabbat Project 2017 Shabbat in Jerusalem Blog Post

The chill of winter winds have come, blowing out the last vestiges of Sukkot, and scattering piles of dried up palm branches onto the paths of Jerusalem. Everyone is relieved to get back into schedule. No more meals outside in the colourfully decorated Sukkahs that popped up on the sidewalks, verandas and gardens like Autumn flowers. Unusual for Jerusalem it feels calm now. The month of festivals is over. Whole chickens have returned to the stores, and no one is manically stocking up for the next meal marathon.

The festival of Sukkot is the climax of family time, holiday time, a happy time. More than anything I realised this year that it’s a creative time. Where there was previously nothing, booths are built in every shape, size and corner possible. Decorated uniquely, from brightly coloured, painted wooden panels, paper chains and bright, glittery tinsel that reminds me of Christmas in Sydney. Jerusalem buzzes with an ingathering of Jewish and Christian tourists and pilgrims who pour in from all over the world.

I’ve realised that that’s what a Sukkah symbolises – ingathering. It’s a congregation of people, family and friends. Rosh Hashana is the crowning of God as our creator. Sukkot is the crowning of ourselves as His creative partners. We construct our world from planks of wood and scraps of leaves and bamboo sheets. The sukkah can be as simple as a cardboard box or as elaborate as a faberge egg. Yet they all hold the same table, chairs, food and the most important ingredient, the joy of people gathering around.

Now that Sukkot is over I’m tired from all the standing, the cooking and all the eating. Yet I’m left with a satiated soul as well as (over) satiated stomach. I’ve experienced what we can create out of nothing. The taste of the scintillating meals, stimulating conversations, and new connections made is still with me as I get ready to hibernate this winter into normal, daily life.

This cold season I’ll wrap myself up against the chilling Jerusalem winds with the joy of Sukkot, of being a co-creator with God. Truly understanding that we can create joy out of absolutely nothing, wherever we are, from our makeshift booths into our warm homes.

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Sukkah on a Balcony

Creating Joy with Cake
One of the best creations we enjoyed in our Sukkah this year was a Middle Eastern pistachio and orange cake I made from the cookbook, ‘Cooking from the Heart – A journey through Jewish food’. It’s gluten free and was such a hit I had to share it. It has three different steps so it does take time, but it’s worth it. Here’s my copy of it below.

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Middle Eastern Pistachio & Orange Cake (Gluten/Dairy Free)

Ingredients
2 large oranges
6 eggs
250 g caster sugar (I reduced this amount a bit as I prefer it not too sweet)
250 g ground pistachio nuts
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the Syrup
1 cup caster sugar
juice and grates zest of 1 orange
1 coriander sprig (optional – I didn’t use it)
3 black peppercorns (optional – ditto)
4 cardamon pods
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

Pistachio Ganache
1/3 cup pistachio nuts
150 g dark chocolate chopped
75g unsalted butter (I used coconut oil)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
extra pistachios for garnish (optional)

Method
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Butter and flour a 25cm springform cake tin or line with baking paper.
Put the oranges in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours, adding more water if necessary. Allow the oranges to cool, then de-seed (I forgot to deseed and it still worked well). Roughly chop the oranges, skin and process to a pulp in a food processor.
Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick. Add the ground pistachios and baking powder and keep beating for a few seconds. Stop, add the pureed oranges and beat again for a few more seconds until well mixed.
Transfer the mixture to the cake tin and bake for about 1 hour, covering the cake with baking paper about three-quarters of the way through to stop it becoming too dark. The cake is done when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
Turn the oven down to its lowest setting and start making the pistachio ganache. Spread the pistachios on a baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes without colouring. Remove from the oven and rub with a clean tea towel to remove the skins (I skipped this part which was fine).
Meanwhile, bring all the syrup ingredients to the boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then strain (I didn’t strain it).
Gently turn the cooled cake out of the in. Pierce it all over with a skewer and pour the syrup over it.
Roughly chop the pistachios and place in a heatproof bowl with the rest of the ganache ingredients. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bowl. Leave the mixture until the chocolate and butter have melted, then stir well for a smooth, silky, shiny ganache, studded with pistachios.
Place the cake on a large, round plate and pour the hot ganache over, swiveling the plate about gently to achieve an even cover. Garnish with pistachios if desired.

