The wind dances through the myriad of blue and white flags that are flying from the whooshing, Jerusalem cars and the balconies of the sandstone buildings. We ourselves, have four flags flying from our car. My five year old insisted.

The Jerusalem radio hosts complain that there are not enough flags bedecking the city of gold. I see them increasing every minute with the build up to Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut.

I love the flags, the flags that are part of a history of building a country from the ashes of the Holocaust, from the ragged suitcases of immigrants, from an age old dream sewn together like a hodgepodge, immigrant quilt which is Israel today.

There’s a feeling of pride and safety as my flags wave from our balcony and car. However, I can’t help but question would I feel safe flying the Israeli flag in Sydney or Johannesburg?

I ask this question with curiosity. I know that the media headlines and the BDS’s voice are aggressively loud enough that some Israelis hide their identity when they travel overseas.

It’s easy to forget what Israel is, and sometimes we need another inside voice to remind us what Israel is and how proud we should be.

The other day I took a taxi, and driving down the Green Line, my Arab taxi driver commented on what a lovely name Sarah is, and how she was the wife of Isaac. This began a funny conversation where he declared he didn’t know his scripture very well. He also declared, ‘I’m a man of peace.’

He went on to describe his childhood. Growing up in the Old City in his father’s big house. His father was a teacher who insisted the whole family stayed home at night and read. My effusive taxi driver related his own despair at the new, techno generation that doesn’t read. The world of his grandfather’s cafe, where he used to sit as a young boy in the circle of Shesh Besh playing men, swapping stories over strong, Turkish coffee, is gone.

He now lives in Ammunition Hill with his wife and children. They still own his father’s house in the Old City. He loves Jerusalem and doesn’t mind Israeli rule. He simply shrugs his shoulders when I ask him about this matter, ‘The strongest wins, what difference does it make if it’s Israelis or the English?’

He goes on to lament the fate of the surrounding Arab countries. He explains, his voice excited and loud, that Egypt which used to export sugar now buys its own sugar. He repeats over and over again, ‘Look at the streets. Here its clean. I’m clean. I want to live a clean life.’

His face clouds over as he speaks of the routine checks that Arabs endure, the reality of the constant cloud of terrorism that hovers over Jerusalem, but even this he shrugs off and again repeats, ‘I’m clean, I have nothing to hide, so check me.’ He then says, ‘If Israel falls under Arab rule I’m going to Canada.’

The Israeli flag is cast down at half mast when we listen to the ringing siren, commemorating Israel’s fallen soldiers, victims of terror and all the loss and tragedy that war entails. I stood today at my sons’ school and saw the school children’s heads bowed in solemn silence during the chilling wail. I cried with all the other parents as we do every year. For the steep price of war, for the land that we have paid for in blood and tears. On the way home for the third time that day the radio played the song with the words all Israelis sing to their children, ‘I promise you, my little girl, that this will be the last war.’

I have a feeling that this promise could be true when the Israeli flag is proudly flown through every area and country. For I think if we dig deeply and honestly, we would learn that flying the Israeli flag is the litmus test of how democratic, tolerant and clean a society really is.

Meanwhile, whoever believes in peace, justice and the value of all religions, nations and people, just wave your Israeli flag.

Purim is the festival of all that is surprising. Recorded Purim songs break out on to the streets of Jerusalem from Rabbi Nachman vehicles and face painted waiters serve at Caffit. Yesterday in yoga, the session ended with a Chag Sameach from the teacher and a festive plate of poppyseed hamentaschen passed around, homemade by one of the students.

Purim begins in Jerusalem a month before the actual festival. With hamentashen being sold in all bakeries the moment TuBishvat is over. And from Rosh Chodesh Adar the children begin dressing up, going to kindergarten and school in pyjamas one day, funny hats the next and fully dressed up in every imagined costume; from dashing, European Princes, to little Red Riding Hood and a hoard of Avengers. I can’t help but smile when I glance into a pram being wheeled down the street and a little, painted, clown face stares back at me.

It’s my third Purim here and I’ve just become comfortable with the Hebrew word ‘to dress up’. I know by now to buy costumes and goodies for Mishloach Manot early and avoid the manic, last minute rush. One and a half weeks early was too late. A size large Batman costume was left and all black eye masks were sold out. That was the beginning of experiencing the shadow side of Purim. The dark underbelly of stress and frustration that underlies all the busyness.

A friend of mine says Purim is a punishment for mothers. It’s stressful organising food gifts, worrying if it’s good enough, original enough, if you’re spending too much money or too little. Another friend of mine has left to Eilat for the Purim weekend. It works out cheaper and more enjoyable than putting together her super, beautiful Mishloach Manot and hosting her gastronomic seudah which came at a massive cost physically not to mention financially.