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Spice Sukkah Model

The year has flown by faster than the airplane turnover at Ben Gurion airport. Rosh Hashana is in a couple of days, and I’m trying to distract myself from it by preparing Iraqi Apple Jam and planning menus. The more difficult and foreign the recipe the better, although I inevitably end up returning to my usual, well tested recipes that I can make in my sleep. This is how the New Year ends up as well. I begin with many good intentions and then revert to my usual, well tried and tested self.

I become frustrated and that inner critic – yetzer hara rants and rages at me for not being better, trying harder, succeeding more. But this year I’m not having it. The over riding message over the past couple of month has been that ‘There’s no such thing as perfect. We’re all human.’

Living with flawed humanity is giving up on a lot of fantasies. It all began with a summer family holiday, where I had to admit to myself that there is no such thing as the perfect holiday, with perfect behaviour from the kids. The children will fight, they will whine and whinge, they will complain when we go to museums and they will say repeatedly, ‘This is boring.’ So I let go of my unrealistic expectations and I catered to their gelato needs. We all got on better and had fun in between the fights.

I’m also working on being curious about the humanity of others. Half of Israel came with us to Italy and it was interesting to see Israelis out of their comfort zones. We bumped into them everywhere.

My five year old collided into another boy whilst biking the city of Lucca’s wall (this is a must family activity). The mother was very apologetic and amongst the wails, I heard their Hebrew. I told her that I also live in Israel. She then said something that stayed with me, ‘No one likes us.’ And my heart went out to her. Israelis are just human and most of them are really nice, and I’m slowly learning that the abrasive, abrupt ones, who give Israelis a bad name, can also be really nice if you look beyond their rough surface to their humanity. (Although, yes I have to admit, some people are just plain mean, but we need to forgive them for sanity’s sake.)

When I look for the fragile humanity in others I’m less judgmental. The other day, I gave well intentioned, (and what I thought was sound), advice to someone close to me. They turned around and said, ‘Who are you to judge me? You don’t know what it’s like to be me.’ It hurt to hear it but they reminded me that it’s not my place to judge, or give advice to anybody.

It’s not an easy resolution. It’s much easier to cook.

But it’s a necessary decision, because when I dig deeper I see that I need to have compassion for others and also for myself. For my own humanity; my faults and mistakes which are just as much a part of me as my good points. Rabbi Ian Pear, of Shir Chadash Jerusalem, in a shiur last night, said that our mistakes are where our greatest creativity comes from. ‘To err is not only human but divine.’

It was the perfect summary of what I’ve been experiencing. I choose to recognise and accept my human frailty. And most of all, be kinder to myself so that I can be kinder to others.

So this years motto is, ‘Relax, chill out and be kind, be kind, be kind.’

Shana Tova – A Blessed, Sweet, Kinder Year to all of You!

One clear kindness that anyone can do for themselves is make this delicious, easy parve Lotus Chocolate recipe that I learnt from a Jerusalem Shabbat table. It’s the perfect ending to any meal with tea and coffee and nobody can believe that they’re parve.

Lotus Chocolates

FullSizeRender.jpgIngredients

  • 1 x Jar of Regular or Crunchy Lotus Spread (This is a parve spread made from Lotus caramelised biscuits.)
  • 4 x 100g Elite dark, parve chocolate (or any good quality parve chocolate)
  • Lotus Biscuits – grated for topping

 

Method

  • Melt Lotus Spread and Chocolate in a double boiler.
  • Spread melted mixture on baking paper in a tin and sprinkle with grated Lotus Biscuit. Refrigerate until firm.
  • Cut chocolates into squares and store in fridge or freezer.

So summer is here with the explosive heat of a gun shot. We don’t have air-conditioning at home (long, boring story) therefore I’m escaping the over 34 degree heat by working in cafes. Further I promised a list of my favourite eateries to my LA cousin’s girlfriends, so here it is. Especially as it’s my belief that every traveller needs to veer off the beaten tourist track and eat like a local.