For many years I myself have given up trying to be original or cool. For years I’ve been searching how to do Purim meaningfully. One year I donated money and sent cards out announcing that instead of giving food gifts I donated money to those in need. Last year I bought gifts from an organisation that supported autism. This year I convinced my shul to start a chessed fund with members of the shul all receiving one food gift from everyone. Meaning that you gave to everyone in your community and raised money for those in need at the same time.

Meanwhile I’ve had my major Purim bloopers. I didn’t arrange a big enough Mishloach Manot for my son to take to school. How was I to realise that Israeli kids take it super seriously and it’s more cool to put big packets of everything and not an array of, what I thought was, fun junk food but on the smaller packet side. I forgot the 21st Century rule, Big is Better. An Oleh mistake. I quizzed my boys about the packets they received so I would learn what’s ‘cool’ for next year. My eldest said, ‘I didn’t get anything, the person who was meant to give me was an American.’

The question that nags me in all this frenzied Purim preparation is, ‘Where is the joy?’ The most joyous festival of all and there is an overwhelming pressure and a hum of meaninglessness floating just below the surface. Just this morning I overheard a bearded, middle aged man talking into the phone at the fruit shop repeating over and over again, ‘I’m not excited about Purim.’

I think back to last Purim and the truth is I had a joyous Purim, even if I probably also gave the children too small packets for their school Mishloach Manot swap. I decided not to pressurise myself. I remember sitting at an empty cafe for lunch with my husband (our seudah at friends was called for much later in the day) and having a meaningful chat with the proprietor’s Moroccan mother. I hadn’t bought into any of the hype, if people gave me Mishloach Manot I tried to jumble something together once I had run out of my prepared ones. I focused on the connection that was intended in the giving, not on what was actually given. No one needs another packet of chips, another packet of sweets and no, not even a bottle of wine.

I focused on the kids. The fun is in the connection. The fun is in the meaning. The big, frantic Purim parties don’t give this to me, the fancy Mishloach Manot don’t do it for me either, the big Purim Seudahs leave me cold. I want that small chat in a small space with a person where I smile and they smile and we feel joy. I want to give my food gifts in those places where they don’t receive much and it will bring love and joy.

I think that’s what Purim is trying to teach us, to do things with joy, and if the joy isn’t there, have a good rethink and ask why? And maybe, just maybe give ourselves permission to enjoy Purim (an apt metaphor for our lives) on our own terms.

I finally sent in my youngest son’s application for Grade 1 to the Jerusalem Municipality. In Israel the schools are public and everything is processed through the Iriya. It takes getting used to after a lifetime of private Jewish day schools. I felt like I was shooting an arrow in the dark. A moment after I hit the sent button I felt a sudden sense of doubt. We had to put four preferential school choices down. Had we made the right decision?

This is the season where parents just like us are deciding on their children’s junior high, primary school and kindergartens for next year. (We’ve had to chose three new schools for three of our sons.) Each of us have spent the last months visiting schools, speaking to principals and attending interviews. The pressure is high especially in junior high where they only want the brightest and best, and all we want is a place where are kids feel valued and can grow roots of self belief and belonging in this world.

I thought that I was especially stressed and overwhelmed because we are Olim Chadashim, and still trying to figure out the system. It’s only now I understand that everyone is stressed, everyone is in the process of choosing the best school for their child, and praying very hard they get in. The competition for some of these schools is fierce.

This is the season of planting in the dark and having faith that the seed will grow. Having faith in the painful process of the seed rotting underground and delicately laying it’s roots trusting they will grow sturdy and strong.

We are planting in the dark as we sign up for schools. And I as I shut my computer I send out a silent prayer that God should guide us and the mistakes we make (and yes they will be made) will be the right ones for us to grow. This perpetual unknowingness, the newness, teaches me to bring God into every situation. Faith that gives me wings to keep my chin up and step forward and through application forms, meetings and decisions.

This is the month of darkness, where the trees arms lie like bare skeletons against the cool, blue sky. February is meant to be the coldest month of all. But, the sun is shining, heaters are turned off in the daytime, and the school children are leaving their heavy jackets at home. There are still some black olives left on the olive trees, and best of all the Shkediot – Almond Blossoms are in heady bloom. In Israel the Shkediah is the symbol of Tu Bishvat the birthday of the trees. Its delicate white flowers the festive decor of the season. The flowering bough of promise that things will be all right.

So for me Tu Bishvat is not about eating Isreal’s seven fruit species, which are delicious outcomes of planting and what we all hope for in the end. Rather the birthday of the trees is the recognition of our dark doubts and difficulties as we sow the seeds in the present for our future. As we bring up our children, make career decisions and move countries. We are all planting in the dark and it takes courage and faith to keep praying, believing and planting.

 

‘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.