Al Dente – When I want to go out for a quiet dinner, now that I can’t cook in my overheated kitchen, I opt for Al Dente. I’ve written about this charming Italian restaurant in the past. Since then it’s changed ownership , but they’ve maintained their quaint atmosphere and deliciously, fresh food standard. It’s a Jerusalem gastronomic gem that even the locals don’t know about.
Book before hand.

50 Usishkin St., Jerusalem
Tel: 02-6251479
http://aldente.rest.co.il

 

Anna – When I want to go to town, sit on a terrace and enjoy old Jerusalem, although admittedly with newly built high risers hugging from all sides, I go to Anna. Another Italian restaurant (home made pasta is the rave here) set in the beautifully renovated, historic Anna Ticho House perfect for timing your meal with an exhibit. Jerusalem is never just about the physical and Anna embodies this as it combines cutting edge Italian cuisine with its social agenda, employing at-risk youth in its kitchen. Again book ahead of time, I don’t go as often as I’d like because I always forget to book.

HaRav Agan St.10, Ticho House, Jerusalem
Telephone: 02-5434144
https://www.annarest.co.il

Hamiznon – When I haven’t booked anywhere and I’m at the First Station, my number one dairy pick is Hamiznon. There’s a large variety of breakfast options inspired by international cuisine. Their French Toast with mascarpone cream is especially light and delicious.

The First Station
02-561-1497

Kalo – This off the beaten track establishment in Bakka has a charming, vintage feel like walking into your grandmother’s parlour with all the bric-a-brac of yesteryear. They have wonderful Israeli breakfasts, fish and pasta dishes and big salads. Everything is fresh and it’s an excellent choice if you haven’t made a reservation anywhere else and want to sit and soak up the yesteryear Jerusalem ambience of Baka.

31 Derech Beit Lechem St., Baka, Jerusalem
02-673-6365

 

Cohens Deli – Now I’m giving away a big Jerusalem secret, that even my neighbours don’t know about. This Deli is on Hizkiyahu Hamelech and Harlap in the Katamon and Rechavia areas of Jerusalem and are run by two Israeli brothers. If you visit you may catch me grabbing a coffee and a home made chocolate. They make the best sandwiches with cheese that you can choose from a glass display of cheeses from all over the world, including whiskey cheese.

16 Harlap St., Rechavia, Jerusalem
02-561-8986

24 Hizkiyahu Hamelech St., Jerusalem
02-571-9050

Ofaimme Farm Cafe – And to finish off my list, which is by no means exhaustive or over, I have to end off where I am right now, in the lovely, newly opened air-conditioned cafe, Ofaimme, which has opened at Hansen House in Talbiya. It is again dairy with a wide menu of fresh salads, sandwiches and cheese platters, I especially love the parsley salad with pistachios and pine nuts. They also sell fresh cheeses and organic vegetables. The beauty of eating here besides the farm fresh produce, is that you get to wander around the historic setting of Hansen House which was a leper hospital in the late 19th century. This stone building is now a hub of design and technology with exhibits such as the Historical Exhibition: Behind the Wall which describes the history of Hansen House through everyday objects.

14 Gdalyahu Alon St., Talbiya, Jerusalem
052-366-6850
www.ofaimme.com

I know that there are many good eats in Jerusalem, and I’m yet to visit them all, even with my ‘air-conditioning’ exile. Feel free to update this list by contributing your comments and best Jerusalem eating experiences. Add to it for the sake of my cousin’s friends, the God Squad, because I’ve left out the best meat eats (like Jackos) – I prefer milk, and everyone’s tastes differ. Just remember one thing, air-conditioning is a not negotiable must.

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Farm Produce Shop – Ofaimme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[wpvideo c1GU1A97]

 

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Memorial at my son’s Gan – Kindergarten

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

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Grade 6 Leading the Memorial Ceremony

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

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

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Grade 3 – Flag Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chag Yom Haatzmaut Sameach!

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